Microhouses


We heard about the trend to build McMansions, huge house that have far more space than the occupants could possibly need. An opposite trend is to build what are called microhouses, tiny living spaces that try to utilize every bit of space efficiently. Some of them are ingenious in their design and quite beautiful

But the record for the smallest house may well go to this one. Here’s the street view.

£275,000 house in Barnsbury

Here’s the bedroom/livingroom/kitchen.

£275,000 house in Barnsbury

Here’s the bathroom.

£275,000 house in Barnsbury

And since it is in a posh London residential area, it costs a mere $400,000.

I like to think that I don’t have much stuff but looking at these houses, I just don’t see how I can fit in what I think I need. Of course, I realize that this is an indulgence for the affluent where what we consider minimal requirements are actually luxuries. Billions of people are forced to live in extremely small spaces and manage it because they have no choice.

Comments

  1. Paulo Borges says

    It’s not as complicated at it would appear to live in a place like this. I live in a 30 square meter apartment with my wife and the space is more than enough.
    What we need to take in account is if really we need all the stuff we think we need.
    For people like me the best invention of mankind is the ebook reader!

  2. soogeeoh says

    London has the smallest house, but not only! 🙁

    London flats ‘worse than prison cells’ condemned by council

    London property company is charging £255 a week for ‘studio apartments’ as small as three metres by three metres […] Some tenants have described life in the flats as “unsafe and inhumane” and have complained of a lack of hygiene caused by the proximity of cramped toilets, showers and cooking facilities.

  3. krambc says

    Making houses smaller is no solution:

    LAND MONOPOLY is not the only monopoly, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies — it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly. Unearned increments in land are not the only form of unearned or undeserved profit, but they are the principal form of unearned increment, and they are derived from processes which are not merely not beneficial, but positively detrimental to the general public.

    Winston Churchill made this speech in 1909 in favour of Land Value Rent

  4. soogeeoh says

    Making houses smaller is no solution […]

    That’s what Scrooge McDuck realized too, but he had another solution!
    There was a Duck story here, in Europe, in which the tenants were made smaller (he had to trick Gyro Gearloose into inventing such a device) to fit more of them in his apartment buildings, eventually it backfired of course …

  5. says

    There’s a wonderful magazine called the “small house journal” that is often quite beautiful. And, another favorite small house trend is the modern “romany cart” — there are a fair number of build-outs on instructables, some of which are really adorable.

  6. leni says

    I love how thoughtfully designed so many of them are. I have more space, but a lot of it just isn’t usable and isn’t nearly as nice. The closets are badly designed and are unreachable, dark wastes of space where I am kind of afraid to store things. Windows are in stupid places. Somehow I have maybe 3ft of counter space in a fairly large open kitchen. There is an inexplicably large foyer that could be living space. The electrical outlet placement is bizarre and I have to run extension cords across walkways and through doorways. Whoever designed this place put only as much thought into it as they had to to get the job done, possibly less. And my rent for a year is as much as some of these microhouses cost to build.

    I could definitely live in one. Some things would have to go, but I’m not sure I’d miss them. Except the big L couch. (It’s great for guests if you don’t have a spare room and way more comfortable than a futon!) It would be hard to keep indoor pets in a house that small, though. That would probably be the real dealbreaker for me.

  7. says

    I can’t imagine. My wife and I live in nearly 2000 sq ft… but it doesn’t cost half of what that tiny house does. I also have 5 housepets, and each one needs space enough so that they don’t kill each other. Plus I need my space and my wife needs hers since we both work* from home.

    I don’t know. Super-tiny homes for tons of cash? That’s a special kind of ostentatious conspicuous consumption that irritates the hell out of me.

  8. leni says

    Super-tiny homes for tons of cash?

    Ostentatious and irritating, says they guy with the 2000 square foot home with for 2 people. And 5 pets.

  9. Dunc says

    I don’t know. Super-tiny homes for tons of cash? That’s a special kind of ostentatious conspicuous consumption that irritates the hell out of me.

    You should see what normal-sized homes in that part of London cost.

