I found this project out of Italy working on small space design and was intrigued by it. The difference between this project, dubbed the Freedom Room, and the slew of others out there: it was designed by prisoners. A training program was created through a collaboration with the research center Cibicworkshop and the research and design cooperative Comodo to provide the necessary tools to the prisoners of Spoleto, Italy’s correctional facility to create functional, beautiful and innovative small space design.
While their motivation is driven by forced small space accommodation the project is a reflection of far-reaching opportunities. The collaborators envision the rise of new social dynamics and innovative solutions to re-shaping communities and neighborhoods. That’s definitely in line with what I heard Jay Shafer speak about at a workshop last summer. It’s what many small space designers and tiny house builders are searching for. A shift in consciousness and the wider societal embrace of less is more.
That such a project is coming out of a correctional facility really struck a cord with me. Prisons are places that are often tucked away and hidden from the daily life of citizens yet it’s impact and reflection on our society is poignant. That these inmates became the designers and project consultants of this prototype reflects innovation in design as well as social involvement and prison reform.
Some of the issues that small space design is addressing includes inflated housing markets, high unemployment, increased underemployment, capitalist consumerism and the overt display of materialism of McMansions among other ills. Many folks interested in tiny houses can attest to this, including myself. The Freedom Room is a project design based on living under restraint but has shown what ingenuity born of necessity can initiate. It can be directed for use in the everyday life of people around the world and the collaborators hope that the project will serve as inspiration not only for other prisons but all manners of needs within society. It is another model expressing the simplicity and beauty that small space design is capable of achieving across the societal board-from inmates, to student dormitories, to hotel rooms to tiny living spaces.
I find this project to be an inspiration in many ways. As a prototype it addresses the major issues of decent living within penitentiaries and educational rehabilitation of inmates within the prison system. It reflects the viability of small space design in ways I’d never even considered. That somehow gives me hope that, eventually, more and more people will come around, give tiny living a try themselves, whether that means 100, 300, 500 or 1000 sq. feet, and perhaps consider reducing their footprint and finding the joy in simpler living.
I found this neat end table made from left over 2×2′s from a build. It was constructed by gluing and clamping the scraps together. If I were doing this, I’d probably take it a step further and sand the whole top level and smooth. The different grains of the wood are great and shows another way to use building scraps from your tiny house.
I’d love for this to be my tiny home away from tiny home! This rescue vehicle, previously used by the German fire brigade, was converted into an off-road tiny house! Rugged but with all the amenities to make it a home including radiant floor heating, a heated towel bar in the bathroom and a floor fitted on custom made swings to keep the living space from tilting during travel! Who wouldn’t want to travel in this! A great option for folks who want a tiny house that has more of a camper ability to go anywhere anytime but doesn’t have the feel of an RV. Definitely a step up!
MAN FAE 1.36 Truck
Custom floor built to handle rough roads without tilting the living area.
Heated floors…a luxury we don’t have in La Casita but wish we did!
Truck after being sanded, primed and re-painted.
Water and waste tanks hidden under dining area.
Kitchen comes with electric stovetop, fridge, storage and double sink.
The skylight is a great touch in the bathroom. Light in, condensation out.
Dining area with room for 4 to eat comfortably.
Additional awesomeness includes roof rack and hydraulic elevator mounted in the rear for carrying heavy gear. The vehicle has been tested in Italy, Albania, and Macedonia with great success. You can check out the travelogue here.
- What would be your dream trip in one of these?
When folks ask us what was the most challenging aspect of building a tiny house we will chorus in unison: BATHROOM. Several factors made this the most difficult part of construction.
Firstly, this is the room we spend the least amount of time. For Cedric, this meant that finding inspiration to work on the bathroom was not easy. It was more interesting for us to design and build the kitchen where we spend the majority of our time. Secondly, designing a bathroom on wheels is challenging in and of itself. We love tile but the fact that the motion of moving the house would likely cause cracking and/or breakage threw that option out the window. We tried buying a shower pan but nothing fit our tiny space. We looked to RV and boat design but we wanted as little plastic as possible and much of those use plastic to create a waterproof space. We considered using a hardwood such as teak since it was available through the warehouse where we constructed, but we feared it would be too heavy. Our bathroom is on the tongue side of the trailer and we didn’t want to weight it down. That was another reason for throwing out the tile idea-too heavy.
