Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

8/13/2012

Live Large in Small Houses

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

In my neighborhood, a simple drive down a major street reveals startling changes from block to block. One moment, I'm driving through an area dense with multifamily housing units, the next I'm walking through a peaceful meadow where a sprawling home takes over much of the land.

I often find myself wondering, "Who actually live in these large mansions?" Pondering on their fictional lifestyle leads me to the question, "How much space does one need to be content?" As median prices for home thankfully inch higher and higherLloyd Khan's newest book, "Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter" provides a good reminder to take stock and really think about the type of lifestyle we choose to live.

Though I refer to it as Khan's book, it is more accurately a book written by many people from all over the world. While traditional architectural books are often written by one or perhaps three authors, each home in the book comes with an accompanying commentary written by its builders. Their words may not be as polished (or as layman friendly) as heavily edited tomes, but their excitement and happiness with their creations is what inevitably seeps out of the text.

"Tiny Homes" profiles homes, shelters, sheds, cabins, saunas, studios (etc.) that all register under a staggeringly small 500 feet-- a size many of us would hardly contemplate for day to day living. Page after page of the book offers readers a glimpse into the lives of many contented homeowners. Though most live on a very, very small footprint, I've seen that many are able to live a large lifestyle by immersing themselves in their natural environments.

Take Mike Basich, legendary snowboarder and Area-241 founder. Located on 40 acres of backcountry, MIke's cabin is built mostly out of rocks he carried to the site. Basich used to own a 4,000-square feet house in Utah, "now this is all I need," he says inside the pages. "Every door handle, seat, or countery has a story behind it," the book continues. Heavy snows might bury the cabin in the winters, but that only heightens one's access to nature.

Basich's cabin via Area 421 Facebook page.
For some, their tiny homes are their refuge. Within the tome, Khan introduced SunRay Kelley, a prolific builder with an inspiring relationship with nature, which Kelley calls "God's hardware store." I was fascinated with the wildly curvaceous Kelley was able to coax out of scrap wood, manzanita, pine and bay available around his neck of the woods. Kelley built a man-cave below for his friend, Hani, who lived with four women. The yurt is 12-sided with a 14.5-foot diameter. I loved how the roofline curves up toward the skies, like a leaf that gently curves on a tree.

SunRay Kelley portrait by Lloyd Khan.
This roof's on a beautiful up-swing, don't you think? Photo via Lloyd Khan.
Among the many jewels "Tiny Homes" has unearthed was this Hobbit House in Wales. Looking at it, one could easily imagine Frodo knocking at the door, but what looks like fantasy to some is reality to Simon Dale and his family. Dale built the home with the help of his family, friends and passers-by.

Like many who are featured in the book, Dale didn't begin as a builder; he was someone who wanted to live responsibly. He writes, "This building is one part of a low-impact or permaculture approach to life--living in harmony with the natural world, doing this simply, and using appropriate levels of technology." Dale's site is filled with information how others can duplicate his efforts (including how to navigate planning permissions) especially for those in the UK.

Simon Dale's Hobbit House via Peek Moon
Simon Dale's Hobbit House interior via Peek Moon.
As we leaf through magazines and newspapers, we often see expansive homes that are presented as ideals. Even when they're not especially large, the homes usually pay homage to modernity and the latest in technology. Khan's "Tiny Homes" show us that there are other ways to live rather than keeping up with the latest Energy Star-rated appliance, that really sometimes, less is a lot, lot more.

Check out the book for more examples of small shelters. Check out Khan's blog or Facebook for more updates.

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