POSTED ON AUGUST 15, 2012:
Living Large with Less
We grow into our homes. Whether a home is 1300 square feet or 5000 square feet, where there is space, we will find a way to fill it. It is human nature.
So if we expand to occupy our spaces, does that mean we/our lives shrink when we downsize?
To live in a micro home certainly requires a shift in values and as much as anything, tremendous discipline. Shopaholics, hoarders or collectors need not apply. There just isn't room.
Which is exactly the point of the conscientious choice of living with less.
When writing "Walden" on Walden Pond, Thoreau managed to contently (not to mention, prolifically) exist for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days in a cabin that was a mere 150 square feet, in his aspiration to explore the spiritual benefits of such a simplified/pared down lifestyle.
I happily inhabited a living space of 125 square feet during a week spent at the Philipe Starck designed Hudson Hotel in Manhattan. What I thought might leave me feeling claustrophobic, was actually quite cozy amidst the northeastern blizzard that transpired outside. It was like a cocoon. Only it was trimmed out in wood, chrome and a bit of polycarbonite. It was efficiently designed without an inch of unused space -- like an urban treehouse really.
Naturally, my curiosity was peaked while perusing Craigslist, when I came across a listing with the headline, "Tulsa's only Micro Home for Rent." Completed just last month by furniture designer and co-owner of Hawley Furnishings, Mark Hawley, this little gem packed a lot of punch and thus was renting for $1,000 a month for a mere 612 square feet. It leased within a few days, a testament to quality over quantity.
Even at 612 square feet, the Hawley home might push the flexible boundaries of actually qualifying as a micro home. Many purists claim the cut off to be 500 square feet. Anything larger is deemed "small" but not micro. Such square footage leaves little room for much more than a small kitchen, small bath and sleeping/living space. Not only do the space constraints force an inhabitant to be mindful of personal possessions, it causes him or her to reconsider habits and systems. Each designated area must be multi purpose and cubic footage in addition to square footage suddenly becomes a consideration.
But why would someone want to squeeze into such a tight spot?
For one, It's a novelty. What might be standard in an efficiency apartment is an oddity and a conversation piece when constructed as a standalone structure. So much so that more than 100 people toured the house out of curiosity (but certainly not all at once, mind you). It features a contemporary facade and landscaping that is unique to its midtown neighborhood. Its eye catching interior is equally unexpected with high end finishes such as glass tile, Corian countertops, sleek wood built-ins and smaller scale stainless steel appliances.
Economy is another key factor in the choice of a micro or small home. Despite its $200 per square foot construction cost, Hawley's House was built for a fraction of what other homes in the area might sell for. A practical concept in an age when 1 in 5 Americans owe more on their homes than what the house is actually worth. "Economically, you're looking at lower building and lot costs, utility bills, maintenance, insurance, and mortgage costs," Hawley said.
The economic benefit of a micro home doesn't stop at the micro level. As Hawley points out, "A smaller footprint per person allows for more density. Higher density means the city saves on infrastructure costs. At nearly 200 square miles, the City of Tulsa is about as large as Boston, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and San Francisco combined. We, of course, have a fraction of those cities' populations. Urban sprawl and super-sized McMansions may mean more immediate profit for builders and the City collects more in property taxes, but in the end they cost the taxpayers dearly."
Attainable and sustainable, micro living is certainly the antithesis of the McMansion of the suburbs. But micro home community development isn't ideal for every area. Sporadic micro homes popping up in Maple Ridge could prove to be disastrous to architectural continuity and property values.
"Neighborhoods of existing smaller homes and infill redevelopment are two obvious locations," Hawley said. "I don't consider them appropriate in the innermost urban core where you need the density of multi-story housing, but rather in the areas just outside that boundary," said Hawley.
Areas such as the Pearl District and Gunboat Park come to mind.
Statistics show that the type of dweller who would most likely adopt a more simplified and micro lifestyle is consistent with those who might occupy downtown Tulsa. As Hawley has observed, "The main groups seem to be the young creative group of early adopters and empty nesters."
Whether inhabiting or designing and constructing, the micro home represents opportunity for the creative thinker looking to alter the status quo. In an era of surplus and complexity, it's expected that there will be those who wish to scale back and re-prioritize how they allot their resources.
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