ninety year-old ideas work in tinies

Did you know that many open space and multiple use ideas in modern homes are at least 90 years old? These ideas work well in tiny houses, whether you’re considering windows, great rooms, sliding walls/doors or cool furniture.

Take a quick video tour of one early, original and inspiring place.

The Rietveld Schroder house

Back in 1924, “De Stilj” school architect Gerrit Rietveld designed his special house with reconfigurable spaces. Today its ground-breaking architecture is honored as a UNESCO heritage site, located in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

This Dutch modern home was built for a widow and her children, who lived differently than their row house neighbors in the 1920s. (Rietveld Schroder House, Centraal Museum)

This Dutch modern home was built for a widow and her children, who lived differently than their row house neighbors in the 1920s. (Rietveld Schroder House, Centraal Museum)

Imagine living in this open and sunny space, with splashes of red, yellow, blue and black. Various walls slide open to create privacy as needed. (Rietveld Schroder House, ArchDaily)

Imagine living in this open and sunny space, with splashes of red, yellow, blue and black. Various walls slide open to create privacy as needed. (Rietveld Schroder House, ArchDaily)

This 1920s home provides open living spaces within a single floor plan. Yet it's private when you enter through the ground floor. (Rietveld Schroder House, Great Buildings)

This 1920s home provides open living spaces within a single floor plan. Yet it’s private when you enter through the ground floor level. (Rietveld Schroder House, Great Buildings)

Tiny moderns inspired by Rietveld

More recently, design cues from the De Stilj school seem to be picked up and integrated into tiny modern builds. Let’s look at a 600 square foot prototype, a 227 square foot house on wheels and, for fun, an eight-inch model. These places still look new and up-to-date!

DESERT HOUSE: In 2009, students from the F.L. Wright School of Architecture created an eco-friendly home. We see Gerrit Reitveld's building shapes and colors here, with a touch of F.L. Wright in the cantilevered opening. (ModFabTM, Architizer)

DESERT HOUSE: In 2009, students from the F.L. Wright School of Architecture created an eco-friendly home. We see Gerrit Reitveld’s building shapes and colors here, with a touch of F.L. Wright in the cantilevered opening. (ModFabTM, Architizer)

DESERT HOUSE: Interior space is arranged simply, with a galley kitchen leading to open seating and an outdoor deck. Behind the camera is another deck and separate sleeping quarters. (ModFabTM, Architizer)

DESERT HOUSE: Interior space is arranged simply, with a galley kitchen leading to open seating and an outdoor deck. Behind the camera is another deck and separate sleeping quarters. (ModFabTM, Architizer)

FARM HOUSE: This tiny house on wheels was built by Yestermorrow School students, and features a charred wood exterior and cool orange door. There's plenty of light shining though its front and side windows. (Yestermorrow, Relaxshacks)

FARM HOUSE: This tiny house on wheels was built by Yestermorrow School students, and features a charred wood exterior and cool orange door. There’s plenty of light shining though its front and side windows. (Yestermorrow, Relaxshacks)

FARM HOUSE: The interior feature we like best is a full sliding wall which creates privacy when using the bathroom, shower or sleeping area. Here's a close-up of the hardware, sliding mechanism and wall-door. (Yestermorrow, Relaxshacks)

FARM HOUSE: The interior feature we like best is a full sliding wall which creates privacy when using the bathroom, shower or sleeping area. Here’s a close-up of the hardware, sliding mechanism and wall-door. (Yestermorrow, Relaxshacks)

FISH HOUSE: If you crave a Reitveld inspired abode, then one tiny fish tank might fit the bill. The De Stilj home is now available for a gold fish or two, in an eight-inch model. ($34.99, De Stilj Fish Apartment, DotandBo)

FISH HOUSE: If you crave a Reitveld inspired abode, then one tiny fish tank might fit the bill. The De Stilj home is available for a gold fish or two, in an eight-inch model. ($34.99, De Stilj Fish Apartment, DotandBo)

wee-sized bathrooms with wood

We don’t quite understand the popularity of wood in smaller and wee-sized bathrooms. Is it about style or getting back to old ways? Nordic saunas might be an inspiration. Or Japanese soaking tubs. Or even life on boats.

It’s a natural thing.

