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Book Review: Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter: Scaling Back In The 21st Century

Much like this web site, Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter is a compilation of like-minded people’s stories. The common thread that weaves between the stories is the builders’ immense pride of place, a drive for independence and a vision that, when little goes to waste, life can have greater meaning.

From the Introduction:

In 1973, we published Shelter, an oversized offspring of the Whole Earth Catalog, with 1000 photos of buildings around the world. At the heart of the book were designs for five different tiny homes, with drawings by Bob Easton.

In those days, many people were looking for ways to escape the conventional suit/job, bank/mortgage, or rent/landlord approach to housing. In Shelter, we encouraged people to use their hands in creating living space, to be creative, to scale back, to start small.

Like a lot of other ideas from the ‘60s, this concept is popular once again. Tiny homes have been discovered not just by the public, but also by the media.

For one thing, the mortgage crisis has devastated housing in North America. Huge homes along with huge mortgages were, in the end result, unsustainable. Millions of people have had the rug pulled out from under them.

In addition, wages are down, jobs increasingly scarce, and rents even higher. We’ve gone through a long period of over-consumption, of people living beyond their means, of houses too big and incomes too small.

As we witness the end of a pie-in-the-sky housing boom, and enter an era of increasing costs for that most basic of human needs, shelter, there’s a grassroots movement to scale things back.


It may strike some that the tiny house movement is a group of near fanatics: They’ll spend hours tooling and re-thinking the use of their space; Efficiency is of utmost importance; and they’ve turned it into a kind of competitive sport. But when you think about their motivations for going tiny, these folks end up looking pretty darn smart.

Imagine yourself with a small spot of land. Now imagine that you are able to have a home on this land with far less investment than a traditional house would require. Maybe even without a mortgage. Then ask yourself: Do I really need a dining room if I always eat in the kitchen? Is entertaining outside a better option? What worldly possessions do I really need to be fulfilled?

Leafing through the stories in Tiny Homes Simple Shelter may help many feel that the dream of owning a reasonable, livable space is within reach.

While some of these spaces are artfully designed and lovingly adorned – fitting for any home décor magazine — others are built strictly for function with heaving shelves, overloaded storage compartments and hanging pots and pans. Regardless, the message is the same: a tiny house is an affordable, comfortable option for those looking to carve out their own space. One is only limited by imagination (and common-sense building principles).

The book is broken into the following topic areas:

Tiny Homes on Foundations – including the dreamy, lovely Kim and Jonny’s Cabin once featured on Design*Sponge.

Tiny Homes on Wheels – a clever way of skirting zoning and building regulations, and also (as something we think a lot about here) an opportunity for sheltering beginning farmers working leased or temporary land.

Tiny Homes By Architects – this is the jackpot for high design nerds.

Prefabs and Kits – Tiny is a huge industry!

Earthy Materials – Like cob, straw bale, rammed earth, driftwood and urbanite. These stories showcase some incredible low-tech skills.

Treehouses – Who wouldn’t want to sleep in the trees??

On The Road – Campers, busses, caravans and gypsy wagons fit to join the circus with.

On The Water – Boats and floating homesteads.

So…now that you’re a tiny house enthusiast, too, we want to ask a question in the spirit of HOMEGROWN: What five kitchen items would you fit into your tiny kitchen? The assumed kitchen items are already there (stove, fridge, sink), so tell us what you can’t live without! A commenter will be chosen at random to receive a copy of Tiny Homes Simple Shelter on Friday March 9th at noon ET.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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