New Zealand Tiny House

In the winter of 2013 Brett Sutherland of Auckland, New Zealand set about to build a tiny house of his own design on a tandem-axle trailer right in the driveway of his parents home. Start to finish took just five months but with a bit of experience and  a lot of tenacity and dedication Sutherland built one of the most unique, space-saving, tiny house trailers visible on the web today.

Mobile Villa in New Zealand

Nicknamed the MV (Mobile Villa) by Sutherland himself the inspiration behind the build was really a practical one. As Brett explains to Bryce Langston in a recent interview, “The biggest thing I was trying to avoid was losing all my money as soon as I touched down and that’s what happens when you pay a rent.” Brett truly wanted an off-the-grid, self-contained home that would allow him to concentrate more on his art than making money. He wanted to do more in life than just survive economically.

At 161 sq.ft. the Mobile Villa cost just $10,185.00 USD to build and features a sitting area, a kitchen, an upstairs sleeping loft, and a small bathroom with shower.

MV layout in New Zealand

Bathroom in MV Unit

The roof line of the MV is a two-tier shed roof which Sutherland admits was done for airflow purposes in the sleeping loft as the top tier features a crank-out, horizontal window. The slope of the roof also allows for generous rain catchment which further allows Sutherlands pursuits for total off-grid living. The lower tier supports Brett’s two solar panels which then further feed into his electric panel situated just above the toilet area and out of direct sight and hosting a 30-amp solar regulator, battery isolator switch, and switchboard.

Upon walking in the tiny house there is immediately a twin-size day bed to the right offering guests a place to lay their head when visiting as well as a couple of sitting chairs directly across the room for more social moments. Another interesting aspect of the house is the use of what looks like standard plywood with a semi-gloss finish rather than the pine tongue-and-groove more frequently seen in tiny houses. This technique has been used before in several inexpensive yet practical ways such as the Zen Cube Mobile Living Space.

MV Living RoomIt’s what is under the day bed that is perhaps the coolest element as it houses the Flexi Tank water storage bag which is connected directly to the downspout of the gutter on the lower roof tier and holds roughly 100 gallons.

MV Water StorageOther features of Sutherlands tiny house are typical of many tiny houses:

  • 12-volt water pump (which services the sink and shower)
  • Propane cook stove
  • 12-volt outlet(s)
  • Sawdust toilet

Since construction on Sutherland’s Mobile Villa ended he has moved it to a friend’s property in Bethells Beach in Auckland. With the ocean as his front yard, no shortage of palm trees as his neighbor, and plenty of room for friends and guests to come and enjoy a barbeque Sutherland and his MV are perfect testimony to the freedom, mobility, and consciousness that tiny living can bring!

MV Moving

Your Turn!

  • Can you see yourself living tiny at the oceanfront?




  1. Super nice Brett!

  2. I especially like the loft/kitchen arrangement and the water storage.

  3. I’m not having luck finding a similar “Flexi Tank water storage bag” for sale in the US. Pillow tanks are popular here, but I’m in need of a rectangular shaped collapsible water storage solution. Any recommendations to purchase a potable, flexible fresh water storage bag would be greatly appreciated.


      The link above is for a water tank designed for a bathtub. That may help.

    • This is for temporary water storage, but it may be what yopu’re looking for.

  4. I have a question about cost. The cost of building these tiny homes are on the rise. Im curious as to why? Is it because they are becoming so popular? It seems you could do it for less. I have heard that some of these homes are costing upwards of 50,000.00. Im just trying to understand. like when ppl want you to go green but its so expensive to do it, its pointless.
    To me if you want ppl to be good to the earth, leave a smaller footprint, make it affordable and lots more will be able to do so…maybe my thinking is off.

    • Theresa… you knocked that one out of the park! So true….throwing 20, 30, 40 or 50K into a tiny house defeats the purpose for us mortals on the blog here. Most of us want a comfortable place to eat, sleep, and get out of the rain. I am hoping that I can make my Florida Cracker house for under 10K….and closer to $5000 by using recycled wood and block and doing the lion’s share of work.

      Thank you Theresa for keeping us all on track here.

