One evening last week, I watched a documentary about four young people in Portland OR who are building their own houses and who are supposed to epitomize the “tiny house” movement.
Simply put, it is a social movement where people are choosing to downsize the space they live in. The typical American home is around 2,600 square feet, whereas the typical small or tiny house is between 100 and 400 square feet. Tiny houses come in all shapes, sizes, and forms, but they enable simpler living in a smaller, more efficient space—kind of like living on a yacht without all the money that entails.
People are joining this movement for many reasons: the most popular of which include environmental concerns, affordability, and the desire for more time and freedom. A growing number of Americans have become caregivers to senior family members, so an increasing number of “Granny Units” are being built as Auxiliary Dwelling Units (some of them with tricked-out medical amenities) behind larger homes. For most Americans, a third to half of their income is dedicated to putting a roof over their heads; this translates to 15-30 years of working over your lifetime just to pay the mortgage. Because of this, 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Henry complains to me all the time that housing has become unaffordable for most people earning median-to-average incomes.
I like the idea of downsizing into radically smaller quarters—in fact, I have done it—but after researching the market for “tiny houses,” I find most of them so butt-ugly, it would be impossible for an aesthetic like me to live in one of them.
Tiny houses fall into two categories: stationary (attached) and on-wheels (mobile). Stationary homes tend to be more expensive or are in locations where you wouldn’t want to live. On-wheel homes tend to run afoul of the people who build “manufactured” (trailer) homes or, unlike the above illustration, look like something from an Al Capp cartoon. So either way, you’ve usually got to settle for some sort of Dogpatch solution and the social approbation that goes with it. If you can afford to live in a more attractive and popular neighborhood, tiny houses are usually at variance with prevailing zoning restrictions (unless they’re built as auxiliary units).
That’s why it took me so long to find Estrella Vista. It combines a small dwelling-space (343 square feet, plus 170 square feet for the sleeping loft), traditional construction (adobe), cheap land, low taxes, no zoning restrictions, and unbeatable aesthetics. I bought the main property (20 acres) and immediately began buying up the surrounding land so I wouldn’t have to suffer the unknown horrors of neighbors moving in and blighting my views. I love the only neighbors I have. I’ve had Estrella Vista for 7 years, and it is paid for in full. I can add onto the property at my leisure.
If most tiny houses were well-designed, I wouldn’t have a problem with them. But most are do-it-yourself affairs or created by builders who are long on utility and short on taste and imagination. I think that living small and simple is an admirable challenge, one that needs to influence all housing. I only wish that more of the practitioners in the small house movement were up to the requirements of leading the way.
83° and Clear