From my extensive Facebook feed research, I've noticed a growing obsession with Cabin Porn. What's not to love about simple wooden houses, surrounded by trees, in pristine natural settings (especially when you're stalking photos of them from your city apartment)? But Cabin Porn is just one rabbit hole you can fall down when fantasizing about going off the grid. There's a tiny house movement swelling in Northern California, one that's heavily documented with gorgeous images of wee living spaces. The exact size criteria for pee-wee homes varies depending on who you're talking to. I've seen places advertised that are anywhere from under 100 to just over 800 square feet, and they're available to rent, build, own, or just gawk at. But the movement is based on conservation – of space, possessions, and most of all, money. It's hard for most of us to imagine buying a home in San Francisco right now, but hey, a pint-sized house on a plot of land up north? Much easier to aspire towards, especially with financial statistics like this.
The site that started me on this desire spiral is Tiny House Listings, a hub for all the small dwellings your Internet surfing attention span can handle. The site lists all kinds of confined spaces, from homes to geodesic domes. And then if you really want to go deep, there's also Tiny House Swoon, which is similar to Cabin Porn except it adds in Igloo villages and caravans amongst amazing architectural projects.
While these bits of eye candy come from all over the word, there's a great local company making portable little cabins, selling DIY mini home kits, and hosting building workshops up in Sonoma. The company is called Tumbleweed, and they make some incredible looking dwellings.
Tumbleweed is staffed by folks who have built or lived in small spaces themselves. President Steve Weissmann's place was once a tight 400 square feet, and he tells me that Sonoma County has been an epicenter for mini home living for more than a decade. Of course, the little house trend is not without its challenges. Tumbleweed's head of customer service, Ross Beck, says the hardest things about going small are paring down your possessions and keeping the cramped quarters spotless. "In discussions with many tiny home dwellers, there are books, clothes, and things you never meant to save," Beck says. "It's challenging though cathartic."
I wanted to get more of the lowdown on the big interest in bitty homes, so I asked Weissmann to give me the scoop.
What first got you guys interested in small houses?
The company began as a means of sharing designs for do-it-yourself builders, and grew to provide training, workshops, and support for building homes. As the tiny house movement grew, we became interested in helping more people live tiny. Tumbleweed now builds and sells House-To-Go models, where customers select from our four models and 30 floor plans.
What size qualifies as a “tiny house” in your world?
Today, our House-To-Go models range from 117-172 square feet, and are RVIA (recreation vehicle) certified. Smaller Tumbleweeds have been built before, though lacked flexibility in the living quarters. Keep in mind that size is restricted by trailer width and lengths. By contrast, cottage plans are larger since they get built on site. Our cottage plans often include bedroom additions, and range from 261 to 874 square feet.
What is driving the tiny house market for buyers?
It's driven by people seeking pared-down, affordable, and stylish living spaces. Tiny houses offer a living space for family and visitors, and are also used as second or vacation homes. These trailer homes are certified as recreational vehicles, which means they are easily relocated and financed for around $400/month.
What trends are you seeing in the tiny house world?
(a) When the tiny house world began, people built their own homes based on plans. These builders fuel growth and interest, and they actively share their knowledge and living experiences.
(b) Many people want to downsize and live well, not just singles. We see a trend towards couples and retirees who want to buy houses on wheels, more than tiny land-based cottages.
If you're into building your own mini home, Tumbleweed Houses (who supplied all the images used here) is hosting a two-day workshop in Sonoma November 9-10 where folks can to learn all about tiny houses and how they get constructed. (There's a 30% discount if you sign up by the end of September). Otherwise, you can check out all things Tumbleweed here, Tiny House Listings here, and Tiny House Swoon here.