Pocket Sized Homes for Living Large

by : Stacy Neir

Concern for the environment and concern for the pocketbook are leading home buyers away from luxury estates and toward more affordable houses that use less resources and encourage simpler lifestyles.

Variously dubbed the small house, mini home, homelet, micro house and wee house - modern architects are coming up with great designs that make maximum use of space and resources with minimum land use. With some of the buildings as tiny 400 square feet, you can be certain that every inch is packed with purpose. It's a scrimp here and splurge there aesthetic: built-in storage, smaller appliances and lofts eliminate wasted space while vaulted ceilings and giant windows make the most minuscule spaces seem airy and bright.

The emphasis on making good use of space while maximizing style is a familiar concept in Japan and Europe where land is at a premium and concern for the environment is urgent. Americans on the other hand, haven't seriously played with the idea of efficiency since the depression.

In 1936, Frank Lloyd Wright developed the Usonian house design. This boxy modernist house was a simplified version of his earlier Prairie house - but stripped down, without attics, basements or ornamentation. The Usonian was an attempt to create a distinctly American style of home that was available to everyone. Built on principles of convenience, comfort and economy, its spacious open interiors belie the low profile boxiness seen from the street. Wright's work inspired modernist architects all over the country. Locally, the designs of Victor Hornbein, Joseph and Louise Marlow, William Muchow, Eugene Sternberg and Gerry Dion are all part of the Denver real estate market. Perhaps one of the best known enclaves of this type of house can be found in Arapahoe Acres, a post-war subdivision in Englewood built in the modern style.

More recently, the Katrina Cottage has captured the public imagination with efficient designs that packed the functionality of a six room house into less than 600 square feet. These feisty little houses can cost less than $30,000 in materials, stand up to hurricanes and still have nine foot ceilings and ample southern charm. A Katrina Cottage requires you to have land to build it on however. Now available through Lowes stores in the US, this is a small house for those homesteading on the Minnesota frontier, building a vacation home in the mountains or putting up a little home on a tiny urban lot.

Saving money is an important driving factor behind the current appeal of small houses. Do the math: A smaller building costs less to build and less floor space means less energy consumption. Maintenance is always on a much smaller scale. Small houses simply use less heat, less water and less electricity. And of course, less storage space means less of everything else. Pack rats and shop-a-holics need not consider simple living or serious downsizing, but if you're interested in being conscious of your consumption and minimizing your strain on the planet, a small house might be for you.

For many people the idea of living in a smaller house is tied to the idea of sustainable living or living with their means - with style. Though the idea of sustainable living may still seem novel, the recent rash of foreclosures has certainly brought this idea home for many. Naturally if you're spending less on utilities, land taxes and possessions, you'll also have more money for everything else.

Want to be where the action is? Living smaller doesn't translate into a meager lifestyle. In fact, part of the attraction of a smaller home is the ability to live large in other areas of your life. For many people, a smaller home allows them to buy in high priced urban areas that are otherwise out of reach.

Hate housework? One of the resounding benefits of living smaller is that small spaces are far easier to keep clean than sprawling McMansions. Less to organize and fewer steps to organize what you have, a smaller space gives you more time for other pursuits.

You don't have to live in a modern steel box to live more efficiently either. There's plenty of older housing stock that makes a great springboard for simplified living. Post war bungalows, shotguns, cabins, rowhouses, usonians, side-gabled and english cottages can all be found in Denver and surrounding areas. With an initial investment on energy efficient upgrades, built-in fixtures and creative storage options, living in a small old house can work better for most people than living in a bigger resource-hogging building.