      • Are there floor plans for this house I could get?

      • I agree !!!

        People SHOULD be able to build a perfectly comfortable, if basic, yet still practical and council-acceptable house for around $2-3,000 per ‘square’ (i.e. 100 sq. ft, or just over 9 sq. metres..).

        IF they only think more closely about how they build, and what thy build it from. “Top end” and “designr” kitchens, bathrooms and furniture is going against the basic concepts ~ as Theresa and Steve both commented above..

        AND why pay for an architect, when a draftsman will be cheaper (especially if you already have decent plans)? Down here in Australia the two building areas that MUST by done by licensed professionals are electricals, and any plumbing that might be connected to a town supply.

        AND some kitchen and bathroom fittings can be sourced from those ‘clearance’ outlets that sell shop soiled, former demo’s, “seconds”, or last seasons stock ~ which could mean 40-50% off simply because of a scratch, or falling out of fashion.

    • Anita….aren’t they somewhat rectangular in shape? When I Googled those Flexi tanks they appear to be so. I like that 75L version…although with my artesian well it would serve mostly as a backup (for TEOTWAWKI? lol).

    • You raise a valid point. If you build your own Tiny House it could likely be done for under $20,000. Depending on your skill level you could do this in as few as two months or it could take a couple years. For those that are building these homes for others to purchase you have to remember that we need to live too. We have families to feed and bills to pay. So if you are having it built for you then you need to pay for the skill and time that goes into it. When you think about the average cost of homes these days, $50,000 isn’t that much really. Much of that cost are for things you will never see but that make your house run smoothly. Solar panels, batteries, charge controller, water storage, furnace, insulation, sturdy trailer and construction, etc….

    • The second something is popular the price skyrockets.

    • Theresa, The houses that typically cost around $50k are those that are built on the high end and built by a professional for someone. Typically with building any home, tiny or not, labor accounts for about 50% of the final cost. If you build it yourself you’ll be looking at $10,000 – $25,000 depending on material selection (assuming new materials). If you have someone else build that same house, its basically double because of profit, insurance, labor, tools etc.

      Check this post out which goes more into this:

    • Look at Incredible Tiny homes they have prices that are what these really cost

      • Firstly, one does, generally, get what one pays for. The cheaper the price the cheaper the quality. Generally.

        And remember, some of the houses you see are from countries outside of the US. So, for example New Zealand dollars are around 60% of the value of US dollars. So why you may see $x for a tiny house here it really is $x muliplied by 0.6… or for every $NZ 100 that would equate to around $US 60.

  5. LOVE the staircase, which will be a necessity for me, as my days of climbing ladders are over! 😉

  6. Theresa,

    Before you even start, are you an architect? if not you need to buy someone else’s design plans or hire someone to design some parts or all of your proposed structure. Electrical schematics, plumbing that works and drains properly, etc. Standards for comfort and safety are not a thing to “guess” about.

    Now prepare to build . . .but where? Buy land, rent space, or even if you are going to go mobile — where to construct for months?
    . . . don’t confuse “materials” costs with total cost. In addition to building supplies, you need an RV level trailer or a foundation, a variety of complex items for sewage, water, power, refrigeration, heating, cooking, etc. + appliances and furniture.

    As you construct, depending on where you are going to live and the kinds of services you are including, you might need building permits. If you don’t want to live off the grid, a power hook-up, water supply, a way to dispose of sewage with a leach field or a city sewage hook up.
    Now, do you know how to build everything, install everything, have the tools to accomplish these tasks. If not, then you will need to hire, study, and or buy/rent what’s missing.

    All of these things cost money and if you are going to dream, make sure you include all the parts of the dream in your budget.

  7. The 50k price range is what you get when you pay someone for labor. That’s a reasonable price for a fully built and finished tiny house purchased from a builder like Shelter Wise, Tumbleweed or PAD. Obviously, some people can and do build their own TH for far less money. But some of us don’t have the time, physical ability or the space to build our own. Personally, I will be thrilled when my $50k TH is finished in the spring and I sell my $250k house.

