House & Home

Microhomes Do It Small

Posted September 22, 2013

For years, people have been aspiring to the biggest house possible; the mark of success in the United States is, after all, a sprawling manse with multiple bedrooms and baths, a swath of bright green lawn, and a swingset in the backyard. It used to be that the more money you had, the bigger you bought or built, all the better to show off your accomplishments. Today, though, that's changing, thanks to the tiny house and microhome movements.

When it comes to strict definitions for tiny houses and microhomes, you'll get a lot of answers. In a nutshell? Think small. Think really, really small. Many are under 500 square feet, and some barely top 200. They're an exercise in brilliant and extremely careful architecture and interior design to get the most out of every available inch, and many manage to feel surprisingly spacious, given their tiny square footage.

There are a lot of reasons people are turning towards the microhome. For one thing, it's a design trend, and some big names in architecture and design are exploring it; early adopters, people who follow fashion, and trendsetters want in on the ground level, so they're getting interested in microhomes and the tiny house movement. For another, the green ramifications of microhome design are huge. While these homes are not necessarily environmentally friendly by default, their small size makes it easy to make them energy efficient, and smart moves in design and construction can make them even greener.

They're also just plain space-efficient, which is a concern in crowded regions of the world. Japan, for example, has been a pioneer in highly efficient living spaces, out of both aesthetics and necessity.

The microhome is forcing people to rethink not just how much space they need to live comfortably and happy, but how many resources they need. Many of these homes intelligently blur the lines between indoors and outdoors to create a greater sense of space that also deepens the connection with nature for the occupants. And conversations about them are pushing people to confront attitudes about homebuilding and design. Who says you have to go big or go home?

This Spanish microhome highlights some of the key characteristics of the movement: it's tiny, it's beautiful, it's brilliantly well-designed, it has prefab potential, and it's portable. Like many microhomes, it doesn't just challenge interior space, but also the sense of "home." Is home where the heart is, or where your house is? Here's a 65 square foot microhome, small enough to easily bring wherever you need it to go. The Metapod, clocking in at 125 square feet, is designed for off-grid use.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this innovative, creative, and exciting movement. For architects, contractors, and developers, microhomes represent a great deal of potential and an opportunity to work with consumers on creating their dream homes in ways that might be unexpected; we have entered the era of flatpack houses, stylish prefabrication, and so much more.

Designers need to rethink everything from the heating and cooling systems to the roofing. Phoenix and other cities with temperature extremes bring their own demands to microhome design, especially when there's a good chance a home will be on the move at some point during its life.

Organizations and design firms interested in promoting microhomes sometimes have tours or model units available to visit, and they are definitely worth it. Seeing a microhome in real life might just blow your mind and totally reframe the way you think about your housing needs.

Katie Marks writes for

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