From the coast of Maine, this all-wood bathroom is an inviting indoor retreat. We like the storage as well different wood shades selected here. (Christopher Campbell, architect)

From the coast of Maine, this all-wood bathroom is an inviting indoor retreat. We like the storage as well as different wood shades selected here. (Christopher Campbell, architect)

Who needs a metal horse trough when an extended, all-wood version can be used for a relaxing soak tub? It transforms this bathroom into a spa. (Building Scheme)

Who needs a metal horse trough when an extended, all-wood version can be used for a relaxing soak tub? It transforms this bathroom into a spa. (Building Scheme)

In a French country home, one tiny bathroom gets hidden and revealed. The space is defined by a plywood sliding door and particle board walls. (Jean-Baptiste Barache, architect)

In a French country home, one tiny bathroom gets hidden and revealed. The space is defined by a plywood sliding door and particle board walls. (Jean-Baptiste Barache, architect)

A used wine barrel takes up very little space as a rustic tub and shower floor. It works well for Minnesota parents who bathe their small children and also enjoy soaks. (Tiny House Nation)

A used wine barrel takes up very little space as a rustic tub and shower floor. It works well for Minnesota parents who bathe their small children and also enjoy soaks. (Tiny House Nation)

From Colorado, we found an elegant Thai-inspired bathroom that's just 20 square feet. Teak flooring is a practical and warm choice for this wet bath. (Joe Statwick, owner)

From Colorado, we found an elegant Thai-inspired bathroom that’s just 20 square feet. Teak flooring is a practical and warm choice for this wet bath. (Joe Statwick, owner)

little houses for limited mobility

Don’t cross little cozy houses off your wish list, if you or your loved ones have limited mobility. Small places aren’t only for energetic, ladder-climbing loft dwellers anymore — and may work well as secondary units, retirement abodes or vacation spots.

Hobbitat's Blue Sky model sports 455 square feet and accommodates disabled visitors or residents. (hobbitatspaces.com)

Hobbitat’s Blue Sky model sports 455 square feet and accommodates disabled visitors or residents. (hobbitatspaces.com)

We’re pleased to shine light on Hobbitat, a tiny house builder which already complies with the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) through its Blue Sky house plans. Hobbitat may be the first tiny builder to do so!

In the Blue Sky home, you'll find a sleeping nook for two which is separate from the great room. (hobbitatspaces.com)

In the Blue Sky home, you’ll find a sleeping nook for two which is separate from the great room. (hobbitatspaces.com)

To accommodate wheelchairs and/or walkers, small homes need to have wider doors and more open living spaces to maneuver around. It may translate into adding a bit of square footage to fit perfectly.

Here;s the Blue Sky great room and kitchen, looking down from a second, lofted sleeping area. (hobbitatspaces.com)

Here’s the Blue Sky great room and kitchen, looking down from a second, lofted sleeping area. (hobbitatspaces.com)

To serve physically limited users, bathroom space becomes more spacious than what’s typically found in a tiny house. Extra bathroom fixtures and wall bars get installed to comply with the ADA.

There's a full-sized bathroom in Blue Sky, likely appreciated by disabled and able-bodied users alike. (hobbitatspaces.com)

There’s a full-sized bathroom in Blue Sky, likely appreciated by disabled and able-bodied users alike. (hobbitatspaces.com)

Hobbitat sells its Blue Sky construction plans ($450) directly. Alternatively you could arrange for the company to build, deliver and place a home on your prepared pier foundation. More information about ordering is here.

james madison’s dwelling units

At the turn of the 19th century, not-yet-president James Madison and his wife Dolley moved into their dream estate called Montpelier. They ran a tobacco plantation, worked by slaves living in tiny houses.

Welcome to Montpelier, the Virginian estate of our founding father and fourth President James Madison. Once there were many tiny houses on the property, to house slaves supporting the mansion, grounds and farming. (Montpelier.org)

Welcome to Montpelier, the Virginian estate of our founding father and fourth President James Madison. Once there were many tiny houses on the property, to house slaves supporting the mansion, grounds and farming. (Montpelier.org)

Supporting the mansion

Modern-day archeologists have identified four areas where slaves lived in Montpelier. Notably the South Yard village was built in full view of the mansion, enabling slaves to service the Madisons as needed.