  10. flex says

    I’ve seen these before as my wife likes the concept. However, there are practicality issues with houses which are this small. In the above example simply rolling out of the wrong side of bed is potentially fatal, but even in other designs I’ve seen there is a ubiquitous problem of what do you do with your stuff. (I know – get rid of it is the usual answer. But where would you put a kitty litter tray in the above house? Is the answer to get rid of your cat?)

    Mano, where would you grade papers in the above house? You would either have to rigorously exclude work from intruding into your home, or cover the one table in the house with papers while you worked on them. Preventing any other occupant of the house from using the table to eat at, or grade papers themselves. If you needed to have some reference books around, or even a computer to work on, they must be stored away or even transported off-site (maybe back to the office) once the task is complete.

    The only way these types of micro-houses work is by taking many of the things we normally do in a house and performing them at other locations. Or by being a person who has few activities they want to do in their home in the first place.

    This is not to suggest that these micro-homes are badly designed, only that they are specialized domiciles which would not be appropriate for most people. Perhaps I would call them over-designed because they don’t have the flexibility of use that a home is currently expected to exhibit.

    A house is both a tool and a system. As a tool it should be designed to meet the occupants needs for living, which includes performing work at home, recreation, hobbies, research, and many other things. As a system it should efficiently meet the requirements for quality living; including being a comfortable shelter, allow proper hygiene, enable food preparation, and provide a place for storage of all the artifacts we use for everyday life.

    Clearly, most houses don’t meet this standard. McMansions are often poorly designed systems and inadequate tools which discourage activities within them. Speculative builders use a common house plan, with little flexibility, and are often built before an occupant is identified. Even those people who can afford to build a house are often motivated more by conspicuous consumption than by their actual needs. Then, because building a house is a long and expensive process, the vast majority of people (myself included) find something within their price range and make adjustments.

    But, as you could probably tell, even if I can’t afford to build the house I want, I have really enjoyed studying how houses work. I’ve read quite a number of authors, but the two which really resonate with me are Witold Rybczynski and Christopher Alexander.

  11. Paulo Borges says

    @ Mano
    Yep , 7.5 mt by 4 mt.
    I have to say that it seemed impossible to me the first time I saw it without furniture, I was only convinced when I saw one whit furniture.
    I live in the old quarters of Lisbon, tiny streets with tiny homes. For a long time nobody wanted to live in such small places, preferring the outskirts of the city. Young couples, couples without children or single people are coming back to the center in an effort to cut living costs, especially transport costs (a car is a huge budget drain in Europe). The prices are a fraction of the one you presented.

  12. says

    I notice that the house in the photo is a one-storey building. That’s a waste of urban land that more than cancels out the benefit of smaller living-spaces. A better solution would be to build high-rises containing more sensibly designed apartments.

  13. Mano Singham says

    flex @#12,

    Yes, I think the idea is that those who live in such homes outsource many of the things they used to do at home. Although it is not to this extreme, there is a trend in high density urban areas in the US for tiny apartments for people who do not want to share but cannot afford more space. These apartments are in places where there are lots of restaurants and cafes and public spaces nearby so that one socializes and works there, using the home largely for sleeping and eating.

    As someone who likes to spend a lot of time at home, this might not work for me.

  14. Mano Singham says

    Paolo @#13,

    Is my description (#15) of the life of people who live in such small spaces that was written in response to flex consistent with the way you live?

  15. movablebooklady says

    I may have mentioned before that I live in 100 sq ft RV with a 3/4 couch, twin-sized bed, stove, sink, fridge, toilet, and storage. Yes, it requires ruthless editing of possessions but I still carry around 200 pb books and more clothes than I need. I also took out the full-sized couch and replaced it with a 5.5 ft long desk with room underneath for more storage and for the printer and scanner. I’m now making plans to expand into a microhouse of about 280 sq ft. Imagine! Almost triple the space! I’ll have shelves to put the books on instead of keeping them in containers under the desk. I’m pretty giddy at the thought. But I don’t *need* that much space, really. Lots of the tiny houses I see are more taken up with architectural fancies than they need to be, and stairs are not so good when you get older (I’m 71). I like the trend to less space but I’m more interested in the ones with movable and folding and flexible elements.