Finally, we decided on corrugated tin which was light and attractive. Before installing the outer materials the walls and floor were painted with reclaimed, heavy duty marine paint that’s used on ships to prevent water damage. For the flooring we decided to make a stainless steel shower pan. Cedric found the material at a junkyard. It was previously a kitchen counter but Cedric shaped, cut and welded it to fit our bathroom space. This is where our community came to our aid because we did not have the equipment to reconstruct the stainless steel counter top. We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish it without the help of our friend Bill who has a machine shop. It was not a cheap option and it took a lot of work to get right but we don’t regret the time or the money spent. Our bathroom will probably outlast the rest of the house!
Once we had installed the tin and pan we noticed we had issues with standing water. We fixed this by banging the shower pan in around the drain allowing for better drainage. We built in a box on one side with a hinged lid where our bucket composting toilet is located. We heat our water with an on-demand hot water heater that’s propane powered. It works like a charm although we did have trouble keeping the flame lit on a very windy night!
The bathroom, or the wet room as we call it, is still not quite finished with one window left to trim but other than that it has turned out to be a great space. We created a drainage field based on a gray water system we had used while working on an organic farm. It allows us to water our plants while showering which our banana and pineapple plants love! We are careful with the products we put down our drains using biodegradable soaps and shampoos that won’t harm the soil or plants. If comments on our garden are any measure of success than we hit the nail on the head. Of all the gardens I’ve had in Charleston, this one received the most praise from neighbors. I definitely think the extra watering had something to do with that! Ultimately, we’d like to build an outdoor shower for summer months as well as a possible outdoor kitchen but we still have a few months to consider those options!
- What challenges have you faced designing WCs for tiny spaces?
When designing and building a small space, functionality is vital. Each piece of furniture in our tiny house was designed, re-designed and then tweaked again before we installed anything. It took us nearly a year of living in the house to finally figure out what we thought would be the best living space we could have in La Casita. Our style throughout the house is heavily influenced by boat living. Cedric lived on his parents’ sailboat as a young child and as an adult he re-built a small sailboat and lived in the Ashley River in Charleston. His experiences in that particular tiny living community have inspired much of La Casita’s design. Our built-in furniture is a further testament of that fact.
When drawing out our seating arrangements we knew they needed to be multi-functional, allowing for reading, eating, relaxing, working and sleeping. We were asking our living room to do quadruple duty since space is so limited in the house. Below is our bench seating. To the left we have drawers that pull out and act as a storage space/dirty laundry hamper which helps keep our entire house more orderly. Two little drawers make all the difference in a tiny house!
Under the seating you’ll notice a small hole in the flooring. That is where a stainless steel tube fits into our floor which allows the transformation from bench to dining table. The boards mounted to the wall stabilize the table and keep it from shifting during use. We had the hardest time figuring out how to attractively stabilize the table so that it was functionally sound but also visually appealing. We also wanted to keep as much room as possible available under the table for our long legs. The pipe was left over from our kitchen counter set-up and all the wood you see in the pictures was reclaimed. It ended up costing us nothing to build which was a plus!
We are really enjoying the use of a dining/work table!
Sleeping on the converted bench is a bit like camping. Cedric and I have both tried it out and it’s not quite as comfortable as we would like so we will probably continue to tweak the design. We want a space where a guest could sleep comfortably and not feel quite so cramped. Lengthwise it’s fantastic but it is so narrow it makes sleeping through the night a bit challenging.
All in all we’re pretty happy with the results of our efforts. It’s truly made our house feel more like a home. The space will continue to evolve and we’ll continue to challenge our design but that’s part of the fun of living in a tiny space. It doesn’t take much time or money to recreate it if you want to change an aspect of your design.
- What’s your favorite multi-functional tiny house design idea?