Big Ideas Behind Tiny Houses

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The hour long drive from Athens to Eatonton feels much shorter owing to the pleasant landscape dotted with cows and century-old farmhouses that make you feel as if you are driving back towards a simpler time.  We arrived at Crooked Pines Farm expecting to see a smattering of curious locals, but the volume of cars quickly told us this was no niche festival appealing to narrow interests.  Our journey began through muddy fields to get a gander at houses made tiny and living spaces re-imagined as anything with wheels. The diversity of the crowd was impressive, with people of all ages and backgrounds interested in how to live with less for reasons as varied as the houses we were going to see.

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Some homes were still being pulled into position in the field off to our right, so we walked towards a central area with parked homes that already had lines stretching in front of them to tour the interiors. A friendly greeter explained that homes were divided into two areas: models available to purchase pre-made, and homes that are currently or semi-regularly being used as residences. We got in the growing lines to see for ourselves how you downsize the typical 2400 square foot American home into less than half that amount–sometimes much less.

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With roughly 10 examples on view, there was a range from relatively large homes with nearly full-sized appliances to the truly tiny that weren’t much more than cozy sleeping quarters.  Despite such a small sample size, it was fascinating to see just how many options there are when it comes to building your own compact dwelling.  There were the fairly traditional Hummingbird Homes, whose three models had the size and style to appeal to more conventional tastes. More eclectic models, like the retro and whimsical Gypsy Wagon from Trekker Trailers, looked better suited to being pulled by a team of horses rather than an oversized truck.  And though the majority were built and presented as living spaces, a few were examples of other possible uses for a tiny home, such as office space or guest quarters. Think: Tiny home as portable addition to your house, aka the perfect spot for when your least favorite relative visits.

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In the second area of the fest were RVs, School Buses, Conversion Vans, a yurt and a couple of built from the ground-up tiny homes that were owner occupied, if only seasonally.  When it comes to mobile and cheap, there are few limits to what a human will call an abode, and we saw many interesting possibilities here. Shot through with individuality and creatively rendered functional areas, these quirky spaces were often matched with equally eccentric owners. It was clear that for many of them their homes were outlets of expression beyond functionality–their personalities writ large, so to speak.

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The Serena Tiny House made a huge impression with design elements I pictured myself enjoying the moment I crossed the threshold. Expansive french doors forming a back wall and entrance open fully to create a seamless connection to your environment, bringing the outdoors inside.  At the opposite end a full-sized bathtub surrounded by iridescent tile in a sunken bathroom felt like a magical world of it’s own, part underwater adventure, part cosmic ride in an airship. In the middle was the living/sleeping space and kitchen that felt large enough to maybe even entertain a few guests, if you picked amongst your most diminutive friends.

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The most spacious of all the homes we toured was the humble Yurt, originating in Central Asia, having been used by nomadic tribes for centuries.  I loved the flexible lattice work which folds down compactly and the overall circular construction that eliminates right angles and straight lines. For a person like myself who has lived their whole life in traditional western boxy homes, it was an interesting shift to imagine living in a non-linear structure and wonder at how it might change my perspective in other ways.

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Of course, just as intriguing as the places themselves is the philosophy underpinning the tiny house movement: prioritizing efficiency of space and resources, valuing experiences over material possessions, enjoyment of travel and adventure, connecting with nature, and just living a more fluid existence in general. As much as sustainability factors into the decision to live tiny, so too do economic realities. Housing crashes, lack of affordable options and the the high debt incurred when buying a traditional home are all factors that have left some people locked into renting on a permanent basis. The idea of owning one’s home as a marker of independence endures, and a home is still the best investment for most working and middle class citizens.  The tiny house movement can be seen as a remaking of the American Dream, one filled with pioneers and renegades. For a lot less money and the potential to pick up and go anywhere, a tiny home owner can still claim their own corner of the world, one that belongs just to them.

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The Georgia Tiny House Festival took place in Eatonton GA March 4th-6th. Visit their website at www.georgiatinyhouse.com

Serra Branyon
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