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LIVING SMALL
(Published: 2007-06-28)

America is the poster child for everything super-sized. From the McMansions we live in to gigantic food portions served at our favorite restaurants, we subscribe passionately to the theory that “bigger is better.” In many ways, it’s become part of our cultural DNA.

Consider our homes. Until 1970, most American’s lived in houses about the size of today’s garages. Although McMansions currently rule the roost, a countertrend is building. The real estate market has slowed down, the building frenzy has calmed, and foreclosures are on the rise. As a result, many homeowners are reframing what home means and deciding that perhaps it is better to live small, but well.

Ralph Waldo Emerson may have started the trend when he fled the big city in 1840 and retreated to Walden Pond to live in 150 square feet surrounded by nature. Sarah Susanka is the trendsetter for our age. Her best selling “Not So Big House” series has helped many homeowners realize that they can downsize their homes without downsizing their dreams. Her new book, “The Not So Big Life,” suggests that now is the time to rethink our values as well as our floor plans in order to make room for what really matters.

Many different kinds of people are doing just that. Retiring baby boomers are ready to simplify their lives. Design savvy young couples are looking for an affordable way to live well; they want the best but may be content with less. Foot loose and fancy-free empty nesters might decide on two or three smaller homes in different locations. Why chose between the mountains or the seaside when you can easily afford both? A tiny home may even be the ‘any port in a storm’ practical answer to a disaster over which we have no control.

The range and style of Live Small homes is huge, and the end uses are diverse. At 65 square feet, a pre-fab Tumbleweed Tiny House is a rustic unit that can serve as a quiet back yard studio or the perfect weekend hideaway at the lake. The weeHouse pre-fab system offers a modern design aesthetic, efficient use of space, and intelligent adaptation of building technology. These little gems are available in single-unit Solitaires or special use Companions, and as such, are adaptable to a wide range of needs. Some become in-law apartments or a guesthouse, offering autonomy and proximity in the same 400 square feet of space.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to options. The Perrinepod from Australia is a self-contained pre-fab pod that can be stacked 30 stories high. They come in 3 sizes: 1,2, or 3 bedroom models are available, perfect for that growing, extended family. Architect Jean-Mic Perrine’s philosophy is similar to Sarah’s: “Houses should be nothing more or less than what its inhabitants need” and “simple design and beautiful material should be able to stand the test of time.” (Source: Trendwatching.com.)

For those with a bit of wanderlust, Cavco redefines the trailer. 19 models of “loft living” are available in well-designed trailer park homes that look like English country cottages, log cabins, or even modernist glass cube homes. All feature upscale amenities such as track lighting and hardwood floors.

Whether your desire to Live Small is motivated by the need to simplify your life, use fewer resources, or save money, finding a small home is a breeze. Options include on line, in store, or even catalogs. The recent Design Within Reach catalog features a fully rigged “everything old is new again” Airstream Trailer on the front cover. For $49,066 you can see the world or simply add a room to your back yard. The exclusive model features everything from air conditioning to silky soft sheets, recessed halogen lights, a Sony TV and sound system, outdoor patio seating, a skylight, and even a Tom Dixon coat rack.

If streamlined aluminum doesn’t push your magic button, head to Lowes where you can buy a Katrina kit house (in select states). Dismayed by FEMA’s woefully sterile trailers, New York architect Marianne Cusato designed a series of charming cottages based on the Gulf Coast’s classic shotgun and Creole-style homes. The components—from rot- and mold-resistant siding to plumbing and appliances—cost $45 to $55 per square feet, with a final cost of about $25,000 to $51,500 (not including construction and HVAC). In true “less is more” fashion, the 2 bedroom version features a full-size porch shaded by eaves. A Katrina house delivers function as well as character: they are engineered to withstand hurricane force winds.

Whatever port you chose to weather the storms of life, consider your options carefully. Deciding to Live Small can help you lay a proper foundation for deciding what’s really important. Then, you can forget about the walls around you and focus on living your life instead.

For more info: weehouses.com, tumbleweedhouses.com, cusatocottages.com, cavco.com.



Tumbleweed Tiny House


Katrina Cottage



Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at www.rwtrend.com. All Rights Reserved.


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