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Tiny Houses

Wednesday, 23 July, 2014

Words by Adeshola Ore
Illustration by Heath Hipwell

When Beck Norris tells people she is downsizing, she means it. The 22-year-old, based in Sydney, is about to move into a home smaller than her parents’ bathroom—a tiny house.

Beck and her best friend Reece are building one of the first miniature houses in Australia. They have drawn inspiration from the tiny house movement in America, which began in 2004.  Their tiny abode will be 10 square metres and has cost them a mere $15,000.

There are now over two thousand tiny houses scattered across America. Although the Australian movement is in its early phases, blogs and social media have sparked interest online.

Two years ago Beck began devouring architecture books, which led to her fascination with design.

“I found all these tiny spaces and thought that’s actually really clever. I fell in love with small spaces after that and thought they were really interesting,” Beck explains.

Beck’s desire to live in a small space defies the Australian norm of bigger is better. Australian houses take the title for the biggest in the world. Since the 1970s, house sizes in Australian have doubled from 120 to 243 square metres, according to the latest figures.

The average tiny house size is 18 square metres and the prices range from $15,000 to $50,000.

In the mainstream market Australian house prices are among the most expensive in the world. The average home price in Sydney is $654,000, according to real estate figures.

Beck was shocked at the house prices in inner Sydney when she started to flip through real estate magazines. So she opted to find an alternative.

“Being able to build my own house that I can fully live in and be fully sustainable in is really functional. Having their own property is really attractive for young people. I loved the idea of being able to live in my own space and own my own space.”

Darren Hughes, who runs the Tiny Houses Australia Facebook page, is also drawn to a tiny house because of the cheaper cost. The father of two is currently building a small home for his family.

“The ability to own your own property and spend less and build a tiny house and have it owned outright is an attraction to living in a tiny house,” Darren says.

He is planning to spend the extra money he will save on travelling with his family.

Many Australian homes now include multiple bathrooms and media rooms. Alternatively, living in a tiny house is about embracing a minimalist lifestyle.

Darren believes living small is about changing what the Australian dream is.

“People need to reassess their lives and reassess what is really important and what determines being happy and successful. Is it living in the fancy suburbs, living in a big house, driving an expensive car? Or is it actually doing the things that you love and spending time with people who mean the most to you in the world?”

While there are many benefits to a small house, negotiating a council permit can be difficult. Some councils do not allow tiny houses to be built because they consider them temporary structures.

Both Beck and Darren are building their houses on wheels so they can be transported with a trailer. They plan to find a rural house and pay the owner a small amount of rent to keep their house in the backyard. This way it will be less visible to the council.

Beck is now in the final stages of building her tiny home after she began designing it in January last year. Unlike in America, there are no companies who specialise in making tiny houses in Australia. With the help of family and friends Beck has built her miniature home using instructional videos and online plans.

It will have only the essentials—an interior upstairs loft for a bedroom, a kitchen, small living space and bathroom with hot water. She and Reece have even created a bookshelf, adding a homey touch to their abode.

While the idea is still new in Australia, Darren believes tiny houses will become popular once more are built in here. His Facebook page, which began as a social experiment, now has over 7,000 followers from around the world. Tiny house enthusiasts post on the page daily and share ideas, inspiration and photos of their dream homes.

Beck has also had a lot of interest on her Facebook page, The Tiny Abode, where she has documented her building journey.

“I think that we are encouraging and motivating people to change their life and go and build their own tiny home,” she says.

Darren is adamant that tiny houses, while unusual, offer a practical and exciting solution to the expensive Australian housing market.

“At the end of the day in a house all you really need is a place to sleep, cook, clean yourself and hang out and relax and these tiny houses have all of these things.”