Friday, November 9, 2007

Living large by living small

Here's an interesting concept. Designer and architect Jay Schafer, self-proclaimed "claustrophile", wanted a house with a smaller environmental footprint, and ended up designing and building houses with a very small physical footprint, here shown is his own 100 square feet / 9 square meters home, the "EPU". As a bonus it is economical and easy to maintain too, how long can it take to sweep 9 square meters? It will definitely encourage neatness, otherwise the mess will probably immediately be out of control, and it will fight consumerism to some degree. You just can't bring much stuff home... :) And it's fast and cheap to heat or cool, depending on climate.

I think the philosophy of R. Buckminster Fuller, "Doing more with less", fits very well within this concept.

"The master bedroom".

The inside of the EPU consists of kitchen, bathroom, sleeping room and the "great room". More interior views here.

But downsizing doesn't have to mean downscaling, it can actually be the opposite. Jay Shafer quotes the italian architect Carlo Scarpa:

"If you are making a corridor that is 20' wide, you can make it out of concrete; if it is 10' wide, you should use stone; if it is 6' wide, use fine wood; but if it is 2' wide, you should make it out of solid gold."

And if you're only going to have one doorhandle, as an example, why not get the nicest possible?

Some of the smaller houses of his, they range from 40 (!) square feet to a "whopping" 770 square feet (71 sq. meters), can be delivered built on a trailer. This serves two purposes. First, mobility. R. Buckminster Fuller designed his Dymaxion house with the feature of being (somewhat) easy to relocate, a trailer is of course even better. Tired of the view? Move the house to different spot on your property. Second, the trailer let's one circumvent local laws in the US that forbids (!) houses under a certain size. In Sweden on the other hand a house under 10 square meters, a.k.a "Friggebod" does not require a building permit. This maximum size will likely be upped to 15 sq. meters in the near future.

There are some obvious drawbacks with such a small house. Forget about raising a family! :) Collectors would have a hard time, unless the collections are small or consists of very small things. Having guests, especially staying over the night, will require some extra patience of both guests and host.

So, could I live in 100 sq. feet? Possibly, but only I was allowed to cheat with a shed three times the size for storage (do I really need all this stuff?), workshop and a washing machine.

I like his Z.Glass house design, with exterior walls of hot rolled steel that will get a natural rusty finish. Wicked!

More reading at All pictures from their site.

(Listening to while posting: MBMA - Musiken)

P.S. Post number 500!


EH said...

I think a nice caravan will do the same, only that you can change your view from time to time and by season. If you need storage, maybe just rent one. Probably cheapest to find a farmer somewhere who has a large farmshed or something.

I think I could live like this for a while, but I like the spacious living too.


O.K. said...

Caravans can be good, but are mainly built for traveling, not living. I find several problems with caravans that, for example, the EPU solves. First; "Nice caravan". I never encountered a nicely built caravan (I'm talking about the european variety, don't know much about others). Made for light weight, everything feels cheap but they are still very expensive. Plastic windows that scratch easily, low ceilings that makes one hunch as a caveman, insulation and ventilation that makes winters not very pleasant. The point is to make more with less, not to just get by.

Besides, it isn't really socially accepted to live in a caravan. Just look at how Gypsies have been viewed by societies. Ok, there might be more to it, but I think their mobility and the consequences thereof was a big part of it.

One big drawback for me with such a small house is that it will be impossible to get a good hi-fi experience due to acoustics. But one could always get a pair of Stax electrostatic headphones. That would be the equal of the 2' golden corridor... :)

LS said...

I like LAGOM houses, not too small and not to big. I need to fit husband, two kids, two cats, a workshop, a cozy kitchen with cooking gadgets, a fireplace, a guest room, four computers and a printer, a bathroom, clothes and shoes (I can't believe how many shoes a family needs), jackets, old photos, a great stove, tools, etc etc...

There is a famous book about living in small space that we own but I can't remember the author of. Pohanka, Palanka, something like that. PP knows I am sure. I like the idea of living more compact. The question is, I guess, what do we have that is junk?

I guess you can definitely live with less, like we do not have to save every single school book the kids have used from every grade. I get so depressed when I go to the store and see China-made plastic decorations, always large, ugly and cheap-looking and made in machines, not by people. Those things are junk, but we have very little of that. We do have lots of arts and crafts supplies, lots of books, lots of yarn that someday when I have time will be made into something nice... But real junk - not much (OK, we have some in the barn, I admit that).

When I was in the library today I saw two new books, one called something like Declutter Life, and the other maybe Live with Less. Both were self-help books about how to streamline your house, figure out what the function of each room really was, how to get rid of stuff you don't really need, and making your whole house more pleasant. We are reorganizing our bedroom to do this, and later also the guest room, eventually.

So, I think there are two aspects to this - one is too much junk and clutter of unimportant things, and the second is to live with less and be less attached to things period. If you live in a tiny house like O.K. posted, you can't have your inherited furniture from your grandma (maybe only one piece), you can't have ten casserole forms, and your oven will not fit a Thanksgiving turkey. Your book collection would be a lot smaller, and you wouldn't have dresses you have only worn once but want to save. But life would be simpler.

I guess the question really is:
How much space does it take to be happy? Check out this link:
link :

O.K. said...

Interesting views. The Tumbleweed houses' EPU is an extreme, I admit that, but extremes are often thought-provoking. The EPU manifests the idea of living with less, trading stuff that enables you to a lot of things, for time. Mobility enables you to live closer to were you work at the moment, spending less time commuting. Cheaper and easier to maintain lets you work less to earn the money required, if you have that option. You already have a fully equipped summer house too, just bring it on your vacation.

I personally think that a house like the EPU passed the border where its small size starts to limit the freedom and lessen the extra free time. You can't have several projects going at a time, you have to bring out and pack away the necessary tings for each task all the time. "Multitasking" becomes harder. You can't use or store all the off-the-shelf appliances and stuff either, so it takes more time and effort to get those when needed. You have to deal with most things at once, no stacking up tasks and doing them in batches.

On the other hand maybe it fosters new habits, as for instance forcing you to fully concentrate on one thing at a time.