Tiny Homes Simple Shelter by Lloyd Kahn

Full admission, I’m a bit of a Lloyd Kahn fanboy. So when he announced a new book Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter I knew I had to have a copy.

Kahn has profiled the alternative building scene since the 1960s and edited the building section of the Whole Earth Catalog. I often thumb through a tattered copy of his seminal book Shelter that I picked up at a garage sale. Want to live in a driftwood shack? Shelter will show you how.

I heard Kahn speak at Maker Faire and show photos from the new book Tiny Homes. He began his talk by describing the first two best selling books that he wrote, both about geodesic domes. To Kahn’s credit he pulled these books from print when he realized the folly of dome building: the waste of materials (plywood comes in 4 x 8 sheets), the fact that they are hard to add on to and their propensity to leak. As he put it, “I didn’t want any more domes on my karma.”Of Dwell Magazine, he says that he doesn’t believe that anyone actually lives in the fastidiously clean and sterile rooms shown in the lavish photos spreads.

In contrast to Dwell, the buildings shown in Tiny Homes look well lived in. And very diverse: there’s everything in this book from conventional frame structures, to intricate masonry, to cob, to yurts and sailboats. Plenty of inspiration and ideas here for the aspiring owner/builder. And Kahn has an eye for vernacular American architecture.

In a way my favorite building is Tiny Homes is the most modest–Tom’s cabin. It’s a a $4,000 Tuff Shed from Home Depot turned into a cozy caretaker’s cabin. Tom took the shed, which already has a built-in loft, converted that loft to a bedroom, insulated the walls, put in a small kitchen and covered the interior studs with 3/8″ particle board.  Ton’s cabin isn’t much to look at from the outside, but on the inside it’s a real home. And that’s the point. It may not actually be practical for many of us to live in really tiny houses (Kelly and I are happy with our current, and by the standards of this book, mansion-like 980 square feet). But size is not what matters. While limited to buildings of less than 500 square feet, Tiny Homes is really about the search for meaning and spirit in the places we call home. After years of bloated McMansions and the debt crisis that went with them, it’s no coincidence that this book has appeared at this time.

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  1. I, too, am fascinated with the concept of tiny homes.

    I question the use of particle board in any dwelling. It is hazardous, in my opinion, because of the substances used to hold it together. Plus, it is not durable. Sure, keep it covered and it works for dampness. But, the least bit of dampness, leak or exposure by storms, and your whole place disintegrates. I equate fiberboard with trailer living. There is nothing wrong with trailer living, but it seems that permanence and lack of toxicity should be balanced with small footprint.

    Even plywood is creepy to me. Someone put plywood or particle board on the laundry room floor. Now, the washer agitation has disintegrated it. That is the only piece of plywood in the whole house.

    Thanks for not regaling the tiny house and admitting what you have works for you. Thanks for no revealing your desire to live in a closet.

    I cannot imagine my life in these tiny houses. I can, dehydrate, actually use my oven for cooking and baking. Plus, I need a sewing room to be the next largest room in my house because I have four sewing machines, all with a different function. All must be up at once. Two are commercial machines 4′ x 24″ and cannot be contained in a tiny space.

    Do people who live in these have a life in their tiny home? Even when I worked, I sewed and cooked. These homes don’t seem to have space for any kind of hobby or pasttime other than using a laptop.

    My 4000 sq ft home does not seem a bit too large to me. Granted, I don’t heat it all or use it all anymore. But, the mortgage was only $192/month for 30 years, so I was not living beyond my means.

    None of the tiny home enthusiasts or designers ever consider that people might not be capable of climbing into a loft or out with going to the bathroom in mind in the middle of the night.

    It concept, tiny homes seems really nice. I know people live in them. I just question the quality of their home lives.

  2. I have to agree with the previous commenter – if I lived on a big piece of land, I would have a very small house, a huge barn, and a big workshop with room for wood tools, machine tools, and garden tools. Since I’m in the city, my house has to fulfill all of those functions, so it is part farmhouse, part workshop, part laboratory, and yes, part bar. Got to have somewhere to serve up all that homebrew. There is a lot of space, but I generally am only heating/cooling/using power in one part of it at a time.

