uncommon space-saving lamps

How far would you go to conserve lighting space in a little house? For lamp lovers, check out three models which make their own space-saving statements.

Sticker lighting — These matching floor and table lamps don’t exactly exist, though work perfectly well as lighting sources.

To operate these two lamps, place their stickers on the wall and affix cords and bulbs with a screw.(Pa-Design)

To operate these two lamps, place their stickers on the wall and affix cords and bulbs with a screw. (Pa-Design)

Flat, bendable lighting — This table lamp arrives as a flat piece of stainless steel, and uses minimal space when bent into shape.

After bending, this lamp stands with its obvious cord and hidden bulb. Pick a white, black, red or steel finish. (Almerich)

After bending, this lamp stands with its obvious cord and hidden bulb. Pick a white, black, red or steel finish. (Almerich)

Quarter lamp lighting — This floor lamp sports a quarter-sized shade and base, to nestle into any corner. Call it the wallflower model, right?

Like any lamp, simply find an unused corner and plug in this quarter lamp lighting -- and you're good to go. (ConceptJI)

Like any lamp, simply find an unused corner and plug in this quarter lamp lighting — and you’re good to go. (ConceptJI)

brainerd, minnesota voted yes

This year, Brainerd City Council members began addressing their vacant city lot problem. With 465 properties legally blocked from development, members proposed lower minimum house sizes — and finally voted yes!

This 1920s Brainerd home contains four bedrooms and two baths. It just sold for $84,000, a decades-ago price in any large U.S. metro area. (Realtor.com)

This 1920s Brainerd home contains four bedrooms and two baths. It just sold for $84,000, a decades-ago price in any large U.S. metro area. (Realtor.com)

Brainerd took its first downsizing step, lowering minimum house sizes from 750 to 500 square feet on all empty lots. While a 400 sq. ft. minimum was first proposed, it changed due to existing home value concerns.

Why is Brainerd, MN unusual? It’s a small city of 13,590 citizens, and a vacation place with modest home prices. Typically large metros, with high real estate prices, have been first-movers in lowering minimum sizes of homes.

The Star-Tribune reports that Minneapolis set a good precedent, with 500 sq. ft. minimums for standalone houses and 350 sq. ft. minimums for secondary, efficiency apartments.

P.S. Are Brainerd residents thinking about buying property yet? A quick search uncovers Minnesota companies which design and build small, beautiful places. We like these weeHouses and cabins.

1945 homeless shelter, for $2.5 mm

Yes, a 1945 homeless shelter designed by architect Jean Prouve is available for $2.5 million. With two originals in existence, Gallerie Patrick Seguin priced the early pre-fab like a rare masterwork.

See this 689 square-foot structure get assembled, video here.

Prouve’s shelters were designed for homeless families, whose towns were destroyed during World War II. Surprisingly, they incorporate new construction techniques, materials and other flourishes. Let’s take a closer look at the exterior and interior of our house-for-sale.

Designed 60 years ago, the metal framing and natural wood cladding look modern today. Notice the large glass panels are slightly angled away from house, an interesting touch from architect Prouve. (Patrick Seguin)

Designed 60 years ago, the metal framing and natural wood cladding look modern today. Notice the large glass panels are slightly angled away from the house, an interesting touch from architect Prouve. (Patrick Seguin)

Welcome to the empty interior of the Prouve shelter. Bent steel is used for the load-bearing, axial portal frame system. The architect developed and patented this "demountable" approach in 1938. (Patrick Seguin)

Welcome to the empty interior of the Prouve shelter. Bent steel is used for the load-bearing, axial portal frame system. The architect developed and patented this “demountable” approach in 1938. (Patrick Seguin)

Now staged with a mid-century daybed, desk, chairs, side table and shelves, the Prouve place looks cool. As a post-war shelter, we imagine more spartan decor, sleeping quarters and a small kitchen too. (Patrick Seguin)

Now staged with a mid-century daybed, desk, chairs, side table and shelves, the Prouve place looks cool. As a post-war shelter, we imagine more spartan decor, sleeping quarters and a small kitchen too. (Patrick Seguin)

cute cube to dining for five

Let’s celebrate a transformer that fulfills its mission. Imagine a slatted wood cube inside your little house, placed near the entry or seating area. When you want to invite guests over for a meal or celebration, the cube disassembles into a complete dining table and seating for five.