  16. Paulo Borges says

    @Mano,

    You got it, living in small apartment requires adjustments especially social life, large gatherings are impossible, we have quite often friends for dinner but just 2 people, no more. Restaurants and other public places are the best choice for larger gatherings. There are numerous public parks in the city that are used more and more for social events like birthdays and so on, which are impossible to organize in a small apartment.
    There are many tricks one can use to adjust to the lack of space, in our case we preferred to dispense with a pantry area to get more living space, the downside is an almost daily 5 minute walk to the supermarket.
    Work related problems I don’t have, my laptop the only thing I bring home from work, but I can see how in some cases there might be some incompatibilities.
    A trend that is rising here is the shared office space, instead of renting an office one can rent a desk in a shared space with access to private meeting rooms, I guess this is a way to solve it and avoid work at home.

  17. Numenaster says

    Wow–a five minute walk to the supermarket. That kind of residential & commercial mix is uncommon in my part of the US, and I believe our zoning laws make it pretty much illegal in most of this country. It’s how we got into the car-dependent mess we’re in. I can walk to the supermarket, but it’s a half hour walking back because I live uphill from it. I’ve done it with bags before, but I wouldn’t try it with anything that should be kept cool. I know of no passive insulation that will keep ice cream frozen for a half hour.

  18. funknjunk says

    There’s a whole “Tiny House” thing. I can’t provide links because at work. I think there’s even a Tiny House documentary on Netflix. Pretty cool designs. For the commenter above calling out the weaknesses of tiny house living … yeah, it’s small. The REALLY small spaces may not be viable for everyone, but the idea is wonderful. Even for designs more in the norm, the ideas of opening up the spaces to be more conducive to family feeling together and connected are super valuable ….

  19. Paulo Borges says

    @Numenaster
    The area of the city in which I live is a very old, people have been living here since the Bronze Age therefore it’s designed for people without car, there are many streets where cars don’t even fit. I have all I need in a 15 minute walk radius from my apartment.
    In the outskirts of the city to live without a car is very difficult if not impossible.

  20. flex says

    @Paulo Borges

    One of the things Christopher Alexander suggests is a return to urban design where there is a mix of services provided within walking distance of homes. Services which would include things like grocery stores, pubs, parks (with sports fields), gyms, tea rooms, etc. And if necessary, provide public transportation to places of employment which may be located further than a short walk from home.

    The American urban sprawl, which is what I’m most familiar with, is caused by a number of factors. One of which is the cultural desire/expectation of home ownership as a mark of success. Another factor is fear/bigotry. Another factor, which I believe could use some additional attention is what appears to be a uniquely American attribute of regular moves into neighborhoods just above their own social standing as a way to increase social status. I mean, there was a period there where I was watching people move every two years.

    As an aside, I think this trait may also explain why some people are unaware of the problems with America. They never see them because they live in neighborhoods where everyone is at about the same wealth level. My experiences in Europe are that in a European city a fairly wealthy person could be living quite near a very poor person, and see them every day. Not only is there an equality gap in the US, there are built-in societal blinders preventing people in the US from seeing that gap.

    Zoning regulations are an interesting side-point. While I’m not an expert on zoning history, they apparently were put in place as a way to meet the desires of residents. I.e. when someone moved to a suburban area, they didn’t want to have a steel mill buy the property next door. Personally I’m happy that I can own a house without streetlights shining the my window or the noise from a pub echoing across the neighborhood. (And a lot of people want to sleep in houses which are dark and quiet.) So land was designated for certain types of use by the local municipalities. Generally, the idea of zoning, of having the residents of an area have some voice through the local municipality of what and where things are located in a community is a good one. However, there are side-effects of zoning, and one of them is that the municipal leaders are usually not urban planners. So zoning is sometimes quite restrictive and may inhibit community growth.

