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  #1  
Old Posted Apr 27, 2007, 3:19 PM
BTinSF BTinSF is offline
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Small houses challenge our notions of need

So you think you need 3000 sq. ft.?

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Small houses challenge our notions of need as well as minimum-size standards
By Carol Lloyd, Special to SF Gate
Friday, April 27, 2007

Down a rambling residential road on the outskirts of Sebastopol, the dream house sits like a testament to discriminating taste.

This dream house is the love child of artist-builder Jay Shafer, who lovingly hand-crafted it. The stainless-steel kitchen, gleaming next to the natural wood interior, is outfitted with customized storage and built-ins. From his bed, Shafer can gaze into the Northern California sky through a cathedral window. In his immaculate office space, a laptop sits alongside rows of architectural books and magazines -- many featuring his house on the cover. And from the old-fashioned front porch, he can look out on a breathtaking setting: an apple orchard in full bloom.

But in an era when bigger is taken as a synonym for better, calling Shafer's home a dream house might strike some as an oxymoron. Why? The entire house, including sleeping loft, measures only 96 square feet -- smaller than many people's bathrooms. But Jay Shafer's dream isn't of a lifestyle writ large but of one carefully created and then writ tiny.

Shafer, the founder of Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, began his love affair with diminutive dwellings about 10 years ago when teaching drawing at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. "I was living in an average-sized apartment and I realized I just didn't need so much space," he said. "I always envied people who had smaller homes, because they didn't have to do as much housework."

He bought an Airstream trailer, remodeled it and spent two years suffering the long, bitter winters before conceding that insulation was one amenity he was unwilling to forgo. "So I started from scratch and built myself a small house," he told me. He built the 100-square-foot home on wheels and parked it on a friend's farm outside of Iowa City. Eventually, he moved back into town but not without some difficulty. "I wasn't allowed to put the house on a city lot, because it was too small," he explained, referring to the minimum-size standards in the codes of many cities and counties across the country. So he bought a house, put his little house in the backyard and rented out the main house.

By 2000, he had decided this would be a way to channel his artwork, feed his hunger for simplicity and escape the rental rat race. After a friend asked him to build a house for him to live in, Shafer launched Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. in 2000. The friend went on to become the president of the Small House Society -- and thus was written one more episode of the small-is-beautiful movement. Shafer began building and designing little houses for people who wanted them as backyard retreats, second homes or primary residences. Eventually, he sold his own first home because he wanted something smaller and then built himself a 70-square-foot home on wheels (now called the XS House on his Web site).

"I knew I was going to be traveling out here and didn't know where I was going to put my house," he explained. "I wanted for it to fit in a parking place -- actually, I wanted to be able to parallel-park it."

I'd heard of getting a car small enough to parallel-park -- but a house?

Shafer pulled his house out West on a U-Haul and parked it in a public lot smack in the center of Sebastopol, hoping he would meet people sympathetic to the pursuit of the simple life and invite him to live on their property. It took exactly 20 minutes. For the next six months, Shafer lived on 40 acres of land with a creek outside the upscale town of Occidental. He then moved closer to Sebastopol, before selling his home to build his current one -- which he dragged to its current location in an apple orchard.

Over the years, he has built and sold 10 homes and dozens of house plans, which cost about $1,000. But the real story is that he's become a poster boy for simple living, with interviews or mentions in This Old House magazine, the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and, last February, even on "Oprah." What's behind the rush to peek inside Shafer's tiny living room and grill him about his lifestyle?

"Our society's been based on excess for so long, it's still a somewhat novel idea to live simply," he said. At 42, Shafer has a quiet, boyish presence and the unclouded brow of a man content with his choices. But he's also someone who obviously has gone to great lengths to live life according to his own principles -- an intensity seems to flicker in his eyes and in the humility of his explanations. You won't find much in the way of ranting about greed and gluttony. Though he does sometimes utter words like "excess," he maintains it's not for him to judge the needs of others.

"I can't say what the definition of a small house is," he said. "Maybe it's 4,000 square feet, if that's what it takes to suit their needs. The idea is that the house is being well-used. Some people need more space than others." Even when asked about the likes of Larry Ellison (whose recent building plans involve battling for a house bigger than a city block), Shafer resisted: "I don't know his needs."

Shafer said that small-house fans tend to be a nonjudgmental lot because so many have experienced "discrimination": Most building codes across the nation maintain a minimum-size requirement that prohibits the building of very small houses like Shafer's. Some homeowners associations and towns maintain this high standard in order to maintain high property values -- as well as keep out the affordable-housing riffraff. This has meant that many tiny-house aficionados only live their dream by skirting the law, living in someone else's backyard or heading for a rural county with no planning department.

But even in counties where tiny houses are allowed, lenders don't always look kindly on homes the size of a walk-in closet. Indeed, Shafer knows that some people might even see his house as a threat to their property values: That was an argument he heard often from his father, who recently sold his 4,000-square-foot suburban home in Mission Viejo to move into an RV. Now, Shafer thinks his father may be coming around to understanding the inherent beauty of living small.

Shafer chose Sebastopol in part because he thinks the politically liberal community will be supportive of abolishing minimum-size standards. His next dream is to create a little community of small houses, with a half-dozen or more connected by walking paths on a small piece of land.

