For those of you who have been following, the Solar Decathlon is going on right now. The Decathlon features innovative homes that are solar powered built by universities around the US. Its a pretty big production as a dozen houses are constructed on site to compete and showcase to thousands of visitors.
Well my home city of Charlotte NC has a team going to the Decathlon from UNCC. Here is their house called Urban Eden. Some of the neat features of this house is the rolling solar panel array that allows you to control the solar exposure in the summer months. They also have an interesting polymer cement that reduces the buildings impact. Check out the video below to see it all!
When Cedric and I started looking for design inspiration for La Casita there were a lot of ideas out in the internet. Thanks to great blogs like this one we were able to implement ideas from other tiny houses on wheels but we also looked to alternative dwellings to complete a design we were happy with. We were especially influenced by the sailing community and we definitely looked to the RV community for ideas on how to implement certain systems. The folks who travel and live year-round in RV’s and sailboats understand the challenge of mobile living and have great solutions to common problems and challenges faced by living the tiny life!
Cedric comes from a boat building background and I always tell people that if it ever flooded where we live, La Casita would probably float. He incorporated a lot of different styles and techniques inherent in a sailboat. When people enter our home they often mention the fact that it feels like being on a boat, without all the rocking. Our built in furniture was influenced by the seating Cedric had on his live aboard sailboat and our counter top has a lip to it, a common element on boats to keep items from rolling off. Our electric system is marine-grade tinned copper wire and our electric box is made for life on the water. We have DC outlets from West Marine and pretty much everything about our house is built with sailing in mind sans a keel and actual sails! We love the cozy aspect of boat design, especially in the sleeping cabins so we built our loft with that coziness in mind and angled the roof to give it that cabin-like feel and appeal.
Sailboat weren’t our only inspiration. I checked out RV blogs and forums as well! I found a lot of insightful and helpful information about keeping hoses from freezing, general moving tips and even wood stove recommendations. This community has been around for awhile and the veterans of recreational vehicle living are full of excellent advice.
Another source of inspiration came from folks living in yurts and teepees. Blogs were really a great source of information from folks living this type of mobile lifestyle. We entertained the idea of buying a yurt for some time but ultimately a tiny house was a better option for our lifestyle. We didn’t feel like a yurt would be as comfortable in the hot climate of the South and friends up North had said that they were difficult to keep warm in the winter. Plus, after putting one up for some friends, we realized they aren’t as easy to construct as we thought. They also aren’t built for modern amenities and we (read me) weren’t quite ready to give up a fridge and electricity.
It was infinitely helpful to read about other people’s experiences and get a better understanding of just what these different aspects of tiny living offer. Comparing the challenges faced by different communities living a lifestyle with a smaller square footage was essential if designed what was best for our needs. I recommend reaching out to these different communities via blogs, forums, conferences or just go up to a sailor or RV’er and ask what’s up! Most people enjoy sharing their many experiences and animatedly discuss just about everything from waste management to the challenges of wintering in a mobile structure-trust me I’ve asked!
Have any blogs, forums or other recommendations for design inspiration?
Spring has sprung up here in the Northeast! While Ryan huddles in the wet and chilly weather that has descended on the Carolinas I’m getting sunburned in Vermont! (Sorry Ryan!) The weather has been amazing the past couple weeks and we’ve been relishing sunny, mid-70’s days as the buds on the trees explode in a panorama of green! Folks are out in their gardens working away, tulips are blooming and bees are buzzing. This is my favorite time of year in a tiny house because you can really get outside, enjoy the weather and take a break from the cabin fever that winter can bring.
This was a tough winter for Cedric and I, mostly because we wrenched ourselves from the balmy winter weather of Charleston, South Carolina to the frigid northern landscape of Vermont! The sudden change and necessity of staying indoors for extensive periods took their toll but now all is green and right with the world. As inspiration for the season, I want to share with you this incredible garden shed created by German designer Nils Holger Moormann. He calls it Walden after Henry David Thoreau’s story of life and his relationship with nature while living a simple, more self-sufficient life in the woods. I think Moormann’s interpretation of simplicity is stunning and as a tiny lifer and gardener, I have to admit some envy for the efficiency and beauty of this project!
This design is my dream guest house. To me, it’s the perfect tiny house extension. The description on Moormann’s site explains how he looked to the concept of simple life as well as creating a space that invited you outdoors. There’s no doubt you’d be invited by it’s cozy, convertible indoor/outdoor eating area, easy reach of garden tools and sliding sunroof that beckons you to experience the sky! There is an upper level with a double bed for those mid-day, summer siestas and space for a campfire or cooking on a hung grill. He includes lots of space for storage of tools and materials, including firewood, a wheelbarrow and garden hose to name a few. In our tiny house we struggle with storage as well as guest space and this design is one of my all-time favorite answers to those predicaments!
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.