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It's a small home after all Add to ...

The dream home, for most people, is big - or at least bigger than the one they're in now. But Andy Thompson, a 36-year-old Toronto architect, doesn't think about houses the way most people do. He likes small - really small.

The home he designed for himself, his wife and two kids is only 270 square feet, or 350 square feet if you count the loft. This is small by choice, his contribution to a growing movement that counters the aesthetic of big, which is dominating the suburbs and the average person's dreams.

It's cool to be small. In the United States, the Small House Society is championing the value of simple and sustainable housing. In Europe, a German professor has created a high-gloss micro-compact home, only 76 square feet. On the Web, the Smallest Coolest Apartment Contest has just handed out prizes to winners for the third year running.

For some, it's a question of money, especially in Toronto, where a 360-square-foot studio on the waterfront could set you back more than $140,000. For Mr. Thompson, it's also a lifestyle choice. Living small means you can be in a prime location without facing the drudgery of a commute or a big house to clean. It frees up time and money to go out for dinner and socialize, instead of staying home in front of the television.

But his miniHome, as he calls it, has a twist. It's a solar-powered ecological trailer that leaves virtually no footprint, apart from a little crushed grass. And this summer, instead of being confined to a trailer park, it's sitting at a prime location on Lake Ontario to advertise the revitalization of Toronto's waterfront.

The miniHome, which starts at $107,640 (U.S.), is also a prototype designed to spread the word about the virtues of living small. Mr. Thompson has received more than 3,000 inquiries about the trailer via his website, Sustain.ca. And he's sold at least 10 copies so far, mostly for California, which has less restrictive rules on trailers. That's a good thing, according to Mr. Thompson. Trailers are "good for the environment. They're low impact, low cost, and have a zero footprint," he says. "They don't rip up the soil....

"I'll give you a grand tour," Mr. Thompson says. "It will take all of five seconds." There is a spare but comfortable kitchen, an "entertainment room" with a folding wood table that can seat eight and a padded bench you can sleep on. There is a wood-panelled bathroom and a "dream room" where you can sleep on a sofa bed, work at a fold-up desk or just watch TV. You can climb up a ladder to the loft, which is what Mr. Thompson's kids generally do immediately after they walk in. Back on the ground floor, there are some drawers and just one closet.

"This is distilled living," Mr. Thompson says. "It's designed to accommodate everything you need and nothing more."

But why? He can afford a bigger place. "I like small," he says. "It's an ascetic aesthetic." In a tiny home, you have to decide what you really need and ditch the rest.

Mr. Thompson, for example, has 10 things to wear. When they're worn out, he jettisons them. "It's all about bringing order to chaos," he says.

The miniHome has solar-powered electricity, its own 600-litre water tank and a composting toilet. It doesn't need to be connected to anything. But you have to learn to live in it, Mr. Thompson says.

Although the miniHome consumes only 1/100th of the electricity of a regular house, thanks to highly efficient lights and appliances, it is possible to flatten the battery, run out of water or overflow the compost system if you're not careful. Mr. Thompson doesn't mind. "This is a training exercise for a new way of living."

Last summer, Mr. Thompson and his family lived in the miniHome in a trailer park in the Rouge Valley in east Toronto. The family spent most of their time outdoors. Living small means you spend more time outside any time of year, Mr. Thompson says. "You're more engaged in the world. Why cocoon yourself and be disconnected?"

There's just one hitch: It's a trailer, and Mr. Thompson didn't have anywhere to put it near his downtown architectural practice in compliance with local by-laws. So now Mr. Thompson and his family are living in a 500-square-foot apartment on the east side of the city. "It's too big," he says. "All this stuff is accumulating." His seven-year-old daughter, however, disagrees. "She wants a big house. That breaks my heart."

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