Like the real-estate version of an Easter bonnet parade, many of the tiny homes of today are decked with brightly-painted awnings, adorable attachable hot-tubs and perspex porches where the residents can kick back with a miniature mirror-glazed cupcake and Instagram their micro-piglets.
Since its inception in the late 1990s, the tiny house movement has captured the public imagination and appears to be becoming increasingly fashionable. However, they’re not to be mistaken for a fad. Fashioning eyebrow-raisingly small domestic spaces out of surprisingly little material is both an intrinsic part of human history, and an area where there continues to be scope for innovation. Especially with regard to the materials we use, and how much energy we can save in the process.
Wood, net and bears: the history of micro-homes
Micro-homes are arguably a part of our DNA – they’ve existed for thousands of years in various forms, and have guarded our species against the elements whilst providing warmth, comfort, and security. From tree-houses and bedouin tents to igloos and houseboats, we have been fashioning domestic spaces out of the materials we have available to protect ourselves from harsh weather and roaming predators since the earliest historical records.
At first glance, the micro-homes of today have little in common with our ancestors’ defences against the elements. In cities, the problems we face while designing living spaces are also products of our environment, but they fly in the face of historical challenges. We’re experiencing nature deprivation, rather than saturation. For instance, the diminishing variety of plants and animals can survive in our metropolises, and the insufficient amounts of natural light that we are typically exposed to.
The solution? Let’s go micro
We may be trying to survive different elements to those weathered by our ancestors, but many of the people scoping out the possibilities of micro-homes today are doing so as a survival tactic. For improving the viability of inner-city dwelling, micro-homes have been hailed as a panacea to both homelessness and gentrification. As seen globally, notably in the US where micro-villages are gaining popularity, tiny living enables greater numbers of people to coexist in a given area.
And for those looking to escape from the concrete jungle rather than survive in it, the benefits of downsizing are also increasingly evident. When it is the size of a trailer – and, indeed, on wheels – the scope for positioning your eco-friendly dream home in the environment of your choice increases dramatically. Pack your bags, but not your baggage. Goodbye expensive, high-stress dystopia. Hello, rural idyll of your choice.
Smart living: the way forward
“Life is simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Confucius
Contemporary micro-homes are generally sized under around 37 m2, but can be as little as 7.4 m2. They vary greatly in aesthetics, and there appears to be no glass ceiling to how futuristic (and luxurious!) the design of a micro-home can be.
Popularised by Sarah Susanka’s 1997 book The Not So Big House, modern micro-homes are, primarily, a backlash against expansive consumerism. Their “build better, not bigger” ethos hails a new dawn in the conception of luxury: smart living. Instead of taking material goods and square footage owned as its metrics, successful smart living relates to how effectively you have attained freedom from clutter by discarding nonessential possessions, and trimming your living quarters of surplus space.
With a recent surge in popularity of smart living, micro-homes are particularly contemporarily relevant. Figures like Marie Kondo are leading a new era in simplistic home living, which is likely to continue to extend into the ways we actually build our nests.
Back to basics: how Thoreau can you go?
The transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau has been described as a pioneer of the modern micro-home. His 1849 book, Walden, or Life in the Woods, details his experiences of living in a self-constructed cabin in rural land owned by his friend, the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,” he explains.
Integral to both his cabin and the writings he produces on it, his windows are quickly evidenced as one of the most important structural elements of this early micro-home. They serve as a connecting hatch through Thoreau engages in visceral interactions with the life of the forest. He welcomes the rabbits, red squirrels, partridges and even wasps, which, he describes, “came by thousands to my lodge in October, as to winter quarters, and settled on my windows, within and on the walls over-head, sometimes deterring visitors from entering.”
Several templates for models of micro-home that are currently available online are named after Walden, invoking the spirit of the courageous self-sufficiency that courses through the memoir. But what if there was a way to experience the intensely enriching proximity to nature with Thoreau describes, without being exposed to any of the crippling discomforts?
The future of tiny homes: nature connection
Humans are masters of the art of eating our cake and having it too. It should come as no surprise that micro-architects are already strategising how the “best bits” of a living experience like Thoreau’s ‒ the wellbeing benefits of living in harmony with the natural world ‒ could be harnessed, without necessarily carrying the brambles that poked increasingly wildly through the floors of the original micro-home into the twenty-first century.
In fact, glass homes already exist which allow you to experience an always enriching – but not uncomfortably all encompassing – connection with nature. The Photon Space is a new kind of home made entirely of glass, which allows you to reap the benefits of natural light throughout the day, from the comfort of its adaptably temperate indoor climate.
Going micro could now mean being able to, literally, bring the stars to your ceiling and the forest to your doorstep. The technologies used to create this self-contained, stand-alone living space are becoming increasingly anticipated by a new generation of home-owners looking to live smart, connect with nature and escape the city. Perhaps we are already on the cusp of a transition from ‘tiny living’ to ‘tiny thriving.’
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If you’d like to know more about the Photon Space, or about adding any form of glass installation to your property – from bespoke glass windows to a full extension – don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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