Here's the 3D rendering of the South Yard buildings. Archeologists discovered stone and brick foundations of duplex homes, measuring 16x32 feet total. (Montpelier.org)

Here’s the 3D rendering of the South Yard buildings. Archeologists discovered stone and brick foundations of duplex homes, measuring 16’x32′ total. (Montpelier.org)

Montpelier preservationists decided to build a ghost or framed-only version of the South Yard village, to represent the Madisons’ time. These structures were considered nice enough to get insured back in the early 1800s.

The South Yard framed structures are shown above. They outline duplex homes, one small smokehouse and a large kitchen closest to the mansion itself. (Montpelier.org)

The South Yard framed structures are shown above. They outline duplex homes, one small smokehouse and a large kitchen closest to the mansion itself. (Montpelier.org)

Supporting the plantation

Living conditions were rougher for other Montpelier slaves. Most lived in small, crowded, unstable and ephemeral log cabins. Based on imprints and remains, archeologists have uncovered an example within the Stable Quarters yard.

Slave log cabins were typically built with clay floors, stick and mud chimneys, and pits to store root crops. In the Stable Quarters yard, one home measured 16'x20' total. (Montpelier.org)

Slave log cabins were built with clay floors, stick and mud chimneys, and pits to store root crops. In the Stable Quarters yard, one home measured 16’x20′ total. (Montpelier.org)

Through Montpelier volunteer efforts, a ghost structure was built in 2014 (see video) on the site of Granny Miller’s old cabin. A slave who lived into her 100’s, Granny had descendants who knew about this Stable Quarters yard home!

Here's a framed version of a slave cabin constructed in the Stable Quarters area. Don't be fooled, as this log structure was not built to last. (Montpelier.org)

Here’s a framed version of a slave cabin constructed in the Stable Quarters area. Don’t be fooled, as this log structure was not built to last. (Montpelier.org)

What are the takeaways?

We should eat some humble pie when reflecting on how slaves survived, in homes filled with health-hazards. They had neither options or choices in life. It’s easy to live in safe spaces and places we choose (most of the time).

The radical difference in freedom and house size is fascinating. Today we think about simplification and downsizing to smaller or tiny abodes as a way to gain freedom. How things change, no?

insulation for unrelenting winters

Is your winter filled with cold snaps or unrelenting below-zero temperatures? To live comfortably and economically in a smaller house, we suggest paying attention to insulation quality in your walls, attic/roof and foundation underfoot.

Designed by Go Logic, this 1,000 square foot Maine home cost around $160k to build. When kept at 70 degrees all winter, energy bills ran only $1,000 annually. (Fine Homebuilding PDF)

Designed by Go Logic, this 1,000 square foot Maine home cost around $160k to build. When kept at 70 degrees all winter, energy bills ran only $1,000 annually. (Fine Homebuilding PDF)

Insulation with R-values

Insulation is measured through “the resistance of an insulating or building material to heat flow, expressed as R-11, R-20, and so on; the higher the number, the greater the resistance to heat flow.”

One well-insulated example is the Go Logic home, which achieves extremely high R-values in an affordable, smaller-size residence. Architect Matthew O’Malia reports three specific R-values:

  • 24″ cellulose fills the attic floor (R-84)
  • 8″ EPS-filled SIPs, 2×4 bearing wall with dense-pack cellulose (R-50)
  • 12″ EPS rigid insulation below the slab foundation (R-60)

Right R-values for you

Back in 2012, the International Code Council (ICC) established R-values and other standards for new home builds. Today they are still getting adopted by local municipalities across the country.

By achieving these ICC insulation standards, however, your energy bills should be lower than typical homes. We recommend achieving (or surpassing) them in any upcoming home build.

Insulation Requirements - ICC

Not sure about your climate zone? For reference, here is a color version of the USA climate zone map, from Florida (zone 1) to the upper Midwest (zone 7).

USA Climate Zones - NAIMA

High insulation, low fenestration

Stepping back, your energy savings come from living within a smaller square foot home that also sports high R-value insulation. But wait for the rest of the story.

Fenestration is a fancy word for air flow leaks, which aren’t ideal when trying to maximize indoor warmth. Culprits include fireplace flues, windows, skylights, sliding glass doors, and other holes – and the ICC addresses them too.