Qube rolls around the place. It could be used for an art display, nice plant, work space or snack tray. (Dioinno Architects)

Qube rolls around the place. It could be used for an art display, nice plant, work space or snack tray. (Dioinno Architects)

The Qube slats are truly functional. They turn into a table and five seats, including the empty cube. (Dioinno Architects)

The Qube slats are truly functional. They turn into a table and five seats, including the empty cube. (Dioinno Architects)

Based in Buffalo (NY) and Korea, Dioinno Architects won Architizer’s A+ Jury Award for Qube 1 this year. Architizer calls the piece a hot product, due to its multitasking appeal and prowess.

Qube works well in urban spaces or smaller homes, as described by Dioinno: “Use of material and space is at the maximum efficiency, but its appearance is mostly minimal. Then it transforms the space when it is expanded. Qube is designed to create extra space when it is needed.”

Cheers for the Qube, a looker that isn’t hard to set up for a social gathering. It’s heartening to discover alternatives beyond folding tables like mighty-lites.

sweet definition of a kit house

Typical kit house: A house design and all building materials available for sale. Separately requires land purchase, building permits, site preparation, foundation and utilities. Constructed by local contractors. [Tiny House Joy]

Here’s a sweet 550 square footer from Seattle-based FabCab. The estimated cost without land is $165,000 for this high quality house. Let’s take a peek at the exterior and floor plan, and then learn how kits get built.

This TimberCab 550 kit home is located on Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille. The owners added an extra deck and porch to expand outdoor living on the hillside. (Fine Homebuilding)

This TimberCab 550 kit home is located on Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille. The owners added an extra deck and porch to expand outdoor living on the hillside. (Fine Homebuilding)

The floor plan of the TimberCab 550 features a separate bedroom, great room with kitchen, bath and entry. It's possible to build on any foundation for storage. (FabCab)

The floor plan of the TimberCab 550 features a separate bedroom, great room with kitchen, bath and entry. It’s possible to build on any foundation for storage. (FabCab)

Kit house companies provide materials

With a kit house, you rely on experts to design a home as well as source, order, manufacture and pre-assemble materials. The kit company will handle and deliver everything to meet its building plan specifications.

We picked FabCab as an example since it offers modern looks, in single-floor living. The company also specifies efficient materials, notably structural insulated panels which deliver R-24 efficiency for walls and R-40 for the roof.

After finding a kit you love, check for “strong bones” and longevity. There should be easily-maintained internal/external finishes — and natural wood, double-paned windows and a long-warranty roof are good indicators.

Many kit companies also have interior packages for kitchens and bathrooms. It’s enjoyable to start making your appliance and fixture selections upfront, especially in a smaller square foot home where everything gets noticed.

Your responsibilities for a kit house

Starting with the house plan, you may want to make adjustments due to your preferences, site or local permit requirements. Kit companies vary in their support, though FabCab offers architectural and engineering services.

Searching for the right general contractor becomes an important step. Check previous jobs and references, and make sure individuals are credentialed through your state’s licensing board. Review small builds: five key things to do.

You should decide on a foundation, whether using pilings (least pricey), slab, crawl space or full basement. Consider your geology, local environment and municipal requirements.

Utilities access must be addressed for a primary or secondary dwelling unit. Do you have a line for water, access to electricity and gas, and connections to city sewer or septic? What are the costs for installations?

Keep in mind that your general contractor will oversee the build and sub-contract plumbing and electrical work. He or she handles municipal inspections along the way, plus getting final approvals.

The rest of the FabCab kit house tour

Now that you know what’s involved in bringing a kit house to life, we want to complete the TimberCab 550 model’s tour. Here are sweet interior photos of the Idaho lake home, which reveal its rooms and finishes. Learn more here.

What a shining example of a great room, overseeing the lake! We love the lighting and furniture, though might arrange more seating in our own place. (Fine Homebuilding)

What a shining example of a great room, overseeing the lake! We love the lighting and furniture, though might arrange more seating in our own place. (Fine Homebuilding)

This attractive galley-style kitchen, located within the great room, includes a tall fridge-freezer, dishwasher, cook-top and microwave. (Fine Homebuilding)

This attractive galley-style kitchen, located within the great room, includes a tall fridge-freezer, dishwasher, cook-top and microwave. (Fine Homebuilding)

The bedroom is accessed through modern-day, sliding barn doors. It takes up one wing, with plenty of room as well as open views towards the lake. (Fine Homebuilding)

The bedroom is accessed through modern-day, sliding barn doors. It takes up one wing, with plenty of room as well as open views towards the lake. (Fine Homebuilding)

Next to the house entry, the spa-like bathroom shows off with its elegant sink, toilet, cabinet storage and a modern shower reflected in the mirror. (Fine Homebuilding)

Next to the house entry, the spa-like bathroom shows off with its elegant sink, toilet, cabinet storage and a modern shower reflected in the mirror. (Fine Homebuilding)

trending: a not so big house for life

“Currently we think of the house as a place for living to take place in,” says architect and author Sarah Susanka in today’s Wall Street Journal (preview). “Our future house will be a place for accessing the world around us.”

