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March 28, 2009

Living small is the new way to live big—whether within a tighter, more creatively written budget or physically in fewer square feet. In her new book Tiny Houses, Loud Paper Magazine founder and frequent Dwell contributor Mimi Zeiger compiled over 30 houses, many of them once featured in Dwell, that range from tree houses to floating houses to those with a sleeping loft squeezed in the space above the kitchen cabinets—and all of which measure under 1,000 square feet.

Tiny Houses Cover

Though they’re tiny, the houses don’t ask you to deny yourself the comforts of home, and in the small book—its own dimensions are just 6.75" by 6.75" (though with a thick 240 pages and 250 photos between its covers)—Zeiger explains how living smaller simply means living smarter, with benefits including better personal and planetary health.

Zeiger will be in the San Francisco Bay Area in early April to talk about Tiny Houses. On April 7, she will give a lecture followed by book signings at Builder’s Booksource in Berkeley. The next day, April 8, Zeiger will be signing copies at Rare Device in downtown San Francisco.

I spoke with Zeiger earlier this week about Tiny Houses and why in the country of more, more, more, we'd be wise to live with less.

How does small living translate to green living?
You become more efficient when you live small because you reduce heating and cooling loads, your carbon impact is much less because your building’s footprint is smaller, and you often use public transportation more frequently because a lot of people who live in small spaces live in urban environments, which have a green component already built into them.

Why else should we consider downsizing our living space?

In addition to the ecological climate, there’s the current economic climate that lends itself to downsizing. Everyone is making reference to the Great Depression and 1930s-type methods of coping such as planting a victory garden, saving plastic bags, buying things in bulk, and eating at home. Reducing your size goes along with that: you pay less in utilities, you don’t need as much furniture, and so on.

What inspired you to compile this book?

I was seeing more and more small houses appear in the media and there started to be a critical mass, enough to collect in a book—even before we had the subprime mortgage crisis or the economic downturn. It’s about bringing them all together and having a bulk of houses to talk about all in one place.

Do you have a favorite in the book?

I have different kinds of favorites. There are a couple houses in cities I like and then some in the country that I really like, too. Others I like because they are really functional but then there are also ones that are highly conceptual and are not necessarily the most inhabitable but really question the way in which we live.

Tiny Houses Slot House

What is your favorite functional house?

The Slot House in Brooklyn by noroof architects. The owners took an old house and renovated it in order to bring in more light and also divided the single house into two units: a 600-square-foot home and a 400-square-foot in-law. They created even more density in an already-dense place. They were really good about maximizing their space: They created a guest-sleeping loft in the space above the kitchen cabinets. It seems like a very strange place to put it but really optimizes the space. (Editor's note: Look for another noroof architects projects that will be featured in Dwell's June 2009 issue.)

What’s your favorite conceptual house?

The M-House, though I think architect Michael Jantzen thinks of it as a functional house. It’s a lot of fun: Not only does it have a solar power pack that clips into it but it looks like something out of Star Wars. It has all these shading devices to let in light and air but also block the sun for cooling.
Tiny Houses M House

Do you live in a small house?

I live in a studio apartment, which is really no surprise because I live in Brooklyn. There’s something nice though about having everything in a compact place. When I need a bigger space to stretch my wings I use common areas. I go up to the park, the farmers’ market, or the local café so not only am I living tiny but I’m living big in the real world.

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