From sea to shining sea, in the mountains and in the valleys, the Tiny House movement is becoming housing’s equivalent of tech’s smartphone boom. Tiny houses are big and getting bigger. The small dwellings are having a big economic impact on the housing market and a bigger, and perhaps more important impact on how we live in the twenty-first century. Taking a close look at the movement could benefit everyone from “Tiny House” hunters to realtors to builders to architects to designers and manufacturers of furniture. But to understand it as more than a bit of current pop culture, one must first understand its history. Tiny living is really the newest old thing.
While the average American house is around 2,600 square feet, anything below 1000 square feet is technically tiny. However, the typical Tiny ranges between 100 to 400 square feet. So, many people are choosing to live their lives in a space that could fit into a fairly average family room. It is a hot trendy phenomenon that is anything but new. In fact, it is more than 100 years old.
Beginning around 1890, people began fighting the results of the industrial revolution fed by the gluttonous growth of corporations. That growth had lured many people from farms to the city, and by the end of the 19th century, a “Simplicity Movement” took hold, encouraging people to leave the teaming city centers. There, they began building bungalows that are more popularly known as Craftsman houses. The small houses were an affordable solution for members of the middle class leaving city centers to areas that became known as suburbs. Bungalows were often kit houses turned out for the first time in 1907 by the Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan and then offered by big retailers like Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. During the Post WWI recession, houses shrunk even more and Aladdin turned out plans for very small houses with “bed closets,” Murphy Beds and kitchenettes.
Home sizes rose with the end of the recession but they fell again during the Great Depression of the early 1930’s. After the depression they grew with the economy, but World War II and the shortage of building materials kept house size to around 1000 square feet, again according to Small House Living. After the war, houses grew with the economy and by 2000, home sizes more than doubled, to average homes of around 2200 square feet. The architect credited with inspiring the current Tiny House movement is Sarah Susanka, author of a series of “Not So Big House” books. Ms. Susanka’s website, “The Not So Big House,” actually includes plans for a “Not So Big” bungalow” that is a nod to those early twentieth century bungalows.
Today’s Tinies shrink Ms. Susanka’s “Not So Big” houses to barely there houses, but the reason for the surge is the same one that led those early 19th century revolutionaries. People go tiny to help the environment and to reduce their housing and living expenses. The reduction allows them to spend less time at work and more time at play. Tiny home buyers believe that in choosing simplicity, they trade the shackles of a mortgage for independence. The Tiny House movement is one part of “Voluntary Simplicity” which advocates less consumption and a sustainable lifestyle.
Tiny House owners are modern day pioneers, embarking on a challenging course of reducing their possessions and compacting their lives. It is not a new path, for the origin of choosing small houses dates back over 100 years, and the quest for simplicity is as ancient as the human habit of pursuing it in the most complicated way possible. +