ARTICLE Jason Burgess

Detractors may call them an impractical fad, but advocates of the micro lifestyle pop up faster than production companies can make reality shows about them. As awareness grows around healthier homes, housing affordability, supply and sustainability, microarchitecture and design is coming into its own, often with creative genius and future-thinking outcomes.

Micro means living in an area between nine and 37-square-metres. To give that some context QV.co.nz suggests the average size New Zealand home is 149-square-metres. With skyrocketing house prices and tighter urban spaces, micro-living offers practical and affordable options for denizens wanting a place to call their own. City solutions though are just the beginning.

Micro abodes offer a chance to let the imagination rather than the overdraft run wild. They have been designed on trailers (unofficially, tiny houses) that provide portable living options; in trees for a bird’s eye view and as A-frame, tent inspired homes for back to nature types. From mid-century referenced cubes of glass and, sleek smartphone controlled space ship designs to traditional timber cabins, the options are endless. It is not hard to see why micro concepts are being employed to meet off-the-shelf accommodation demands and why some big players are getting involved.

The Japanese homeware company MUJI are constantly updating their pre-fab micro hut designs and this year released a nine-square-metres mono pitched roof cabin designed to merge with its surroundings whether they be at the beach or in the mountains. Car company MINI has its own Mini Living project that is shopping “Urban Cabin” designs to cities all around the world. At the 2017 London Design Show they teamed up with architect Sam Jacob to create a 15-square-metre living space complete with its own library.

Micro is also being adopted to revitalize urban areas often by inhabiting readymade edifices. The SHED project in London designs DIY living pods that can be used to reoccupy empty office buildings. America’s oldest but defunct shopping mall, the Westminster Arcade in Providence, Rhode Island, has been revitalized with micro apartments above commercial spaces and the Savannah College of Art and Design have come up with ingenious 12.5-square-metre micro units to fill vacant multi-story carparks.

Micro dwellings are being employed as rental properties, get-away homes, granny flats and / or Air B’n’B’s. Some are permanent structures but many people opt for the flexibility of a tiny house. If a tiny house remains on a trailer IE: not on blocks or foundations, it may not be subject to the same building restrictions as a permanent dwelling (check with your local council) and can be moved from site to site. The versatility of tiny houses has been adopted by corporates too. In Australia Tesla recently built a sustainable chemical free tiny house as a touring solar powered showroom.

A small black house under the tree

For many, the basis for leading a micro-lifestyle is achieving a healthier work-life balance. An infographic on Thetinylife.com suggests that 68% of all’ tiny house people’ in the USA are mortgage free compared to just 29.3% of other home-owners. And that 65% of tiny home owners have no credit card debt. The same site claims two out of five tiny home owners are aged 50 or above and that tiny house people are twice as likely to have a Master’s degrees than regular folk! IQ’s aside the fact remains that having less of a mortgage and, fewer cleaning and maintenance chores to handle, ultimately means there is more time for experiencing life, travelling the world, engaging with the wider community and fully enjoying relationships.

The micro dweller it is argued, is also doing more to reduce their carbon footprint. This does not just apply to those who choose to live off the grid, or out of town with composting toilets, rain harvesting tanks and grey water shales hydrating their vege patches. Pocket size homes lessen the demand on precious construction resources and once finished a small space is easier and cheaper to heat and light.

Whether micro means living in a yurt, shipping-container or a converted refrigerator unit (yes it has been done,) the most important thing is how their interior spaces work. The pared down size means minimizing, simplifying and rethinking what is truly important. Petite places do not have to feel Lilliputian inside, anything goes but the essentials remain constant: flexible areas with multipurpose furniture. Standard tricks like large windows to harvest daylight, pale colours, translucent surfaces and sliding partitions will maximise the sense of space.

Going vertical adds a voluminous feel and increases living options. A raised kitchen alters eye lines and presents an illusion of space while providing a storage cavity for fold out table and seats. Retractable staircases can pull out from a wall cavity, cupboard doors tidy away ladders or shelves, Multi-function bench spaces with over sink cutting boards or fold up ends are tried but effective concepts. So too are wall-hinged table tops. Alcoves can be used for display while under the bed also offers obvious storage options.

There are plenty of off-the-shelf ideas available. Ikea have an “on-the-move” collection of lightweight, small furniture perfect for micro living solutions. In the UK Dalt released a series of simple, retractable storage solutions that drop down from the ceiling, including a steel clothes rack, kitchen basket and a laundry sack featuring a steel ring holding a suspended leather 'net'.

Where land area allows, the addition of a deck will provide extra external living areas. On portable units, this could be cantilevered or fold down from an existing wall. As with any home project micro-living options are boundless, the only limits are budget and personal vision.

You might be interested in reading: How to eco renovate your home.

 

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