For an overview that’s in plain English, we encourage you to download “Build Like This.” Here’s to your small house and its thermal envelope!

learning about Lindal kits

To build small, let’s check out a large kit house provider named Lindal Homes. Some 50,000 homes have been built through Lindal over 70 years. While best known for cedar prow-deck designs, the company has expanded to warm modern styles designed in-house or via architect collaborations.

These "Taliesin" Lindal homes range from 470 to 800 square feet, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. Options include cedar or cement board exteriors, with adjustable interiors to suit your needs. (Lindal.com)

These “Taliesin” Lindal homes range from 470 to 800 square feet, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. Options include cedar or cement board exteriors, with adjustable interiors to suit your needs. (Lindal.com)

Lindal explorations

Explore Lindal’s styles, create a folder to see house plans, and join a conference call to learn more. We dialed into a call last weekend and were surprised to hear Michael Harris, former CEO/President of Lindal, who shared architectural styles and other build information:

  • Project design cost – “A disciplined use of our building system’s most efficient components and assembly details [will] dramatically reduce design time.”
  • Higher home value – “Lindals resell for handsome amounts of money. They get financed like conventional houses [unlike modular homes]. Appraise for more than typical houses because of finishes.”
  • Time to build – “Total length is 6-9 months total, comparable to the typical modular producers. We use local labor, so it’s 9 months to a year.”

Kits and pre-fabs

Lindal is a kit house company which sells finished Post and Beam plans and delivers materials to individual building sites. The company adjusts designs based on the buyer desires, lots and area conditions. There are 100 U.S. Lindal dealers who guide local customers through home planning and builds.

Remember there’s a spectrum of pre-fab homes, from kits to partly or fully-built homes delivered to your site. Do you want to make changes to designs and materials? Do you have a specific budget or time frame in mind? Answer these questions and it may set you down the right path.

LEED certify your small home

As you know, it’s possible to save energy consumption simply by downsizing to a smaller home. You may also consider taking more deliberate steps to build a home that qualifies for LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification.

This one-story FreeGreen home is designed for high energy efficiency, within a roomy 1,356 square feet. (Houseplans.com)

This one-story FreeGreen home is designed for high energy efficiency, within a roomy 1,356 square feet. (Houseplans.com)

Greener house plans

Recently Houseplans acquired FreeGreen due to its current inventory of plans starting at 525 square feet. All the plans feature detailed prerequisites and credits used by LEED-certified builders today.

For a limited time, you’re invited to download a free set of FreeGreen house plans. Eight different styles are available, including the one-story home shown here and four others ranging between 1,000-1,900 square feet.

Inside this one-story FreeGreen home, you'll find a great room, three bedrooms and two baths (Houseplans.com)

In this one-story FreeGreen home, you’ll find a great room, three bedrooms and two baths. (Houseplans.com)

Building and living well

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, “LEED homes are built to be healthy, providing clean indoor air and incorporating safe building materials to ensure a comfortable home. Using less energy and water means lower utility bills each month.” There are eight LEED categories:

  1. Innovation & Design (ID) Process – Special design methods, unique regional credits, measures not currently addressed in the Rating System, and exemplary performance levels.
  2. Location & Linkages (LL) – The placement of homes in socially and environmentally responsible ways in relation to the larger community.
  3. Sustainable Sites (SS) – The use of the entire property so as to minimize the project’s impact on the site.
  4. Water Efficiency (WE) – Water conservation practices, both indoor and outdoor.
  5. Energy & Atmosphere (EA) – Energy efficiency, particularly in the building envelope and heating and cooling design.
  6. Materials & Resources (MR) – Efficient utilization of materials, selection of environmentally preferable materials, and minimization of waste during construction.
  7. Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ) – Improvement of indoor air quality by reducing the creation of and exposure to pollutants.
  8. Awareness & Education (AE) – The education of homeowner, tenant, or multifamily building manager about the operations and maintenance of the green features of a LEED Home.

Building to meet certification requirements obviously takes expertise! As you look for a builder or building company, ask if they are credentialed and/or otherwise know a rater who may help you. Any of the LEED certification levels would be a sweet reward for a well-built home.

Or simply knowing you have built to green standards is a good thing, no?