Do mini-houses have to be as plain as they are small? Not according to a team of Auburn University architecture students who recently unveiled a pair of stunning small houses in Serenbe, Georgia.
The mini-house (a.k.a. tiny house) movement is architecture’s answer to the Western world’s growing desire to live more simply, cheaply and sustainably. Mini-houses are often defined as homes no bigger than 500 square feet. The average new American single-family home, by comparison, averages about 2,600 square feet.
Most mini-houses have had a distinctly Spartan look and feel – somewhere between a child’s playhouse and a home built by IKEA. The students at Rural Studio, Auburn’s architectural design program, have succeeded in changing that with their Serenbe project. The two homes evoke 19th-century farm buildings, which is appropriate given their rural setting. The exteriors are made largely from local pine and tin. The interiors are designed to create an illusion of greater space with open floor plans, white walls, and deep windowsills that reflect sunlight into the house.
A screened-in porch allows the residents to reach into the outdoors for added space.
One of Rural Studio’s goals was to minimize costs, and they were successful – to some extent. The team was able to build the houses for just $14,000 apiece in materials. However, the program’s director acknowledges the houses actually cost about $65,000 when labor, permitting, design and other factors are included. Rural Studio is currently reviewing its work with an eye towards building a third house at even lower cost.
The Serenbe houses will be used as temporary residences for visiting artists, who will attend workshops and performances in the local artist colony during their one-month stay. Unfortunately, that’s the only possible use for the structures. They can’t be sold or used as real homes because Georgia requires residential houses to be at least 1,000 square feet. Similar zoning laws across the country have been an impediment to the spread of tiny homes. Owners often circumvent these rules by mounting the house on wheels and parking it in an RV park or mobile home community.
Is a mini-home right for you? As with most lifestyle questions, the answer is, It depends. Looking to save money? A mini will certainly save money on utilities, minimize your house payment, and thwart your very American inclination to accumulate possessions. But while $65,000 house might sound cheap, according to Forbes, minis typically cost $200-$400 per square foot, as compared to $84 per square foot for a conventional house. And, just like a conventional home, you need to acquire the land to build your tiny house.
Want to live simply? OK. But be brutally honest with yourself about how long you and your spouse could live on top of each other with no privacy – especially if you have stopped working. And what happens if/when you have a child… or a dog… or an overnight guest? You could, of course, move. But you would likely lose money as tiny houses don’t have very good resale value.
Tiny homes are trendy and intriguing. But when all is said and done, you might get closer to your financial and social goals by acquiring a small traditional home at a bargain, maybe through a foreclosure sale.
All images by J. Ashley
· Sneak peek at Serenbe’s Tiny Houses for Artists [Atlanta magazine]
· Serenbe & Rural Studio’s Partnership Leads to a Happy, Artistic Haven [ArtsATL]
· This House Costs Just $20,000—But It’s Nicer Than Yours [Fast Company]