Tiny House Typologies

imageI’m going to explore the different layouts often found on the many tiny house websites out there and try to explain why none of them suit me. I’ve hand-sketched them from memory as simple diagrams, to protect the identities of each.

First, let’s just get one thing out of the way. I’m a designer, and it’s in my nature to want to create something new. This in no way is to say that the options available out there aren’t valuable.

Knowing something fits with your lifestyle, your values, and appeals to your senses, is what makes a house a home. “Commodity, firmness and delight”, words said by Vitruvius over 2,000 years ago were then, and are still today, the foundations of what makes good design and good architecture. The combination and weighting of these and the aspects of each differ for many people.

Of the varied floor plans of tiny houses on wheels available and examples of built work from the last ten to fifteen years, I think I can organize these into varying typologies. These are in no particular order.

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Type #1
With this plan, you’ve got a good deal of flexibility. I’ve seen these often with a full-width front porch, shown hatched. The living and kitchen are a shared zone, which may be a problem for some who like watching television and relaxing on a couch. What’s gained by this configuration is a whole extra room, as compared with option #3 (arguably the original of the tiny house on wheels layout). This room could be used for a twin bed, a den for that TV watching, or possibly an office.

Like many of these houses, there’s a loft that can comfortably fit a queen-size mattress above the bathroom and smaller bedroom/den. This arrangement of spaces could even allow additional storage above the kitchen or front porch.

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Type #2
Version two has large space in the middle, flanked on each end by the bathroom and kitchen. This arrangement provides the largest possible open space, while at the same time dictates that the largest windows are on the sides. What I don’t particularly care for in this layout is the necessity to enter directly into the living space. Within the confines of the box, there’s no journey or transition, no sense of discovery. This could be mitigated by a temporary porch, although when entering in the middle of such a large space, you can see everything the home has to offer. This also means there’s no room for separate contemplation, other than the bathroom.

If views are important, the orientation of the home must be considered carefully, ensuring there is enough maneuvering space to position the home on the site. This may not be possible when using the home as a proper RV in a park. In the RV park configuration, you would be looking only at your neighbors.

A loft is possible while sacrificing part of the potential for a high-ceiling living space. I’ve noticed a few that have accomplished this in clever ways, some even with the loft on sliding rails over the bathroom – which when pulled back, make for showering in a light-filled tall space very pleasant. Just make sure if someone is in the bed, they don’t mind going on a little magic carpet ride.

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Type #3
Business in the Front, Party in the Back – or perhaps a better name would be the plain studio apartment model. In this plan, regardless of where the entrance is, the kitchen, bath and storage are aligned along a common corridor in a galley style configuration. This is very efficient, and allows a loft above, while leaving the majority of the main level for a large open area.

I would say this is very appealing, as the open area can serve as a multi-purpose space for living, sleeping, eating and work. If I were to expect living alone, this fit the bill. However, this model requires a lot of negotiation with a partner or spouse. Like type 2, this layout makes it a challenge for two adults to be doing separate activities.

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Type#4
This type is often associated with a deck over wheels configuration, similar to what I’m planning.  The entrance is on the long side, again directly bringing you into the living room, flanked by the kitchen and bath, and the bedroom. This is another very efficient layout, as it eliminates any corridors. To save even more space, one model I’ve seen with this configuration introduces the wet bath concept and a shared sink with the kitchen.

For my tastes, entering into the living room in a way that your seating area looks back at the front door feels off. It’s probably bad feng shui, if you’re into that – which I consider to contain wise principles, even without necessarily understanding the spiritual thought behind them.

Breaking from the pack
What I’d very much like to do, and have explored several versions of, is to break free of the boundaries of the box. Unfolding panels, pop-outs and pop-ups could be some of the strategies for making the spaces better suited programmatically to my needs. For instance, a room could expand as needed for a given activity such as dining, versus a desk for a laptop. Rooms could combine for larger gatherings, or furniture could transform from a banquette or couch to become a guest bed. Many of these ideas have been used in the RV and boat design for decades.

Someone once said that there are no new ideas. Someone’s already thought of everything. While that often seems true, and there’s plenty to be learned from studying other’s work, I don’t think we’ve even begun to examine this typology in any real depth. I want to discover and implement the ideas that are most exhilarating and tickle my funny bone. There’s going to be many other ways of synthesizing these ideas into a new way of thinking about the house and tiny living.

Every time I bring up this project of mine in front of a group, there’s always a large number of people that have never heard of the tiny house movement. We have a long way to go. I want to engage as many people as possible, to help generate more ideas. Perhaps it might make sense to create a design competition. That could help raise awareness within the design community, and be a way to get to my goal of a living laboratory with this project when finally built. I’m really looking forward to that day.

{image top, Etruscan Temple types, from around the 1st century, B.C. by Francis Brenders at www.vitruvius.be | other images drawn (crudely) by sdb.}

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