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Tiny Houses: Designing Shed-Sized Homes


In an era of McMansion, the home the size of the average shed seems unthinkable, but Jay Shafer's entire house is just 70 square feet, a tiny home, he calls it, and he's encouraging others to live that way. His home and business, the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, are in the woods near Occidental, California.

Jay Shafer, good morning.

Mr. JAY SHAFER (Tumbleweed Tiny House Company): Good morning, Renee. Good to be here.

MONTAGNE: Little house...

Mr. SHAFER: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: ...seventy square feet. Tell us what it looks like.

Mr. SHAFER: Well, next to the giant redwoods, it looks really ridiculous. It's very small. It's metal-clad on the outside, and it doesn't really house all that much more than my desk and my bed and a very small kitchen and bathroom.

MONTAGNE: I'm actually surprised you can get a kitchen, bathroom, desk and bed in 70 square feet.

Mr. SHAFER: Yeah. That's the fun part. It's the challenging part, a subtractive design, trying to squeeze as much space into a small house as possible.

MONTAGNE: Does the bed close up during the day, you know, or do you actually have things out there?

Mr. SHAFER: Well, I actually have my bed upstairs. If you can imagine, there's a tiny sleeping loft upstairs. I shouldn't say tiny, because it does sleep two comfortably, but it's just beneath the gable. So that saves a lot of space downstairs.

MONTAGNE: Now a larger house by your standards, 700 square feet, a couple could live in that space, of course, but what about these littler ones?

Mr. SHAFER: Well, as far as the littler ones, I have done this experiment before with my ex-girlfriend...

MONTAGNE: Ex-girlfriend?

Mr. SHAFER: `Ex,' I guess, would be the--yeah. Well, we lived there for a month while we were looking for a place for her. And our ultimate plan was to build three of these, a his, a hers and an ours, but long story short, yeah, that didn't pan out.

MONTAGNE: I don't want to go too deeply into it, but yes or no, did it have to do with the lack of space?

Mr. SHAFER: Well, yes, to some degree, I think the three houses would work great, but my house was not designed for two people. It was designed for me and an occasional overnight guest, but not for two people to hang out and all day long.

MONTAGNE: Who is it that comes to you and says, `I really need a 70-square-foot house'? I mean, that isn't just a small house. That's a teeny, tiny house.

Mr. SHAFER: Yeah. The market for the really small ones that I built is, in fact, small. There are a few people who want these 70-square-foot little ones, myself, who are just looking for less responsibilities in terms of housework and mortgage payments, and they just spend a lot of time outside or when they're inside, they're sitting at a desk, and that doesn't require all that much space. So they're eliminating all the headache of a larger house. I like to think of this sort of thing as less like architecture than tailoring. Each house really suits the needs of the occupant.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, just sort of as a last thought, your house is in the redwoods. Can you imagine a house like this in the middle of suburb or, you know, on an empty lot where you couldn't wake up every morning like I bet you do and hear the birds and feel like you're in the middle of the wild?

Mr. SHAFER: Actually, you're talking about my dream. I want to build a little suburb of tiny houses, probably not as small as mine but something around 200 square feet each and with little winding pedestrian paths throughout. The cars would be relegated to the periphery, and there would be a commons in the middle, a grassy field, that sort of thing, along with some common amenities as well, maybe a larger space in which to have parties and meetings.

MONTAGNE: Sounds a little like a fairy tale.

Mr. SHAFER: Yeah. I'm happy to say that it's actually coming true. Cottage housing is what they're calling it these days, which is basically the new version of the old bungalow court.

MONTAGNE: Jay Shafer, thanks for being with us.

Mr. SHAFER: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Jay Shafer is the owner of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. He lives in a 70-square-foot home in the redwoods north of San Francisco.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.