Architect Sarah Susanka began sharing ideas about not-so-big houses during the late 1990s. Her concepts and designs have picked up steam ever since, as people seek to right-size their homes and lives. (Sarah Susanka)

Architect Sarah Susanka began sharing ideas about not-so-big houses during the late 1990s. Her concepts and designs have picked up steam ever since, as people seek to right-size their homes and lives. (Sarah Susanka)

When considering the future, Susanka moves beyond having highly functional and well-designed spaces. She also envisions a not-so-big house which fully supports our expanding lives:

  • Refuge – real beauty to “feed the soul”
  • Ease – interconnected “devices, appliances and control systems”
  • Longevity – needs met today and “for the long haul”
This North Carolina mountain home reveals a jewel box entry that's defined, open and calm. Architects Sarah Susanka and Tina Govan received a 2013 Fine Homebuilding finalist award for the refuge. (Fine Homebuilding)

This North Carolina mountain home reveals a jewel box entry that’s defined, open and calm. Architects Sarah Susanka and Tina Govan received a 2013 Fine Homebuilding finalist award for the refuge. (Fine Homebuilding)

The good news? Smaller-sized living is already seen as a viable option. In a 2013 Gallup poll, one-third of surveyed homeowners said they would move within 10 years. Of these movers, some 47% would buy smaller, 32% buy bigger, 13% rent, 2% buy the same size, and 6% had no opinion.

Surely there are financial, environmental, lifestyle or life stage considerations influencing U.S. homeowner plans. What’s interesting is that nearly half of would-be sellers plan to reduce their primary living spaces. Are you part of this group?

7/10/14 Update: For readers asking about the North Carolina mountain home beyond the entry area, it does feature Sarah Susanka’s principles writ large. Designed for a retired couple and their frequent visitors, the not-so-tiny place showcases efficiency, flow, comfort and nature.

North Carolina Exterior - This refuge honors nature and gets nestled into its setting by incorporating log, cabin, Prairie and Japanese house style elements. With extensive glass windows, the place looks inviting from a small hill. (Fine Homebuilding)

North Carolina Exterior – This refuge honors nature and gets nestled into its setting by incorporating log, cabin, Prairie and Japanese house style elements. With extensive glass windows, the place looks inviting from a small hill. (Fine Homebuilding)

North Carolina Interior - See the spacious and main gathering area, which remains wide open to nature. There's no need to over emphasize decor when trees and lake views become focal points for the entire space. (Fine Homebuilding)

North Carolina Interior – See the spacious and main gathering area, which remains wide open to nature. There’s no need to over emphasize decor when trees and lake views become focal points for the entire space. (Fine Homebuilding)

kitchens on a tiny scale

By aiming to go tiny or small, you will need to consider what matters in the kitchen. Start by focusing on layout, appliances, counters, storage and finishes. See some of the decisions and choices here.

The Galleys

Modern galley with wood cabinetry and stainless steel. Appliances include a fridge-freezer, range top, microwave and dishwasher. It lack counter space and an oven. (Karen's Cottage)

Modern galley with wood cabinetry and stainless steel. Appliances include a fridge-freezer, range top, microwave and dishwasher. It lacks counter space and an oven. (Karen’s Cottage)

Sleek galley in a studio. Appliances include a standalone fridge-freezer to the right (unseen), range top and dishwasher. It has limited counter space and no oven. (Smart Space)

Sleek galley in a studio. Appliances include a standalone fridge-freezer to the right (unseen), range top and dishwasher. It has limited counter space and no oven. (Smart Space)

Custom, mission-style galley. Appliances include a range top and standalone fridge-freezer to the left (unseen). It lacks counter space, a dishwasher and an oven. (Ron Czecholinski)

Custom, mission-style galley. Appliances include a range top and standalone fridge-freezer to the left (unseen). It lacks counter space, a dishwasher and an oven. (Ron Czecholinski)

The Little L Kitchens

Little L with nice butcher block counters and storage. Appliances include a range top and small fridge-freezer. It lacks an oven here (possible) and dishwasher. (Tumbleweed Linden)

Little L with nice butcher block counters and storage. Appliances include a range top and small fridge-freezer. It lacks an oven here (possible) and dishwasher. (Tumbleweed Linden)

