Jay Shafer, the mastermind behind Tumbleweed, designs houses that you can buy as plans or as a kit that you assemble on site. Ranging from 150 sf to 600 sf, his little houses make the most efficient use of space. While one might think of these houses as a weekend getaway or a part time cottage, bear in mind that Shafer himself lives in one of his creations that's only 100 sf. (One of his house designs is a 40 sf trailer.)
His work inspires me. When I see these gems of house plans, it makes me think of architect and author of The Not So Big House, Sarah Susanka. In her book, she described the fantastic house plans that she and her designer husband shopped around to get a loan to build it. Designed for the way they truly lived, it really made the best of every square foot and put more cost into good design and details than into gross square footage. Their bank turned them down for a loan. The reason? Their house plans showed no formal dining room. This was explained to Susanka when she spoke to the bank manager. But like a really good architect, she got the manager to talk about his own house, which had him eventually confessing that every party his family had managed to wind up in the kitchen around the breakfast bar while the large, formal dining room was simply a place to hold food and beverages. Same thing for meals with the family: either in front of the TV or in the breakfast nook by the kitchen. Upon realizing his confession, the bank manager approved Susanka's construction loan.
In many housing lot developments in the Rocky Mountains, especially those located near ski resorts, each lot purchase comes with a minimum required square footage of any domicile built on the lot. Translation: even if your family could spend a week in the mountains in 600 sf, you might be required to build at least twice that amount of space. Now, granted there's some method to this madness, as homes of a certain size tend to cost a certain amount and would then keep the whole development's property values up. And granted, if you can afford a nice piece of mountain real estate, you can afford to build a dry-stack stone-and-timber McMansion with high gables and a high-six to low-seven-figure price tag. But at the same time, this rule requires that people use more natural resources than necessary in order to build structures in which they spend less than a quarter of their time.
So, some things to think about this weekend as you stroll around your own domicile:
- Think about how much time you spend in what rooms in your house. How much smaller could your own home be if, say, a kitchenette was moved into your den?
- Do you need more space or just less stuff?
- The average home in Tokyo, Japan in 2003 was 710 sf. 30% of those homes are detached housing (meaning not an apartment). Most of the industrialized world lives in smaller homes that the U.S. does. How would you and your family live in that much space?
- Measure the room in your home in which you spend most of your time. Multiply width by length for the area in square feet. You already spend most of your time in that size space. What would make that room work better? A futon instead of a sofa? Shelves above head height for seasonal decorations or things you don't use more often than once a month?