Tiny Homes, by Lloyd Kahn -- exclusive image gallery excerpt

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Sauna in Queen Charlotte Islands by Colin Doane. Lashed to front rafters are green whale jawbones. (From p. 133 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

Here's a preview of our friend Lloyd Kahn's beautiful book, Tiny Homes.

Cover-1 There's a grassroots movement in tiny homes these days. The real estate collapse, the economic downturn, burning out on 12-hour workdays – many people are rethinking their ideas about shelter – seeking an alternative to high rents, or a lifelong mortgage debt to a bank on an overpriced home.

In this book are some 150 builders who have taken things into their own hands, creating tiny homes (under 500 sq. ft.). Homes on land, homes on wheels, homes on the road, homes on water, even homes in the trees. There are also studios, saunas, garden sheds, and greenhouses.

There are 1,300 photos, showing a rich variety of small homemade shelters, and there are stories (and thoughts and inspirations) of the owner-builders who are on the forefront of this new trend in downsizing and self-sufficiency.

At the heart of our 1973 book Shelter were drawings of 5 small buildings, which we recommended as a starting point in providing one's own home. Now, almost 40 years later, there's a growing tiny house movement all over the world – which we've been tracking over the past two years.

Many people have decided to scale back, to get by with less stuff, to live in smaller homes. You can buy a ready-made tiny home, build your own, get a kit or pre-fab, or live in a bus, houseboat, or other movable shelter. Some cities have special ordinances for building "inlaw" or "granny flats" in the back yard. There are innovative solutions in cities, such as the "capsules" in Tokyo. There are numerous blogs and websites with news, photos, and/or plans for tiny homes, documented here.

If you're thinking of scaling back, you'll find plenty of inspiration here. Here's a different approach, a 180º turn from increasing consumption. Here are builders, designers, architects (no less), dreamers, artists, road gypsies, and water dwellers who've achieved a measure of freedom and independence by taking shelter into their own hands.

Buy Tiny Homes at Amazon.com

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Wolf Brooks and Lyle Congdon built this cabin on a trailer and trucked it from Colorado, to Santa Fe, NM. (From p. 53 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

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Pallet house by I-Beam Design (from p. 70 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

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Cabin in Montana mountains designed by Jeff Shelden (from p. 70 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

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Interior of a treehouse built in Carbondale, CO by architect Stephen A. Novy (from pp. 152-153 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

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Electric car designed by San Francisco builder Jay Nelson (from p. 181 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

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Builder SunRay Kelley built this "man cave" for a family in Middleton, California (interior). (From p. 100 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

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Exterior view of SunRay Kelley's "man cave." (From p. 101 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)


    1. I like the axe blade waiting for the first unwary toddler to topple off the unrailed porch.  It’s like a postcard from an exotic, bygone, deadly era when kids had to demonstrate strong situational awareness if they wished to live to breeding age.  A Libertarian paradise…

      Er… or, yes, Baba Yaga’s hut.

      1.  You forgot to also complain about the lack of handrails on the steps, Safety Sally.  

        Also, don’t forget that his step rise might possibly be 0.1 inches over the legal limit.  Also notice that the steps seem to be of different heights – another potential “violation”.  Naturally, we can’t have any of that because society would just fall just that much closer into chaos if that happened.  Oh yes, and his door is shorter than may be allowable…. we can’t be having any of that radical anarchism with people having the audacity to think they can just go and put a 6 and a half foot door when the code may call for a 7 foot door.  

        Seeing as you felt the need to opine on the hypothetical libertarian world, I’ll go ahead and do the same by saying the above commentary is apparently just the beginning, in the world of Safety Sally’s – I’m sure we could find 100,000 other things wrong with it for which we certainly need to send in a SWAT team to accompany the brave local code code enforcement folks who will save us all from ourselves, and evict the homeowner for living in an “unfit” home, until such time that he fixes everything so that it is 100 percent Safety Sally compliant.

  1. I want to build a tiny home that will fit in the back of my toyota pickup. A camper shell is woefully inadequate for actual camping.

    1.  There are examples of this in the book.

      Its a fun book.  I bought it for inspiration for my kids.  My wife won’t let me take us down this path. 

      1.  I’m trying to come up with a way to sell it.
        Currently I’m thinking that if a second, larger structure consisting only of a top-of-the-range spa-bath and shower is constructed first, we may have a negotiating position….

  2. I like how, in that first photo, the woodstove opens onto the porch.  I suppose it helps prevent combusting all the breathable air in such a small space.  My little Casita travel trailer used to have a similar arrangement for the hot water heater.

    1. Sounds redundant.  I prefer to use a cold water heater.

      (Sorry ’bout that, couldn’t resist.)

  3. I love the idea of a tiny house — after all, I live in an apartment not that much larger than some of these. The problem is they aren’t very compatible with urban living and mass transit — it’s no coincidence that the pictures depict living out in the boonies with a car being needed for transportation, groceries, etc. Although I’m curious what they mean by “capsules” in Tokyo. Are they talking about living full time in a “coffin hotel” out of Neuromancer?

  4. “Tiny Holmes” – hands up who read that in Hugh Dennis’s voice from The Now Show 

  5. Keep in mind that if you build one of these and get accused of a crime, it will be reported that you live not in a tiny home, but a shack. Do any writing and it’ll be called your manifesto. Oh, and avoid sending mail-bombs.

  6. The first picture should be more accurately labeled “adequately sized sauna.” And a tree house and man cave aren’t really homes either, in the sense that neither is a primary dwelling. The tiny home movement is meant to be an effort to reduce one’s footprint (literally and philosophically). Those three examples are luxuries. Don’t get me wrong: each is an interesting designs. But they’re not worth of a tiny home classification if you ask me.

