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Living in a Jewelbox

By Kirsten Dirksen
November 15, 2009
File under: Energy Efficiency, Green Building Design, Living Space

In a land where the average home size has grown steadily for nearly 15 years and is now over twice that of Europe, there’s a growing group of Americans embracing a small is beautiful philosophy and living in homes “smaller than some people’s closets.”

Call them tiny houses, wee homes, mini dwellings, “sensibly sized” or microhomes, there’s a new movement afoot in the United States, that the Small House Society explains includes “movie stars who have downsized into 3000 square feet, families of five happy in an arts and crafts bungalow, multifamily housing in a variety of forms, and more extreme examples, such as people on houseboats and in trailers with just a few hundred square feet around them.”

While they assert it’s not a movement aimed at being “tinier-than-thou”, there are those micro-homeowners like Jay Shafer who lives in a very wee 96 square foot home, which he admits is part political statement. He explains his small dwelling philosophy on the website of his Tumbleweed Tiny House company, where he sells homes as small as 65 square feet to the relatively expansive 837-square-foot model.

“Since 1997 I have been living in a house smaller than some people’s closets. I call the first of my little hand built houses Tumbleweed. My decision to inhabit just 89 square feet arose from some concerns I had about the impact a larger house would have on the environment, and because I do not want to maintain a lot of unused or unusable space.”

Your Own Jewelbox

Imagine yourself in these high design, low footprint houses:

The tiny Beach Chalet measures 388-square-feet and was designed by London’s Nina Tolstrup.

The Rotorhaus allows the inhabitants of the 388-square-foot dwelling to rotate among three living “pods”: the kitchen, bathroom and sleeping room.

The 341 square foot weeHouse.

The Williams Cabin mixes Thoreauvian minimalism with modern design.

The Box House in Sao Paulo, Brazil is a 10′x16′ cube made of re-used wood and waste material, overlooking the ocean.

The Wingardhs Mill House is a pricey Swedish mini home based around traditional sauna and bathing rituals.

Where to buy a microhome:

  • Tumbleweed Tiny Houses: 65- 140 square feet *; $37,000 to $50,000; Sebastapol, California. (*These are the “tiny houses”, but the larger-sized “small houses”- designed to meet international building code- range from 251- 837 square feet).
  • Tiny Texas Houses: custom creations of 160 & 336 square feet; from $38,000 to $90,000; Luling, Texas.
  • Nests by Dennis Fukai: 65 – 133 square feet; $5,000; Archer, Florida.
  • miniHome by Sustain Design Studio & Altius Architecture: 408 and 432 square feet; 139,990 Canadian dollars (97,000 US dollars); Toronto, Canada & Napa, California (via Healthy Buildings USA).
  • Micro Compact Home: 73 square feet; 34,000 euros ($46,000) for unit and frame or 50,000 euros ($67,000) includes delivery, installation, connection to services, taxes and fees; Uttendorf, Austria.
  • weeHouse by Alchemy Architects: 341 square feet; $65,000; St. Paul, Minnesota.
  • EcoPods: 160 square feet; designed to be off-grid; CAN$26,650 ($23,600 US); Ontario, Canada.
  • Bungalow In A Box: 192 & 288 square feet; $13,700 & $20,600; Woolwich, Maine.
  • LV Series by Rocio Romero: 625- 1453 square feet; $26,950- $46,050; Perryville, Missouri.

Watch a video of a microhome at

Kirsten is a co-founder of, a news/blog/video site focused on environmental sustainability, and is an experienced tv producer, shooter and editor for MTV, Oxgyen, Sundance Channel and Travel Channel.

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