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Tyee Photo Essay

'Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter'

Lloyd Kahn's new compendium on the marvelous little world of scaled-back housing.

By Robyn Smith, 19 Apr 2012,

Photo 1 of 10

  • Floating homes

    Henrik Lindstrom's tiny floating homestead in B.C.

  • Henrik Lindstrom's tiny floating homestead in B.C.

    Hornby Island potter Michelle Wilson was inspired to build this caravan while looking at pictures of "lovely old gypsy vardos" (horse-drawn wagons). One year on and she's got this caravan finished, one in the works, and another in the planning stage.

  • Sleeping quarters inside Michelle Wilson's caravan

    Sleeping quarters inside Michelle Wilson's caravan.

  • Powell Lake cabin

    Margy Lutz and husband Wayne's little float cabin on Powell Lake, B.C. "Float cabins are a big part of coastal B.C. history. During the heyday of logging and fishing, they were used as support camps that could be moved from place to place." Now retired, the couple enjoys gardening (check the floating beds!), swimming, and fishing.

  • Mud Girls of B.C.

    The Mud Girls of British Columbia, an all-woman natural building crew, formed in 2004 on Lasqueti Island to address the lack of affordable housing and to learn construction skills. They focus on building small, eco-efficient homes like this one.

  • Canim Lake, B.C. treehouse

    Wood was reclaimed from a 50 year-old sawmill to build this treehouse in Canim Lake, B.C. A satellite dish, located on the roof above the bed, echos sounds from the lakeshore below. The result is a sensation of water lapping at the bedside.

  • Haida Gwaii sauna

    Colin Doane built this North Beach sauna on Haida Gwaii. The front rafters are whale jawbone and the door handle is a big bone.

  • House van exterior

    Lloyd House's 75-square-foot Ford Econoline van home, complete with fire shed.

  • House van interior

    Back of Lloyd House's house van, where he enjoys the simple life.

  • House van interior

    Front of Lloyd House's mobile home.


  • Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter
  • Lloyd Kahn
  • Shelter Publications (2012)

[Editor's note: Click through the gallery above to see some of British Columbia's finest "tiny homes." Images reprinted with permission. And check the sidebar for author appearances in BC in coming days.]

Little homes inspire a certain delight. Like grown up dollhouses, all the necessities are miniature. From cozy surf shacks to cottages in the mountains, little homes seem even better when owned by quaint or slightly feral people. They're pure charm.

Lloyd Kahn finds little homes fascinating. In 1973 the former editor at Whole Earth Catalog published Shelter, a visual feast of eco-conscious human habitats from around the globe that included designs for five different "small homes." Back then, Kahn says, the book appealed to people looking to dodge the rent/landlord approach to housing or avoid a hefty bank mortgage that would loom for years.


Vancouver event: April 19, 7 p.m. Emily Carr University, South Bldg, Room 301. 1400 Johnston St., Granville Island.

Hornby Island event: April 22, 7 p.m. Hornby Community Hall, Central Rd. & Sollans.

Denman Island event: April 23, 7:30 p.m. Denman Community Hall.

Victoria event: April 25, 7 p.m. University of Victoria, David Lam Auditorium in the Maclaurin building.

Today, the need for housing alternatives is still a hot issue. Kahn's latest book, Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter, offers a glimpse of what those alternatives might be, all of them pared down to the bare necessities. A "survey of scaled-down housing, circa 2012," the book is a compendium of downsized dwellings occupied by people living with less, in everything from treehouses, YardPods, covered wagons and yurts.

Some of the profiled homes are mobile, others are stationary (and squatting). Some are pre-fabs, though many are hand built. Standouts include a "capsule hotel" in Tokyo (510 capsule sleeping spaces go for about $700 a month -- considered cheap in the high-rent city), a "backyard chicken coop yacht" (truly a converted coop with a nautical theme), and a gorgeous sauna on Haida Gwaii.

A sure-to-be favourite is a tiny cottage in the Oregon Coast rainforest called "The Laughing House." With its gently-curving cob and straw bale walls and patio laid of thinly-sliced tree rings, it is a place where hobbits and fraggles must live.

Kahn's definition of a tiny home is simple: it must measure less than 500 square feet; after that, there aren't really any other specs. The tiniest home he's ever seen? "Lloyd House lives in a 78 sq. ft. converted van," he says. Parked on a small island in the Straight of Georgia, it’s a refurbished 1990 Ford Econoline with the cab cut off, made taller with plywood walls insulated with styrofoam and boasting a wood stove built from a 20 lb. propane tank.

Asked what it's like to live there, House says: "It keeps my life orderly; I must live life in an orderly fashion." He occasionally entertains a guest over dinner -- sometimes two -- and he buys toilet paper one roll at a time. (On that note, tiny home dwellers have the same options for sewage disposal as regular homes: a septic system, composting toilets, or the trusty ol' chamber pot.)

Who is suited to a tiny home? Many owners are young and do not have a lot of money, Kahn says. Add that to today's mortgage crisis, job scarcity, high rents, and a growing awareness that providing one's own shelter is a matter of personal freedom, and you have a pretty appealing option for a variety of folks.

Remain unconvinced? You can hear more from Kahn about tiny homes on his B.C. speaking tour, which kicks off today in Vancouver. See this story's sidebar for more details.  [Tyee]

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