      1. I have one bookshelf for the stuff I DEMAND to have a physical copy of. The rest live on my nook.

        1. That sounds like an arduous and interesting task, classifying ones book collection into one book shelf… I could see myself “cheating” and picking some of my physically smaller books over others… Hard to justify that 1000 page epic, when you can fit many 150 page classics in the same space. Anyway that would be a hard experiment to undertake.

          1. Helps when you’re perpetually broke and or make regular donations to the local library out of stuff read for the fifth time (unless it’s something that /HAS/ to be kept.)

      2. Electronic devices & living  off the grid don’t always go to well together in my mind.  I seriously have this same question about BOOKS in a tiny house.  Really, maybe they could be used to line the walls for insulation.

    1. Honestly, if you build one of these things, you’re spending all your time doing it and not reading.  These finished ones are like a postcard from mars…  building ANYTHING alone is a long haul…

  7. Beautiful homes, but beware zoning, building code and bylaws before you get too carried away with your plans.

  8. I’ve actually got a converted storage shed as my home. Six thousand for the unit. About a month to get the inside gutted out and re-studded, insulated. Another month for the sheetrock, floring, plumbing, electrical. Sure it’s cramped, but it WORKS.

    And it can fit on a flatbed trailer if need be.

    Edit: Total dimensions are like 12ish by 32. You lose a bit by having internal walls, but I like my arrangement. Do kinda miss not having a full sized stove but I do most of my cooking with a crock pot and or toaster oven anyway.

    1. I don’t know where you live, if you have room for this sort of thing, but here’s an idea – it’s what I did with my place.  Build a nice covered porch attached to the house, or not attached but right next to the house.  Mine is just a deck with a roof, all PT lumber.  Then I put an old stove on the porch, bought a regulator and some fittings and hooked it up to a small 20# propane bottle.  Functions just like a normal stove does, except it’s outside!
      (Or buy a bbq with a side-burner)

      1. That’s actually the plan. Wraparound porch (there’s a door on each side thanks to the prior owners of said building.) However given financial realities (IE I’m Broke) Getting a liveable state was priority one. The porch is gravy, but will be so very welcome.

        Of course if I end up upgrading to a different plot of land moving the whole thing’s gonna be a pain in the neck.

        1. >.>
          Knew I kinda forgot something. I mean we've had people that know what they're doing give a lookover for soundness, but nothing official. Translation. No. 

          For the moment it's not a problem given I'm renting from reletives. However if the place moves it could be an issue. Though if I move it'd probably be converted either to a straight outbuilding, or a place to house all the entertaining stuffs when friends come over and i don't want to go in the actual house.

          However assuming the kind of fees and permits are in the 20k – 30k range that's still a liveable space for $50kish plus land. Kinda cramped. OK /VERY/ cramped, but nice enough.

          1. I should probably point out that almost everybody here does all their remodeling without permits because it’s just really high-priced panhandling. I understand safety oversight if you’re building a retaining wall, but for a drip system or low-voltage garden lights, it’s just a scam. It’s not like they inspect them.

    2. Did you pull permits for all that?  I’m just curious.  Looking at some of the stairs in those photos, I don’t see how they would pass inspection.  I’m int the process of trying to get a rough-in inspection done for my log cabin, so the stairs are fresh in my mind.

  9. I’d love to take a look in the first one, but I’m pretty sure I’d be conked over the head and cooked in an oven.

  10. It’s a good book and (like all of Lloyd’s books) delves into the philosophy, the logistics, the lifestyle and the diversity of building small, human scale structures by hand.
    Builders of the Pacific Coast is easily his best books so far. Yes, it is better than Shelter. Shelter is special and holds it’s own place, but BotPC is pure amazing inspiration.

  11. I like the idea, but the example on the book’s cover seems to be taking it to a joke.

    At that scale, there seems to be barely any point building it in the first place thanks to the surface area to volume ratio, which not only relates to insulation, but also how much material you have to knock together to enclose some space.

    1. Not at all. The cover photo (the one with the rainbow behind it) actually looks to be quite large by tiny house standards. Many people in the movement (such as Jay Shafer) advocate houses as small as a hundred square feet or less. And we are talking about a functional residence — so one that includes a toilet, shower, stove and bed. Shafer’s “XS” design is only 7′ by 11′.

  12. It may be of interest to some of you that the caption for the top photo uses the erstwhile place-name  ‘Queen Charlotte Islands;’  Haida Gwaii is the correct name of that archipelago.  There is an inspiring story behind that, too long to relate here.  Those toothed jawbones must be from a sperm whale, right? 

  13. Lashed to front rafters are green whale jawbones.

    Ah, the famous green whale. Too bad they’re all extinct now.

  14. I’d like to note that the guy with the whale jaws house owns not one, but TWO hand axes, as depicted.  Lots of wood to cut, you see.

  15. I’ve loved the idea of tiny homes ever since I first came upon them as a “thing”. For the last 9 years I’ve lived in a studio apartment that I’ve joked is “the size of a hotel room”. Recently I bought a studio townhouse that’s about 700 sq ft including the patio.

    The problem I see, and experience with my new place, is people cramming full size appliances and furniture into these small spaces, and wondering why they feel cramped. I’ll probably spend the next 10 years optimizing my place. 

    1. Secondary is having spaces that arn’t able to multi-task. My kitchenette area also is part of the livingroom. I could have probably optimized better, but it works and I don’t feel like I’m eating my knees whenever  I sit down.

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