Country Little L with custom wood slab counter and cabinets. Appliances include a marine stove top, and small fridge under house. It doesn't have an oven or dishwasher. (Little Yellow)

Country Little L with custom wood slab counter and cabinets. Appliances include a marine stove top and small fridge under house. It doesn’t have an oven or dishwasher. (Little Yellow)

Hip Little L with a plywood and metal look. Appliances include a flip-up range top, oven and little fridge. It lacks a dishwasher. (Yestermorrow, Relax Shacks)

Hip Little L with a plywood and metal look. Appliances include a flip-up range top, oven and little fridge. It lacks a dishwasher. (Yestermorrow, Relax Shacks)

The Big Kitchens

True U-shaped kitchen with space galore. Appliances include a full gas range, oven, microwave and fridge-freezer to the left (unseen). It doesn't have a dishwasher. (Springs Cottage)

True U-shaped kitchen with space galore. Appliances include a full gas range, oven, microwave and big fridge-freezer to the left (unseen). It doesn’t have a dishwasher. (Springs Cottage)

Two galley, dream kitchen. Appliances include a large gas range, oven, microwave and big fridge-freezer. With a little more space, there's room for everything. (Poppy's Place)

Two galley, dream kitchen. Appliances include a large gas range, oven, microwave and big fridge-freezer. With a little more space, there’s room for everything. (Poppy’s Place)

game: match up tinies & fireplaces

Smaller homes often feature fireplaces and stoves in a position of honor. Try your luck at this match-up game, with seven heat sources shown first and their seven homes next. (See answers at the very bottom.)

Seven heat sources (1-7)

1 - Heat comes from a marine gas stove, mounted on the wall.

1 – Heat comes from a marine gas stove, mounted on the wall.

2 - This nice fireplace takes up a great room wall.

2 – This nice fireplace takes up a great room wall.

3 - A protective brick nook surrounds this larger gas stove.

3 – A protective brick nook surrounds this larger gas stove.

4 - Owners can program a new gas stove, in the corner.

4 – Owners can program a new gas stove, in the corner.

5 - An older tiny house uses a massive stone fireplace.

5 – An older tiny house uses a massive stone fireplace.

6 - Please stoke your teeny wood stove, for a warm night.

6 – Please stoke your teeny wood stove, for a warm night.

7 - Now here's a small house fireplace, with river rock!

7 – Now here’s a small house fireplace, with river rock!

Seven homes with heat sources (A-G)

A = A former writer's retreat, built in the 1940s, has avoided several local forest fires. (Blue Door)

A – A former writer’s retreat, built in the 1940s, has avoided several local forest fires. (Blue Door)

B = This yellow cottage on wheels hosts happy visitors, through airbnb. (Bayside Bungalow)

B = This yellow cottage on wheels hosts happy visitors, through airbnb. (Bayside Bungalow)

C = "hOMe" has modern appeal, efficiency, storage and stairs. (Tiny House Build)

C = “hOMe” has modern appeal, efficiency, storage and stairs. (Tiny House Build)

D - This tiny ski chalet has traveled to snowy destinations, racking up 20k miles. (Zack & Molly)

D – This tiny ski chalet has traveled to snowy destinations, racking up 20k miles. (Zack & Molly)

E - Oceanside Retreat stands right at water's edge, in Freeport, Maine. (Creative Cottages)

E – Oceanside Retreat stands right at water’s edge, in Freeport, Maine. (Creative Cottages)

F - Springs Cottage brings three generations together, replacing a decrepit backyard structure. (New Avenue)

F – Springs Cottage brings three generations together, replacing a decrepit backyard structure. (New Avenue)

G - The Enesti delivers old fashioned, almost Victorian style with a simple floor plan. (Tumbleweed Houses)

G – The Enesti delivers old fashioned, almost Victorian style with a simple floor plan. (Tumbleweed Houses)

Answers here:   Avert your eyes until you have tried to match seven fireplaces or stoves with their seven home exteriors — 1-B,  2-F,  3-G,  4-C,  5-A,  6-D,  7-E

backyard cottage, a budget primer

Your custom-designed, backyard cottage is a terrific idea that costs more than a high end auto. To shed light, let’s review key budget areas and some choices together.