    But it needn’t be. Near me, in Canton Michigan, they are making an attempt at creating a village out of whole cloth by trying all the things we have learned about urban planning. It’s only been around for about a decade, so it’s too soon to know if it’s going to work. There are other experiments of this nature being tried, I’m very interested in the results. But my concern is that these communities are founded by people all at the same income level, and their cohesiveness may fall apart as time passes and income levels start to separate. I’d love to be proved wrong.

  21. Trebuchet says

    Late to the party, as usual, but:
    1. I’d bet my next flying pumpkin that this isn’t the owners’ only, or even primary, home. Probably a town house, in the old sense of the term.
    2. It’s just another means of rich people showing off.

  22. says

    One of the things Christopher Alexander suggests is a return to urban design where there is a mix of services provided within walking distance of homes. Services which would include things like grocery stores, pubs, parks (with sports fields), gyms, tea rooms, etc.

    I’m all in favor of that — but once I suggested it, and someone asked what would happen to such a mixed neighborhood in a recession? Would it be such a nice place to live and walk about when several of the shops were boarded up and there were larger numbers of unemployed people in the area? And would the stores in such a neighborhood be able to compete with the likes of Home Despot and Walmart?

  23. flex says

    Raging Bee @25 wrote,

    … what would happen to such a mixed neighborhood in a recession?

    That’s a good question. And as you suggest, even without a recession how does a neighborhood shop compete with the big chain stores.

    There are actually some interesting solutions for the recession problem. Depending on the type of recession at least. During the 1930’s, in the great depression, one of the main problems was the liquidity trap caused by insufficient currency flow. People who still had money had nothing to spend it on, and people who needed money didn’t have any way to earn it because no one was buying anything. To counter this problem some banks in small towns in Ohio issued local script. For a few years they printed their own money to allow their local economy to operate. There was significantly less un-employment and thus less privation in those communities. Of course, under US law, this was illegal. But, IIRC, the federal reserve didn’t bother them at all, and when US currency started to flow again they called in the script.

    I don’t know of any good solutions for competition other than customer loyalty. I can postulate that as the costs of production continue to drop and the cost of transportation commonizes across quantity scales that the big stores may be unable to sell things at lower prices than the local mart. In other words, right now the big corporations can negotiate cheaper prices for the goods they purchase (if you order 50,000 widgets, the cost per widget is cheaper than ordering 10). But if the manufacturer is going to making 5,000,000 widgets anyway, the only real different in cost is the shipping. As manufacturing costs drop, and shipping costs drop, the difference in cost between a local shop and a chain store will also drop. At that point the cost of storage and overhead may, in fact, make the local shop more competitive and able to price items lower than the chain stores.

    Clearly we are not at this point yet. And there is another problem is that people have to have the income level to afford to buy at any of the stores. When a grocery store doesn’t pay an employee a high enough wage for them to shop there, there is something wrong with our society.

    But this is not a new problem either. Saki wrote a wonderful short story about this same problem back in 1911. http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/QuaiSeed.shtml

  24. Paulo Borges says

    @Flex – There is some zoning here in Lisbon but not in a strict sense as you talk about it. Of course legislation does not allow for a steel mill or car factory outside designated areas. The rule does not focus much on type but more on size. This is why there will always be the small supermarket, the coffee shop and restaurant just around the corner in most of Portugal. The concept of suburban US with normalized houses and all the pristine lawns can only be achieved in a private area, never in a public place open to everyone, where to city has no power to enforce “lawn regulations”. We need and appreciate rules but non troppo.

  25. anat says

    I suppose we could get rid of a lot of stuff. Outsourcing laundry would be a drag, and likely an expense. But the 2 biggest issues would be needing to cut down on number of books in the house (not sure if I will ever adapt to reading novels off a screen) and losing the pantry. I don’t mind walking to the stores, but I’d rather not have to deal with shopping more than once a week, and I like to be able to improvise in my cooking as I go. And if for some reason (bad weather, illness, some other crisis) I can’t leave the house as planned, I’d like to be able to eat anyway. A few years ago we were snowed in for 2 weeks and had no trouble cooking all that time.

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