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Mini-Homes: Cozy, Cost-Effective And Oh So Cute

Big ideas sometimes come in small packages. In both Europe and the United States, home designers are downsizing, offering mini-residences that are mobile, modular and moderately priced.

One of Jay Shafer's 'Tiny Houses'
One of Jay Shafer's "Tiny Houses"
Harald Czycholl

It was mainly the burden of regular mortgage payments and the costly upkeep of his home in California that set Jay Shafer to thinking. Whittling away everything he didn't absolutely need, he came up with a big idea – in a rather small package: the "Tiny House." The 269-square-foot space is comprised of a kitchen, bathroom and living and sleeping space. Shafer's mini-house even has wheels.

Since designing the home, the 46-year-old has been producing and selling them through the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company he founded for that purpose. Each house costs roughly 40,000 dollars, or 30,000 euros.

There's a growing demand for the little homes, which are tailor-made to suit individual tastes and budgets. "Business is booming,"" Shafer says. "The idea of keeping things to a bare minimum is currently very popular.""

Money concerns may not be the only thing driving the popularity of these mini-homes. The attraction of a small, relatively tight space could also be instinctual – the same instinct that makes a child equate a tree house with comfort, safety and protection.

The small-house phenomenon is not unique to the United States, where the real estate sector has been hit hard and many have no choice but to sell their homes. The "Mikrohaus," or micro-home, is also gaining in popularity in Europe.

Designed by Austrian Sascha Haas, the rectangular, 280-square-foot Mikrohaus is easy to transport and also boasts a rooftop terrace. It is sold on the Mikrohaus.com website. Haas' main objective was to create a mobile space with low energy requirements. "What I mean by mobile is that the house can be moved for a reasonable price,"" says Haas.

A modular system, and the fact it doesn't require a foundation, make the house very flexible. Key in hand, the ready-to-go unit costs 36,660 euros (about 49,000 dollars). Haas has already identified various target groups as potential buyers, among them the environmentally conscious. With its low energy requirements, the Mikrohaus is a low emission money-saver. As it requires no foundation, it makes less of an impact on the land as well.

Another target group is single people. According to the federal office for statistics, slightly less than 40% of German residences are one-person households. In big cities like Berlin and Hamburg, the figure is 50%, and the trend in general is on the rise.

Because of the standardized way Haas' mini houses are made, two or more of the units can be combined. Should a partner move in or children be born, in other words, a second or even third unit can be added.

A third target group is older people whose children have left home and who want to cut down on housing costs in order to free up money up for other things, such as travel. Adult children with larger properties may also want to build one on their land – a way to keep parents nearby, yet out of the main house. When the parents no longer need the space, the micro-house can either be added on to the main house as an extension, or moved and used as a second home somewhere else.

Haas is not the first European to explore the idea of drastically downsized houses. Six years ago, Munich architecture professor Richard Horden built "Micro-Compact Homes'" for students at Munich's Technical University. Measuring slightly under 106 cubic feet, each home has space for a bed, a table and chairs, a bath area and kitchen nook. Although initially built as an experiment, the houses – grouped together in a "mini village" – are still occupied by students.

Neither Germany nor the United States, however, can claim the world's smallest house. The tiniest of the tiny homes is actually in Israel, where Tel Aviv architect Hagai Nagar designed a minuscule 43-square-foot home that somehow provides its occupant enough room to shower, sleep, cook and even park a bicycle.

Nagar's ecologically-motivated objective in designing the tiny house, which he christened the "Chu 200,"" was to use as few materials as possible. The house weighs a mere 1,500 lbs. Solar cells on the roof supply electrical current and warm water.

"Basically, with the Chu, life takes place in the garden,"" says Nagar. "The space doesn't open up towards the interior of the unit, it opens towards the outside.""

Read the original article in German.

Photo - nicolas.boullosa

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