“Living large with less” is a popular idea in matters of consumer spending and retirement planning, but nothing brings it into focus more than the growing popularity of tiny houses and cottages.
Interest across the U.S. today in small, environmentally-friendly living has spawned a new generation of tiny cottage and home dwellers — not to mention a booming cottage industry.
“The trend is growing beyond anything I could imagine,” shares Ryan Mitchell, owner and editor of The Tiny Life (tinylife.com,) a Charlotte-based Internet site that provides practical information about tiny dwellings to readers in 190 countries. The site is visited by “hundreds of thousands” of individuals each month.
“When I first started,” Mitchell notes, “it was to catalogue design ideas for my tiny house. Then a lot people began showing up, and it’s since been a wild ride.”
English-born architect Sarah Susanka, best-selling author of “The Not So Big House” first published in 1997, gets credit for launching The Small House Movement. That formative notion found traction in 2005 once tiny “Katrina Cottages” were invented for Hurricane Katrina survivors. It took root and blossomed during the U.S. economic crisis beginning in 2007. Today, it has become a social movement full of people looking to downsize.
“I am seeing a lot of interest. People are using them as cottages or backyard offices or studios,” notes tiny house builder Andrew Gilcheck, a Holland, Mich. native and owner of Vagavond (vagavond.com), formerly The Itty Bitty House Company. Gilcheck recently moved to Eugene, Oregon, a hot bed for tiny house building. He is now designing an “off-grid,” propane-powered model.
Meanwhile, other commercial builders see growth throughout the Midwest.
“People all around the Great Lakes want a cost-effective way to have a place on the water,” said Meg Stephens, an architect and lead designer for Tumbleweed Tiny House Company (tumbleweedhouses.com) in Sonoma, Calif. “We find in Michigan, where the landscape and environment is so attractive, the interest is very strong.”
At the end of this October, Stephens will present a two-day workshop on Tiny House Living in Ann Arbor. The company produces 21 models on wheels called Houses-to-Go which provide from 112 to 172 square feet of living space. They also offer nine plans for elegant, tiny cottages up to 800 square feet built from the ground up.
“We’re not in the market of ‘Katrina Cottages,’” explains Debby Richman, Tumbleweed’s marketing director. “Most who are interested in Tumbleweed cottages want to live beautifully, and simply. A lot of couples who buy them are baby-boomers who want a vacation house.
“Or…just to get out the house.”