  8. I agree with Sharon Green, but also add, how is it going off grid if this thing is plopped into someone’s yard and using their water and electric? Or how about the crazy state to state, town to town, or country to country differences in laws about these small structures? It seems to me that the state and local governments want nothing to do with these structures because they don’t bring enough tax revenue. They make it just about impossible to put these on a property as a permeant structure so you run the risk of having to evict the structure when they come knocking on the door. I would personally have built a small cottage of 400 or less square feet if I could have it in a somewhat secluded setting with access to public water and electric. Or even just public water and solar panels. It’s almost as if these structures will only be accepted if some crook developer builds them, overprices them, and lines them all in a row for the welfare recipients, which defeats the whole purpose of living this lifestyle. I know that I don’t want to live in low income housing. If I did, I’d be in a trailer park. So, what is the answer? How do these structures become allowable without having to jump through hoops to get them on private land, in the woods, or off grid? What if you’re an older individual who wants one of these, but not in someone’s backyard, but close enough to hook up water and electric and not be part of a trailer park design? But be close enough to get to area hospitals and other amenities? It’s like the powers that be want everyone to either buy into the McMansion lie or suck it up and live in squalor. To be someone who thinks outside the box and wants to live in one of these, you have to conform to the laws of the land you live in. The laws must change to allow smaller homes. The world will be so much more crowded in 20 years and the McMansions that people abandoned will all be mini hotels. LOL! Anyway…

  9. This is a stunning design, probably the best I have seen on here.

    The pictures are excellent as well, they actually allow you to mentally piece the whole structure together (not many of the other picture sets I have seen on here have done this).

    I’d say this specific build, more than any other I’ve seen here, makes me believe this is truly a practical and possible way to go about designing/building a tiny, movable and Livable house.

    Thank you Brett!

  10. My son wants to build small living spaces and these discussions are the same everywhere. He and I both loved this kiwi’s design beyond any others we’ve seen. Water-capture, solar power, water retainment and filtering, what’s not to like? But you’re right, Lainer it’s going to take a while for this ‘demand’ to filter through to all the city halls. But I believe it will happen. It’s just going to take time. This is still in its infancy stages. A lot of changes are bound to happen from here onward…. It has to. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does the market place. Currency is merely what we decide is valuable and this is far too valuable [desired] of a “product” not to find its natural place.

    • By the time that happens, these tiny homes will be way overpriced. It’s happening now and once the houses are able to be permanently placed on solid ground, the prices will be out of reach for most working class people.

      • Interesting take. I would have thought that once the larger manufacturers have taken up the “scene”, they will out-gun and out-price the smaller and currently more overpriced players currently dominating. You don’t think that, given enough time and popularity, that the same pattern that has played out in the “big players” [Wal-Mart / McMansions] vs. little players will come into view? I’m really interested in your reply. I’m VERY curious to see where this particular “industry” is going to go over the next 2 decades. Will it be squashed by bureaucracy entirely and killed or will it be allowed to become a valid option and taken into special interest departments of the now bigger players who want to cater to um… me! thoughts?

        • John, I hope you’re right, but from what I’ve seen, once the tiny home thing really takes off, the prices will still be higher than originally intended, especially for those who were contemplating buying due to lack of funds for a traditional Debt-trap of regular to McMansion sized domains. Maybe after the initial fad aspect wears off and the rich abandon the concept of the tiny dwelling because they think it’s cute…maybe then? But then I think that if more people want these tiny homes, the drive for them will keep the prices higher than originally intended yet again, because the popularity of initial concept of being cheaper will bring in masses of people who don’t want to go into crazy amounts of debt, or are money-limited, but might be able to swing the smaller mortgage on these. Once the government, builders and mortgage lenders realize that this is a necessity, the laws will adjusted, but it will cost. The builders will build but it won’t be as cheap as it was a few years ago, and the banks, well, they will make you pay in your first born. Again, I hope I’m wrong, but having struggled for years to play catch up to the housing market, and then only when the bloated costs and bad mortgage loans caused a crash, only then was I able to finally afford a house that wasn’t exorbitantly priced. The same thing happened with vehicles. Years ago the price of a car was affordable, then all of a sudden they doubled in price, and even if you bought a small car, it cost much more and made the used market a more affordable option for many struggling working class.

