Small is beautiful: The trend for tiny homes
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Compact living is all the rage, and architects and interior designers have been coming up with ever more inventive ways of making small spaces work harder. Richard Burton got the lowdown.
It's hard to imagine, living as we do among so many properties of substance, that the average home in the UK is actually shrinking and has been doing so steadily since the 1970s when homes were, believe it or not, a fifth bigger than they are today.
There are many reasons for this - some of them politically controversial - but the fact remains that for many, especially first-timer buyers, compact living represents a chance to not only get on the housing ladder but live where they want to.
Various studies have suggested that millennials in particular are prepared to trade size for position, preferring to live in comparatively cramped conditions if it means being close to where they work and play.
And while there are obvious financial incentives for builders, architects are rising to the challenge by designing space-economical living areas for couples, families and even in some areas, the homeless.
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Micro-apartments of anywhere between 18 and 45 sq m, pack in rooms, a shower and a kitchen, often come fully furnished - and even include towels, linen and cooking utensils. Ideal for those looking for temporary accommodation on short-term contracts.
Such preferences for what one US property expert termed an "on-demand lifestyle", have seen a huge swing towards location over square footage. They want to be close enough to the city centre to walk, cycle, or use public transport.
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A recent statistic uncovered by the National Association of Home Builders suggested that three out of four millennials are first-time home buyers, and that they tend to opt for older or smaller properties. And a study by the Urban Land Institute found that a quarter of young, single people in rented accommodation, many of them sharing, expressed interest in moving to a self-contained micro unit.
Trends aside, many experts point to the fact that compact homes also have advantages. They are more energy efficient because they have less space to heat in the winter and keep cool in the summer, they need less maintenance and cleaning and generally remain affordable, which maximises their resale prospects.
In the United States in particular, micro units sized something between a single and double garage, are gaining in popularity.
The residents, typically single men under 30, are attracted by the location and the sense of community engendered by what are usually shared communal spaces.
They also appeal to those wanting an affordable break from room-mates or older empty-nesters and short-term contractors.
Here, we call them studio flats and there are no shortages locally. I counted 38 available to rent in Herts on one day last week alone, all priced at between £500-£750 on Gumtree and 75 more on Rightmove, the best of which attracted monthly fees of £950-£1,000.
There were a fair few for sale too, many advertising up-front the Government's Help-to-Buy loan scheme which was launched in April 2013. It has so far funded almost 211,000 purchases, more than 171,053 of them - or eight in ten - going to first-time buyers.
It's hard to predict how long that will continue though, given that in London alone, the modular homes provider, Project Etopia reported there were only 1,619 properties listed - down from 4,535 at the end of 2017.
Architects have been creative in their use of space, employing among other things subtle central pillars as room dividers to separate dining and reclining in a smart 3,714 sq ft 'starter suite' in Park Place, Stevenage
Others have been introducing an endless range of folding table systems, pull-out sofa beds and similar two-in-one furniture that can be adapted in different ways to suit requirements and the time of day.
The interior design world realises that the make-up of family life has changed. The days of three generations living under one roof are largely a thing of the past. One report from technology researchers at TekCarta, for example, found that most countries in the western hemisphere averaged less than three people per home.
Many have been proposing a wide range of tiny home living concepts, using flexible furniture and a less-is-more philosophy which appreciated not only that every square foot counts, but furniture had to be multifunctional to earn its place.
Ma?gorzata Bernady, head of the visual concept team at the Polish furniture giant Vox tells me that "bedsits, one-room apartments, studios" are found in all cities, cover a small area, and as a result, need careful and well thought-through furnishing and organisation.
"Trying to fit one's whole life on to a tiny platform, one is forced to creatively use every cubic centimetre of this space," she said.
"The capacity of the furniture and the practical organisation of its interior is crucial.
This helps to control the clutter. Contemporaneity is conducive to all changes - changing work, place of residence, lifestyle.
"That is why we need clever, modular solutions, taking into account the changing interests and requirements of modern nomads. The need for quick interior rearrangement may be caused by various factors.
"One time it might be a change of place of residence, with the necessity to quickly and efficiently move to a new place.
"Another time, it may be adapting the existing space for accommodating visitors. Small flats are always a challenge, regardless of the circumstances."
Vox created their 4 You collection for just this reason, even suggesting the four-poster pictured here is the "ultimate space-saving storage bed on the market".
It includes an enclosed storage space behind the headboard and a shelving unit/bookshelf above. The mattress base can even be raised, giving access to even more storage underneath and comes in a neutral, Scandi-style.
Store, while you snore, you could say.
It even comes with loads of accessories to move it on from the mere functional; such as canopies, curtains, and a side ladder they say is perfect for hanging plants or clothes.
You have to look no further than the wall beds and seating arrangements demonstrated on Resource or the way sofas have been engineered to expand into bunk beds and dining units on godownsize.com or the sort of coffee-tables that become dining tables that feature on awesomestuff365.com to get an idea.
And if there's anyone out there not convinced you can exist in anything that doesn't have four beds and a double garage, I'm writing this on an aircraft seat with hardly any legroom on the way back from Europe's most influential furniture and interiors fair in Cologne where "tiny spaces" were all anyone was talking about.
Ironic, given that I twice got lost inside the ten vast halls that cover 284,000 square metres of space. Guess you have to go big to think small.