Tiny houses, big ideas


INTERIORS:Some of these tiny homes might be completely off the wall, but they are full of clever ideas for how to make the most out of a small living space, writes ROSE COSTELLO

IT LOOKS LIKE A scaled-up version of a traditional Romany caravan, without the wheels, but the Fablab House is much more than that. It’s a peek at the future, courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Centre for Bits and Atoms. The 59sq m (635sq ft) house was built to soak up as much solar energy and provide as much living space as possible within a compact, thermally efficient low-cost structure.

The MIT team creates prototypes and scale models for architects, but the experiment is a reflection of a wider trend: the small-homes movement.

The age of austerity has ushered in a trend for smaller dwellings that are cheaper to buy, heat and maintain. Gregory Paul Johnson, the American co-founder of the Small House Society, lives in a house of 13sq m. It’s not just about size, though. To get everything required for a comfortable life into a small space requires innovative use of space and technology.

Architecture and design writer Phyllis Richardson has been covering this topic for more than 10 years. Her latest book Nano House Innovations for Small Dwellings shows what can be done as she highlights 43 abodes of less than 75sq m in places such as Chile, Taiwan, Sweden and the US. A number of them, such as a vacation cabin in Colorado, look like hulking containers that slid off the back of a lorry but don’t let that put you off, it is chock full of ideas – some practical, some just for fun.

Take the 20sq m Blob in Antwerp. It looks like a big jelly bean but was designed to be used as a little house for guests. The ovoid can be loaded on to a truck and taken elsewhere. DmvA architects came up with the idea when planning permission was refused for a permanent structure. (It’s good for parties too as the nose can be opened upwards to create a pavilion.)

Also mobile is the Roll-It, which rests at the University of Karlsruhe, Germany. It is essentially a barrel measuring 2.5x3m, although it looks like a hamster wheel. It has three service rings in its plywood belly. At one end is the living and sleeping area, while at the other end there is a kitchen-cum-washing hub. In between is a corridor in the form of a ring that turns as you walk up its slopes.

America’s Virginia Tech University designed the 62sq m Lumenhaus in Spain to adapt to weather conditions and generate its own energy. A series of latticed stainless-steel sliding screens form the outer layer of the walls.

As information is relayed from sensors in the building to a central computer, the screens open or close, optimising energy use or comfort for those inside – and it is all monitored from an iPad.

This book is full of ideas, from window blinds that act as solar panels to concrete floors that collect heat for use later.

Since the stagnant market is making it difficult to move, finding more ways to squeeze more use out of your living space could be the answer.

Nano House – Innovations for Small Dwellings by Phyllis Richardson is published by Thames and Hudson (£16.95)