          • *Sigh* – Good response. Crossing fingers, toes, legs, everything. I have a friend at work who has a 765 credit rating, a good paying steady full time job and can’t buy a home without having 8 grand in the bank, a left arm down-payment and not until he gets a false cable-modem non return removed from Experian credit. Unbelievable. The way things stagger back and forth is nuts. It’s easy, it’s hard, it’s easy, it’s hard. All I know is that this way we live cannot last forever. The system itself cannot last forever. That’s a big reason why a lot of us are on this forum to begin with no? We had to file Chap 13 four years ago and I gotta tell you, a tiny house is a very attractive option. Now to go buy land. Riiiight. That’s the part that scares me. Getting further off the grid or at least a bit more out of the usual debt trap may not be so easy… and I do like your thought through points. Suggestions welcome from anyone and everyone! It’s what we’re dealing with today.

          • John,

            Yeah, the American people suffer for the bad mortgage loans that were given out purposely by the banks so their CEOs could rake in more money. As a result it’s much harder than originally intended to get a home owners loan. All of these problems were purposely designed by the wealthy 1% to get wealthier off the backs of the middle class. Now that those bad loans have been dumped on the Chinese investors, it’s back to business as usual. People who want to live in smaller homes will have to fight state and local government to do this as it’s just not profitable for them to allow it. Bigger is better taxed. Period. Our tiny home dream is a nightmare for them. As the world becomes more densely populated and the space becomes less, the disgustingly rich robber barons and their ilk will have lovely stretches of land, and we will be renting small plots like back in the old days in Europe. The only thing going for us is if we collectively got together and fought for law changes, then maybe we’d see these homes going up more often. But then the government will adjust their taxing process and charge enough to make their money off the backs of the middle class yet again. Sorry for the rant. I’m just tired of all this. My dream would be to build a small community on a huge piece of land in the middle of some woods and build a bunch of these smaller homes for those who want space and a more sustainable living arrangement. It could all be solar and have enough room for people to have privacy, yet it would be its own community in that no large homes would be built there.

          • @Lainer – Funny how we all seem think alike. I, my son, my wife and several others we’ve talked to have all independently had the same dream of wanting to do exactly what you mentioned… get a large piece of land and start a community of “like-mindeds”. I also liked what you said… “it’s just not profitable for them to allow it”. Never truer words. I believe the “anti-corporates”, the “anti-big-gov’s” and the “anti-big-banks” are all starting to slowly agree with one another about lot more than they currently want to admit. Nothing like common adversaries to unify. We are hopefully starting to wake up. I really do wonder what the next 20 years hold for us. It’s going to be interesting.

            To a more technical point, I’d love to see an action plan or project plan for exactly that scenario. Something that works out for everyone, benefits everyone, causes little or no burden on anyone. We discussed possibly renting the small lots and keeping the other half of the land for family. The rent for the plots would be considerably lower than for a trailer park plot and would help us pay off the land at the same time. To offer it up for full ownership for each plot is a dreamy idea but… better make sure you like your neighbors if ya go that route. :-/ lol

          • For myself, I’m not interested in renting land from someone else; it has the same problem of coming up with the rent month after month after month, which is what I’ve been doing for over 30 years. There’s no flexibility, particularly for someone whose income is unpredictable. I’d rather have to save for property taxes than cough up monthly rent.

          • @Aldene: Agreed! However, if I can offer someone a deep discount, at least it will help them achieve eventually what they are trapped from doing right now. The whole point is to help others while I’m helping myself and my family as well. The whole “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” idea, if implemented, would really / may HAVE to be the way we survive in the end after all, considering where we look to be headed economically. I think your goal is the same as everyone’s on these type of discussions. Get out of the debt trap. If I can help with that as a stepping stone for someone then ‘awesome’. At least that would be one good thing I could do.

            @Lainer: Indeedy. We’re starting to bump limits of how far my mind has taken this so far. Is it possible to be selective about who you rent to, then it would be awesome. I know people RIGHT NOW who are following the Tiny house movement and are just dying for a way to get it to happen.

