In elementary school, I was obsessed with building my own house. I just really wanted my own space within four freestanding walls. It didn’t need to be large, just big enough for a bed and a desk. Having no idea how to build a house, I cut out pictures of ready-made sheds from the hardware store mailers and tried to save my allowance to buy a shed to turn into a house in a corner of my parents backyard. Ultimately, I couldn’t manage to save that kind of money and eventually the idea faded into the background. But I have always had a soft spot in my heart for little, bitty houses.
As a graduate of art school, I got first-hand experience living tiny, since a 600 sq ft apartment in Boston was all I could afford. Later, a move across country led me to a 400 sq ft freestanding home. There are clear advantages and plenty of restrictions that come with living in a small space. As someone who likes to make things (and usually a mess in the process), having space for tools and projects was an issue. I needed a tiny house to live in and a tiny workshop to make in.
The growth of the Tiny House movement of the last ten years has delighted me. I have questions about how realistic of the concept of a tiny house on wheels for all can be, but giving a name to a desire is powerful and can help people come together to move large, seemingly-immoveable things like building regulations.
As I began to help build houses and then design and build houses, the first of the Four R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) is always on my mind. To me, one of the highest goals of design is to do more with less; to achieve the goal without wasted space or materials or resources or money.
A few years ago, we were traveling to attend a conference in Northern California and needed a place to camp. We ended up finding Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, which turned out to be a restored tiny ghost town: a village of small buildings in the middle of what had become nowhere when the train stopped going there. It has a fascinating history and was a delightful experience.
With some extra time on our hands during the slow times in construction, we decided to help a friend build a tiny straw bale building in his backyard. We designed it, poured the slab, framed the walls and roof, and had two workshops to teach people about stacking straw bales and applying clay plaster. It was a deeply satisfying experience.
More recently, I have fallen in love with the Pocket Neighborhood idea and spend time dreaming of building a collection of exquisitely designed tiny straw bale homes with excellent privacy and shared amenities, such as a garden and a community room for hosting the occasional big party that doesn’t fit in a cozy home.
Just as my kindergarten teacher’s pronouncement of having cured me of my obsession with clay foreshadowed a life-long affair with the stuff, my fascination with little-bitty-just-enough-houses has endured and informs my work today.