Sasha McIntyre lives in a house smaller than some suburban living rooms. And she loves it.
The Toronto animator shares a 480-square-foot house in eastern Toronto with her husband, John Lei.
Open the front door and you walk not into a vestibule, but the couple's bedroom, with a double bed, tall cabinets and a miniature ceiling fan. Beside the bedroom is a bright, six-foot-square bathroom.
The living room has two loveseats, shelving and cabinets, and a fold-down table for dining.
The 96-square-foot kitchen is newly renovated and features an apartment-sized fridge, a 24-inch stove and an oversized sink. In the unfinished, 5-feet-10-inch-high basement is another bathroom and a small office.
"After 10 years in a basement apartment I didn't need anything bigger," says Ms. McIntyre, who works from home. "I don't want to clean it."
Like a growing number of people, the couple have decided that a modest house is better for their quality of life than a mansion in the burbs. On the extreme end of the trend are people who live in minuscule houses, sometimes not much bigger than a typical suburban bathroom. Motivated by environmental concerns, convenience and tight finances, they are saying goodbye to 1990s-style monster homes.
The shift got its start in the United States, with the launch of companies such as Tiny Texas Homes and Tumbleweed Tiny Homes, which offer pre-built houses and DIY plans. Today, there are dozens of websites and blogs featuring designs for houses as small as 65 square feet (including kitchen and bathroom), and the stories of people who live in them.
In addition to being low-maintenance, smaller houses cost less. A popular design in tiny-homes circles is the Tarleton from Tumbleweed Tiny Homes. Built on a trailer chassis, the house kit is 117 square feet, including a kitchen and bathroom. It sells for about $47,000 (U.S.) ready-made.
Will Pederson lives in a Tarleton he built on a communal farm outside Abbotsford, B.C., where he grows organic salad greens.
"I like the idea of only having the space you need, the efficiency of it," he says. "It's really efficient for heating. I've always been kind of a minimalist thinker and trying to reduce my number of possessions."
Living in a space that small does require some lifestyle changes. Home electronics mean a laptop and a boom box rather than a big-screen television. Digital audio files and e-books replace most CDs and books.
Mr. Pedersen has a table that folds away to give him space for yoga, and has an unheated shed for storage. The entire space is heated with one plug-in radiator. Because it's essentially an insulated one-room house, every activity, be it cooking, working on the computer or exercising, helps to heat it, Mr. Pederson says.
His wife, Alyson, lives nearby in a 300-square-foot house that she recently sold. In October, the couple will pack up his house and tow it to New Brunswick, where they have bought a 45-acre farm. They plan also to ship Alyson's goats, start a dairy and live in the farm's 900-square foot house, using Mr. Pederson's tiny house for guests or seasonal labourers.
"There's something nice about a small space. It's comforting," he says.
John Gower is another fan of smaller homes. The Victoria architect is one of only a handful who sells plans for houses under 800 square feet.
"The whole idea of the small-house focus started because I was in Nelson [B.C.] where there are all these small houses with nice, timeless lines to them and they've proven to be good dwellings over the decades. That was the inspiration for our whole design thrust," he says.
The movement is a mixture of people trying to get into the housing market, environmentalists and empty-nesters, he says.
"There's still the phenomenon of the empty-nesters building a home larger than they had during their child-rearing years because they can. It's hard to understand," he says. "That was in the 1990s. Today, they want to lighten their load and spend more time travelling and with their grandkids and in the garden."
But tiny homes aren't for everyone, he acknowledges. Only about 20 of his smallest homes have been built, mostly in rural British Columbia.
"I don't know where these tiny houses fit in the spectrum. There's a place for them," he says. "As a culture we're going to have to find many more models for housing as we face the limits of sustainability. If there's a lot of belt-tightening going on, these might seem more attractive and less fringe. Right now, it takes a special individual to live in a space that small."
Ms. McIntyre is happy in her little house, which is bright and welcoming inside. She acknowledges she'd like to be able to have more books, but the tiny house's tiny price tag meant she and Mr. Lei could afford to buy a property of their own.
Before moving into the house, they shared an 880-square-foot condo downtown for 18 months. Still, after shedding duplicate possessions, their new home feels comparatively "spacious," Ms. McIntyre says. Indeed, a family of four lived in the house before them.
"I like it. We picked happy, bright colours to paint it," she says. "It's cheap and easy to maintain, and we've already paid the mortgage off."
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