"Trailer parks get a bad rap because they are made of cheap materials, but their structure is very conducive to community," he said. "Everyone knows high density is the way to go." Indeed, the tiny house may be the antidote to vertical high density in small towns and rural areas where neighborhoods are eager to preserve views and open space. Unlike in a three-story, lot-covering, mixed-use development, from a cluster of tiny houses, you can still smell the apple blossoms.



http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cg...carollloyd.DTL
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  #2  
Old Posted Apr 27, 2007, 4:03 PM
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I would like a small home, but that's a bit too small.
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  #3  
Old Posted Apr 27, 2007, 5:01 PM
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96sqft is about as big you can build in Sweden without a permit. 10m² is the limit (but proposed to be upped to 15), called a "Friggebod" after the minister who introduced 'em: Birgit Friggebo (iirc).
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  #4  
Old Posted Apr 27, 2007, 5:03 PM
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People are starving, and this guy is living in a sprawling mansion. Theres a trap door, it goes underground for miles I tell ya! What you see is merely a coat room. Meanwhile look at his smirk, he knows this.
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Old Posted Apr 27, 2007, 5:04 PM
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i live in a 500 sq. ft. studio condo, and while it suits my needs and desires quite nicely, i wouldn't want to go a whole lot smaller than what i've got now. but i guess compared to the average american home size, i'm still livng the tiny house life.
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  #6  
Old Posted Apr 27, 2007, 5:19 PM
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The Z.GLASS HOUSE on the website is pretty cool. I really think I could live there. It's about 400 sq. feet and $18,000.

http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/houses.htm
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Old Posted Apr 27, 2007, 6:14 PM
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Old Posted Apr 27, 2007, 6:51 PM
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^ I was looking at that one too, but it doesn't look like there's a stove. Or a bathroom.

I don't have an image server, but I like this one.

http://weehouses.com/projects/mcglasson_wh.htm
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Old Posted Apr 27, 2007, 7:19 PM
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My unit is 725 square feet with two people or about 360 square feet per person, our sleeping loft is about 100 square feet. Its about right for two people IMO, I lived in a 333 square foot studio by myself before and it was fine for one person. However tell that to some people and thats like living like sardines. To think though that we still have 3.6 times as much space per person as this guy is something. Residences like this are based on efficiency, McMansions are the opposite of efficient because they dont have to be, you could easily fit alot more bedrooms in a 3,000 square foot house than the traditional four if you simply got rid of secondary living rooms and the like. Thats why some people find small homes so odd, they cant comprehend cramming so much into so little.

I have always been an advocate of smaller homes, not necessarily this small (but its far better than the opposite extreme) but rather just a return to the typical house sizes we had in generations past, many more people could "afford" to live in the city if they just adapted into the older smaller houses that once housed families with children. I also like this guy and people who live in smaller spaces because they are creative and doing something different, to me the typical McMansion dwelling suburban lot are just going with the flow and are rather uncreative.
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Old Posted Apr 27, 2007, 7:39 PM
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Damn, that guy really knows how to maximize his space! For me though, that's a touch too small.
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  #11  
Old Posted Apr 27, 2007, 8:22 PM
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it's the unabomber!
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  #12  
Old Posted Apr 27, 2007, 8:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by skylife View Post
.....I don't have an image server, but I like this one.

http://weehouses.com/projects/mcglasson_wh.htm
Here ya go:



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  #13  
Old Posted Apr 27, 2007, 8:42 PM
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Thanks man. That one is awesome. I'd love to live in one of those.
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Old Posted Apr 28, 2007, 12:59 AM
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Pretty cool. Exterior architecture is ugly, but if made a bit nicer, it'd be awesome to see houses such as these form a cohesive urban neighbourhood. Most are a bit too small for me (i'd need at least 400sqft.), but if the price is low, and the location good, I'd go for one (I like the 240 sqft. S-house especially).

Actually, I think they should take a large parking lot or something in a city somewhere, and cram it full a these things. That'd be really badass.
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Old Posted Apr 28, 2007, 3:39 AM
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Geez, sounds like your typical SRO! Where do you fit the bathroom and shower?
These units would be great in the city, cheap living for people who cannot afford a $1000 per month rent.

I lived in a 400 ft^2 studio, but unfortunately the floor plan sucked. Something along the lines of 600ft^2 would allow me to have my own office, which would be ideal once I graduate architecture.
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Old Posted Apr 28, 2007, 5:21 AM
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I wonder if IKEA has plans to get into this business. They could fit a whole model neighborhood in their store! Haha, can you imagine a whole house coming in a big cardboard box with assembly instructions?
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Old Posted Apr 28, 2007, 8:32 PM
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IKEA already does housing: BoKlok.
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Old Posted Apr 29, 2007, 12:36 AM
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The first one pictured -- I would love to live in it. That thing is awesome. I love the look and feel of the interior.

Now if I could just have one built in Manhattan...
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Old Posted Apr 29, 2007, 1:40 AM
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^ That's really the big catch. These are a great option and to me, an appealing and simple way to live...but I don't want to live in the middle of nowhere. I enjoy nature and all, but it would be very hard to find a plot of land in an urban enough environment for me to go that route. If I ever decide to go rural, I'll definitely seriously research these.
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  #20  
Old Posted Jun 4, 2007, 9:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BnaBreaker View Post
Damn, that guy really knows how to maximize his space! For me though, that's a touch too small.
If that were the case, he wouldn't have two clumsy red dictionaries in that tiny house.
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