            Ahh but this is all just dreams if I can’t find the money for the land and all the necessaries. And even then, anyone who does this will have to have the leagal provisioins for a rental property. Oh Joy

          • John,

            Yes, I agree about renting because chances are you will get a few residents who are either doing illegal activities or doing something that will ruin it for the rest of the resident. It could be someone who is putting others at risk, ruining the land or doing something against the law, but it wouldn’t be someone I’d want as a neighbor. You would have to find like-minded Tiny home people who work for a living, and don’t have a prison record. LOL!

  11. I absolutely love this design.. I’ve been scouring the internet looking for a tiny house with stairs, not a ladder as I’m in my mid 50’s. Would Brett consider sharing or selling his plans… What is the length, total weight, height at tallest point, etc. I’m wondering if I could use this plan as is here in Canada… probably have to use more insulation for sub zero temps, but the overall plan is brilliant!!

    • Brett’s MV as I recall is a fraction over the permitted height allowed on US roads. By something like 1/2 inch or so.

      So could easily be modified height wise… and, if you are below the average height person wise, you wouldn’t notice the difference. However, if you are 6 foot plus, well you’se just gonna need to stoop a fraction more… LOL

  12. I’ve only just discovered the tiny home movement and am fascinated by their potential. Although it’s probably not for me at the moment, only because my wife would never consent to the lifestyle downsizing that would be required (I could do it in a minute!), I found Brett’s design to be my favorite one of all so far.

    It seems a lot of thought went into his planning and design, and I imagine for someone that had a lot of experience living in confined spaces as he had (I believed he’s lived on several boats over the years) he had a better inkling than most perhaps of what would be needed.

    Still I like the extra headroom in the loft his shed dormer roof provides; the curved, space-saving stairs; and the otherwise open, modern feel of the space. It doesn’t appear claustrophobic at all.

    I hope to one day build my own tiny home. I’d love to shed most of the trappings of modern, full-size living, though I also understand that in a marriage it requires compromise. Still, as an exercise I’d love to try my hand at it (I have carpentry skills and have built small buildings before) and when I’m in the doghouse with the missus, I might actually be able to go sleep in the dog house. Or the tiny house as the case may be!


    • Rich, I think you said a mouthful here. People need their space…even a small space. The trappings of our modern existence seem to be just that….a trap. We have too much stuff so we acquire an even larger house that mysteriously fills with more stuff requiring a still larger abode.

      But throw couplehood into the mix and then the real excitement plan begins. One member of the duet may be very much in favor of downsizing…downsizing your stuff to free up more geography for themselves.

      The tiny life movement is probably best done by singles…because this will require such a dramatic lifestyle change that the tiny house devotee may very well find themself newly single if they try their hand at imposing this on their spouse. This just isn’t going to work for most established relationships.

      Perhaps, if I might be so bold as to suggest it, an online version of speed dating to meet those who just might be more of a kindred spirit would be in order. As both parties would be more inclined to tackle this, knowing upfront what is the heartfelt desire of the other this could futher The Cause here.

      Just sayin’….

      What think ye?

      • Hmmm. Done by singles? I think something can be worked out! 🙂

        Definitely easier downsizing by yourself, and I’m envious of those I’ve seen where both parties are on board. Of course, the camaraderie looks good on camera; real life may otherwise intrude, however, particularly after living in close quarters for awhile.

        Well, still something on my to-do list if only for the experience of doing it. Thanks!


        • Well Rich, I guess if I am outta line here I will retract the idea.

          • Nah! It’s all good. Just a humorous response to your smart observation. Cheers!

    • The only real criticisms I have of Brett’s house is 1) the curtain partition of the shower/toilet zone. I’d rather have a real door there somehow, preferably a pocket door and 2) he missed an opportunity for storage in the stairs… the risers could have been drawers. Every tiny home needs as much storage as it can get.

  13. Are the plans available? We really love the design! Thanks for any help! 🙂

  14. Yes these plans are available. At the moment I am part of a build helping a man build his own tiny house from these plans. Check out Brett Sutherland 4 plans and details of his build. meanwhile watch this space for more details of our build and modifications of Brets plans

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