    While I adore Lloyd Kahn and his quest for simplicity, it seems like a lot of people who live in those tiny houses have put all their priorities on living small, rather than living in a holistic or sustainable manner.

    • Lyssa,
      Well said! I commented to a neighbor who wanted to see my house before I moved that two rooms were just a mess. I sewed in the one and also had a HUGE table for cutting. I served as a gift wrap and craft table. I just let things drop on the floor and cleaned periodically, just like guys let sawdust and chips fall while they work.

      She responded that she did not have a large house and it was never cluttered. But, she reminded me that she had a two-car garage, a huge breezeway and a separate outbuilding that contained all her messy projects.

      Your idea of having a tiny home and lots outbuildings sort of confirms and defines further what I said. Thanks for your astute translation/voice of my unsaid thoughts.

      I suppose there are people who are lucky to have even a tiny space, but I wonder about things other than their physical space.

      Even baby chicks were housed in here. Plus, full grown hens lived in a cage every night for 14 months until I was capable of financially affording fortifications for their pen against a murderous gang of raccoons.

      I even had one room set aside, empty and floor lined with paper for my can-of-spray-paint madness. It also served as a room for germinating seedlings.

      My 9 rooms, plus two baths, plus laundry room were never used simultaneously, as you remarked ab out your rooms. I only heated or used the ac in two rooms, but one room at a time. A bath and laundry just received heat from those two. It was freezing in here some days, but only for about two weeks.

  3. I love looking at these small houses, but in reality the “not-so-big”philosophy makes a lot more sense for most of us who don’t have outbuildings. Though I can’t agree with the first commenter that 4000 sq ft is Not a bit too big…that’s a ton of space! We can’t all live like that. I still look at my folks 1100 sq ft plus basement from the sixties and think how practically designed it is…even for a family with three kids and a dog and multiple sports and hobbies. Yes, we had a sewing room; no, we didn’t have a designated guest room to sit empty most of the time. Real estate should earn its keep. Now I live in 1700 sq ft or so; except for the blessing of a main floor family room, this house doesn’t function any better than the folks’, and in many ways it’s worse.

    Interestingly around here even most recreational developments have minimum square footage requirements, supposedly to stop people from bringing in park model RVs. No matter how well finished, you can’t build anything less than six or seven hundred square feet. Nobody asked me, of course, but this is utter nonsense.

    • I agree that 4000 sq ft is large. When my husband and I bought it, we looked at 1000 sq ft homes for three times what this one cost. The mortgage would have been near $800/month instead of $192. When I divorced, my income plummeted but I got the house. A house is a nice thing to have. An apt for me and three children would have been $600/mth. I did the best I could and stayed here. I assure you this whole place was not heated. It is now 110-years-old and has kept another home or apt from being built. After a few years I tried renting a room with disastrous results. The house served as a place to make a living with about four rooms devoted to sewing and only heated when I was in a specific room. A friend who was homeless after a divorce stayed here for a year.

      I got very cold some days and nights because in 1902 there was NO insulation, but having my house was worth it.

      I have a 1000 sq ft basement that is home to dampness and dirt. Raccoons and snakes have been down there. At one time I had a saw and other tools that are gone now. But, the lawnmowers, lawn tools, and other tools have their own space amids some clutter of projects unfinished.

      This house was chosen for the amount of space for less money, not because I thought I needed this size house. Also, mature oak and hickory were on the site, pines, grape arbor and was a corner lot.

    • No need to justify your choice of home to me! Though I appreciate your acknowledgement that it is generous. My point was simply that for a modern culture to be truly sustainable, our living arrangements have to both meet our needs (for room to do things as well as room to sleep, and for some privacy, too) and limit their environmental impact. Strikes me the answer is somewhere between a tiny house and a mansion.

  4. It would be nice to know some of the reviews of his other books or any write up for that matter. If he’s impressed you that much then it’s reason enough to consider the author.

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