Susan's cottage has a 247 sq. ft. first floor and 176 sq. ft. loft. It's built in her San Francisco area backyard. (New Avenue)

Susan’s cottage has a 247 sq. ft. first floor and 176 sq. ft. loft. It’s built in her San Francisco area backyard. (New Avenue)

According to New Avenue Homes, a custom one-bedroom, 360 sq. ft. cottage will cost $147,000 including its design and permitting ($26k), construction ($106k) and project management ($15k). Yet we noticed a few places to save costs:

  • Buy existing house plans, making minor changes – $15k
  • Use pilings instead of a concrete foundation – $5k or more
  • Take over your bidding, oversight & administration – $15k
  • If willing, run your own project in lieu of a manager – $15k

Excluding project management, there are 13 different building steps and plenty of details to consider in your budget. Make sure you have plenty of room to make changes as well.

Build preparations

  • Design & permits – $25k, with $18k for architect/engineer hours, $6.5k for municipal permits and $2.5k for a site survey.
  • Bidding, oversight & admin – $6k for billing, change orders, meetings.
  • General contractor mobilization – $4k for site, toilets, cleanups.
  • Demolition and remediation – $0.6k demolition if needed.
  • Site work & earthwork – $7k for digging foundation, utility trenches.
  • Foundation & concrete – $12k for foundation construction.

Materials and installation

  • Framing & carpentry – $22k for all framing, interior work, cabinets.
  • Insulation & moisture protection – $13k for siding, roofing, insulation.
  • Windows & doors – $6k for four doors, four windows, one skylight.
  • Finishes – $11k for painting, walls, floors (appliances extra, by owner).
  • Plumbing – $16k for gas, sewer, water, all bathroom, sinks.
  • Heating, ventilation & air conditioning – $4k for gas unit, ducts, vents.
  • Electrical – $5k for wiring, panels (fixtures extra, by owner).

teenies are cuter than tinies

Today we are going to share three wonderful houses on wheels. What’s different is their size, because they are teeny versions of the real tinies. Can you say absurdly cute?

Teeny Model of Tumbleweed Elm: A talented miniaturist, Blondie, created a tiny house on a perfect 1:12 scale. She chose an Elm from Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, furnishing the place with Bohemian and Victorian decor. What an amazing effort!

This Tumbleweed Elm teeny can't be ignored with such bold colors. Has it has just been moved here? (Teenie-Tow)

This Tumbleweed Elm teeny can’t be ignored with such bold colors. Has it just been moved here? (Teenie-Tow)

With the roof removed, check out the loft above and floor plan below. It seems like everything's in place. (Teenie-Tow)

With the roof removed, check out the loft above and floor plan below. It seems like everything’s in place. (Teenie-Tow)

Inside the teeny Elm and great room, notice plenty of traditional furniture and seating options -- and a cat. (Teenie-Tow)

Inside the teeny Elm and great room, notice plenty of traditional furniture and seating options — and a cat. (Teenie-Tow)

Teeny Model of Brevard Robin’s Nest: Before building a brand-new style, Brevard Tiny Houses constructed a teeny Robin’s Nest. The builder first wanted to share details with and receive approvals from the buyer. We’re impressed by the teeny and tiny results.

This teeny-sized Brevard Robin's Nest is adorable, with its left porch, sleeping dormer roof and robin blue door. (Brevard)

This teeny-sized Brevard Robin’s Nest is adorable, with its left porch, sleeping dormer roof and robin blue door. (Brevard)

Robin's Nest teeny and tiny homes are shown together. The tiny one has been delivered to a Florida customer. (Brevard)

Robin’s Nest teeny and tiny homes are seen together. The tiny one has been delivered to a Florida customer. (Brevard)

Peeking inside the Robin's Nest, we see its great room, kitchen, bathroom door to right and loft ahead. (Brevard)

Peeking inside the Robin’s Nest, we see its great room, kitchen, bathroom door to right and loft ahead. (Brevard)

Teeny Model of Tumbleweed Cypress: Four years ago, Kyle dreamed about and constructed a Tumbleweed Cypress model from popsicle sticks. He and his wife Danae just began their real tiny build on a 24-foot trailer, based in Kansas. It helps that Kyle works in residential construction.

This Tumbleweed Cypress teeny shows an interior plan with left entry, nook, rear kitchen and bath. (schmidts2x)

This Tumbleweed Cypress teeny shows an interior plan with left entry, nook, rear kitchen and bath. (schmidts2x)

Kyle and Danae are testing two of the window cut-outs, and they seem to work fine. (schmidts2x)

Kyle and Danae are testing two of the window cut-outs, and they seem to work fine. (schmidts2x)

Here's the modified Cypress under construction, with sheathing complete and the roof getting installed. (schmidts2x)

Here’s the modified Cypress under construction, with sheathing complete and the roof getting installed. (schmidts2x)