Live large in a small space

Liberation Tiny Homes' sales and marketing director Marcus Stoltzfus in a unit; and home owners Melissa and Scott Berrier (both above) in their 34 sq m home, which they moved into about four months ago.
Liberation Tiny Homes' sales and marketing director Marcus Stoltzfus in a unit; and home owners Melissa and Scott Berrier (both above) in their 34 sq m home, which they moved into about four months ago.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Liberation Tiny Homes' sales and marketing director Marcus Stoltzfus (above) in a unit; and home owners Melissa and Scott Berrier in their 34 sq m home, which they moved into about four months ago.
Liberation Tiny Homes' sales and marketing director Marcus Stoltzfus (above) in a unit; and home owners Melissa and Scott Berrier in their 34 sq m home, which they moved into about four months ago.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ELIZABETHTOWN (United States) • In a country that nearly always believes bigger is better - think supersize fries and giant cars - more and more Americans are downsizing their living quarters.

Welcome to the world of tiny homes, most of them less than 40 sq m, which savvy buyers are snapping up for their minimalist appeal and much smaller carbon footprints.

The tiny homes revolution, which includes those on foundations and those on wheels, began a few decades ago, but the financial crisis of 2008 and the coming-of-age of millennials gave it a new impetus.

The proliferation of home improvement shows on networks such as HGTV fuelled the trend, inspiring customers ready to personalise their own small living spaces.

Cost is one of the driving factors - a tiny home of just over 18 sq m with a customised interior can go for about US$50,000 (S$67,800) - a massive savings over a McMansion in the suburbs.

"We have a housing crisis and we have crumbling buildings around us. It's just hard to find good quality living at an affordable price," says Ms Brandy Jones, who took the plunge with her husband and two sons.

Eight months ago, they moved into a tiny house in Reading, Pennsylvania, about 100km north-west of Philadelphia. Ms Jones says that for a new house in the area, the family would have had to budget for about US$300,000. The tiny home option "is a huge difference. It makes living affordable".

In most cases, the savings is not enough of a motivating factor. The average newly built family home in the United States measures about 240 sq m, according to the Census Bureau.

Mr Marcus Stoltzfus, director of sales and marketing for Liberation Tiny Homes in nearby Leola, says that over the last 40 years, Americans "went into this McMansion phase, where they built those massive homes".

Now, in some parts of the country, "people are realising that living with less is very advantageous to their lifestyle".

Mr Scott Berrier, who moved into a 34 sq m home about four months ago with his wife Melissa, is happy not to have as many possessions as before.

"We really like the whole minimalist approach - kind of paring down and not having clutter everywhere," said Mr Berrier, adding that his home is simply more functional.

"The biggest difference I notice is that we use every single space. There is not any wasted space."

Even if public opinion is changing, it is not always easy to go against societal norms and materialistic expectations.

When Mr Berrier told friends of his plans, several of them warned him that his new home would make him feel claustrophobic.

Mr Stoltzfus admits the trend can seem "very hipster-ish" and suffers from a bit of a negative image, but he believes that will change over time.

"The more that folks travel, work from home, this trend will definitely be up there," he said.

Mr Berrier says wanting to live a more minimalist life extends to the environmental impact of home ownership.

"You're not leaving as much of a carbon footprint. You're not using as much electricity, as much water" as in a traditional home or apartment, he notes.

Despite the advantages, the tiny homes movement is far from widespread. Rough estimates put the number of tiny homes in the US at a little more than 10,000.

Historically in American culture, bungalows, caravans and mobile homes have a bad reputation - they are seen as badly made and decidedly lower-class.

But the Berriers' home is impeccably decorated with a bathtub, a sunroom and a movie screen.

"There are preconceived notions. They haven't seen it enough. It's just something new. I think that's the problem," Mr Berrier said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2019, with the headline 'Live large in a small space'. Print Edition | Subscribe