How Small Can You Go? Tiny Houses Are the Future

The idea of living in small spaces has been around since the caveman. By partitioning off a small area of his cave for sleeping, he was able to heat it more efficiently. Of course, he didn't have 20 pairs of shoes to worry about, but minimalistic living is an idea that is returning to popular culture with a vengeance.

Small space living runs from the ridiculous to the sublime. If this 700-square-foot house (pictured at left) built from two shipping containers in Sri Lanka doesn't fit the bill, perhaps this six-room 420-square-foot backyard cottage (above) will. Or will the one-of-a-kind, green-designed pre-fab home (below left) by Ecofabulous rock your boat? It's being auctioned on eBay on July 15 with the proceeds going to Global Green USA. It's 520 square feet and made entirely of eco-friendly and recycled materials, including tile and glass for the countertops and renewable cork flooring.
While largely regarded as a fringe housing segment up until now, housing experts predict that demand for compact homes in the U.S. will increase in the coming decades. There is a fast-growing population who need less-expensive first-home options: single women, baby boomers who want to downsize, and recently graduated students. The idea also resonates with seniors who would like to age in place; by constructing one of these small homes in the backyard, they are able to live near an adult child and still maintain privacy and independence.

Downsizing possessions is probably the most challenging aspect of living in small spaces. The perennial question of "where do I put all my shoes?" in compact design housing is surpassed only by "what do I do with all my books?"

Japanese architect Kazuya Morita has that one answered. In the 557-square-foot "shelf pod" home he designed, the walls are lined with bookshelves capable of displaying 20,000 pounds of books. He has a larger 947-square-foot, five-sided "Pentagonal House" that features five arching walls converging to form a peak.

"Japanese architecture always has to be smaller. We have to live more efficiently," he said of his densely populated homeland, in an interview with Inman News.

In the U.S., high energy costs coupled with a rejection of the gluttonous consumption that defined the previous decade, has resulted in keener interest in small home living. Even the National Association of Home Builders acknowledged in a March report that the "New Home in 2015" will be smaller and feature greener amenities. Of course, the builders' idea of smaller spaces is a 10 percent drop to 2,152 square feet -- a feat largely accomplished by eliminating the formal living room.

Architect Morita has something more dramatic in mind. Geared for the city dweller, he focuses on rooms that are multipurposed. Built-ins are essential. The Shelf-Pod house, which can support 10 tons of books and survive earthquakes, he said, features interlocking laminated pine boards that form a lattice to support the weight of the books.

Check out these other small-space homes on the market:

A 435-square foot house in San Francisco listed for $1,150,000. It has a skylight, high ceilings and large windows for light. Bright yellow and red accents add to the cheeriness.

A two-bedroom cabin of 448 square feet in St. Germain, Wis., listed for $159,000. The property sits on 5.5 acres on 736-acre Pickerel Lake, adjacent to the Northern Highland American Legion Forest. The cabin is part of a nine-unit rustic resort.

A 450-square-foot lakeside cabin in Dennis Port, Mass., listed at $185,000. A fisherman's hideaway in need of some updating.

For $85,000, this 480-square-footer in Fayette, Maine, can be yours.

A 520-square-foot cottage in Lusby, Md., is listed for $270,000. It has a little more than a half-acre of land.

At $59,000, this 674-square-foot cottage -- is it an A-frame? -- in Hideaway, Texas, seems appropriately sited.

And for a place you might actually want to live, there's a 416-square-foot cottage in Hawaii for $895,000.

To see other small space homes, check out the TinyHouse blog.

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