Although you might not find use for the information below, you might at least be interested in the creative ways people come up with to construct houses. In a previous post, I examined so-called 3D printing techniques. In the below videos we will see all sorts of sundry methods. Since a video might be better than the written word in this case, I have embedded videos that explain the various methods. If for some reason a link is missing–videos appear and disappear so frequently–let us know and we will try to fix it.
It should be mentioned that expense is not the only reason for using alternative methods. Instead, someone might consider the ongoing use of energy or other resources as well as pure aesthetics. Nevertheless, any method must be stacked up against others based on its inherent cost, time and labor expenditures.
Lightweight Insulated Concrete Panels:
I grew up in Yuma, Arizona and remember a few of the adobe houses still remaining. They were made in the same way the old west icon, Yuma Territorial Prison, was made, from the clay and sand from the banks of the Colorado River. Yuma is true desert. There were no trees for wood construction and lumber was expensive coming from northern Arizona in high country.
My mother had a friend who we occasionally visited and what I remember of her adobe house was even in the scorching heat of the Arizona summer day, the house was amazingly cool. She had no air conditioning, nor needed any.
These are just a few of the different methods for putting a house together. Some of these methods probably lend themselves well to tiny houses, but regardless, for me, I will always prefer a modern style.
I have read interesting articles and reports, watched videos of “printed” structures, mostly as experiments as part of research at universities. The material used in producing these is usually a specialized concrete mixture that flows easily, yet has body and gains reasonable strength when cured.
I originally saw the video below on curbed.com at this link. I’ve included the video from YouTube due to its interesting nature, with the realization that this is a corporate film produced to promote a product, and therefore, may have a bit of puffery. Obviously, most people would not be able to rush out and order one of their own, but maybe sometime in the future such technology might be available.
As for now, I can imagine that the technologies displayed below would be a useful hybridization of current building techniques. For example, suppose the foundation or basement of a house were “printed” instead of laid out in block or poured with concrete forms. For that matter, anything that could be produced with this technique such as steps or a porch would save tremendous amounts of time and labor.
This is just a preliminary. I plan on a couple of articles on alternative building techniques such as these for the near future, along with another article on unusual prefab buildings.
Dozens of campgrounds throughout the Pacific Northwest are not only yurt-friendly, they also offer opportunities for campers to enjoy the unique experience of yurt camping. The map below showcases the campgrounds in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho that make yurts available for overnight or multiple night rental.
I love designing furniture and have created many pieces in my house. I have a bar table that is a little worse for wear and devoid of storage possibilities.
Instead, I have taken the challenge to create, using simple materials and techniques, a sophisticated sideboard in mid-century modern style. In doing so, sharing the project in a step by step manner which will allow the reader to reproduce this piece of furniture with the ability to utilize the design as cabinetry in different forms. This concept will become clear as this article progresses.
Here is the sideboard:
First of all you will need this list of materials:
Two 2″ x 2″ x 8′ lumber preferably in a hardwood for the legs.
Two sheets of 4′ x 8′ furniture grade plywood or four sheets of 4′ x 4′ plywood or 8 sheets of 2′ x 4′ sheets of plywood. An excellent grade of pine is fine, but birch or better grades of plywood are even better. If you intend to paint instead of stain the surface, then a less expensive piece of wood is OK as long as the finish is durable and the substrate is strong. Of course, if you know how to plane and join hardwoods or can find boards in the proper size, then using solid wood such as hickory or maple will produce furniture that will last a very long time and provide an exquisite surface. Another note, many hardware stores or lumber yards carry plywood already cut to the above dimensions. I purposefully designed this piece so those without a lot of tools could buy supplies pre-cut. Unfortunately, this only goes for the top and bottom.
A good quality wood glue.
Pivot hinges. Not entirely necessary, other sorts of hinges are possible, but you will have to account for changes in width or other accommodations for the shape of the hinges.
Sandpaper from coarse to very fine. An orbital sander would be ideal for obtaining a very smooth surface.
These are the only materials one will need. The only other important note is the tools. This project utilizes a pocket joint. To accomplish a pocket joint, a special jig is a necessity. A pocket joint jig allows an angled hole where a self-tapping screw establishes a butt joint between surfaces. A Wikipedia article on the pocket joint. One other thing, the simple jigs are not very expensive at all, starting at 19 dollars and up.
In order to cut the sides, middle, shelves and doors, a metal-cutting guide will help considerably. A circular or jig saw will work as long as you use the appropriate blade for cutting fine wood.
Here, too, one does not need an expensive guide system. A straight piece of wood and a couple of clamps to secure the material will suffice as a guide. Since you will be making just a few straight cuts, a fancy or complicated system is entirely unnecessary.
To install the doors and to drill the pocket joint holes, it will be vital to have a drill. Nothing fancy. A simple inexpensive electric drill will do.
The top, bottom and back of the sideboard are 2′ x 4′ so you need three pieces and as mentioned above, lumber yards and hardware stores sell plywood in this size.
The sides and middle are 23 1/4″ x 24″ so cut three of these. It should be noted that 2′ x 2′ pieces are sold in many places.
The two shelves are 20 7/8″ x 22 1/2″. The width of 20 7/8″ makes this shelf flush with the supporting pieces. If want the shelves to move or you will be using adjustable shelving pegs, you will need to cut the width narrower accordingly.
The two doors are 23 7/8″ in height and 20 3/4″ in width. The doors fit inset to the carcass of the cabinet and, therefore, should have enough reduction in the width and height so that the door easily closes and opens on pivot hinges. Depending on the thickness of the pivot hinge attachment plate, the door height can be cut to 23 3/4″ allowing for more room to swing.
Cut 4 legs at 27 1/2″. if you wish to have the side table taller simply increase the length allowing for more space between the bottom and the floor. Since the tops of the legs are flush with the top of the table, no other changes are created by giving more height.
Begin by attaching two of the legs to the back. Pre-drill the pocket joint holes to permit easier assembly. You probably do not need as many pocket joint holes as seen in the following images of the back. Five or six on each side attaching the back to the legs is probably enough. Also, be careful with pocket joint jigs. A tendency to move the material when attaching can leave the surfaces uneven. Use clamps to stabilize the two pieces that you are joining before screwing tight.
Note: Glue only where the legs are secured to the top and bottom. You may glue elsewhere, but due to the expansion and contraction of wood, without glue wood can adjust to the humidity and temperature. However, plywood has layers of wood with the grain in different directions and the contraction and expansion may not be that great. If you are using a less expensive plywood that could use the extra strength, use glue liberally. However, if you have decided to take on this project with hardwood, use glue where the grain follows in the same direction and sparingly in spots.
The back will be 3/4″ from the top of the legs. This is to account for the 3/4″ reserved for the table top.
You can next affix the top and bottom to the back and front legs and to the back panel. (Before installing the top and bottom, these two pieces will receive the sides and middle supports. It is a good idea to mark where these supports will go on the top and bottom before doing anything else to make them easier to insert later on. Look further down for placement.)
Only the bottom can have two pocket holes on each corner. The table top can have two in the front, but only one in the back since 3/4″ of the 1 1/2″ leg is taken up by the back panel. Before attaching the legs, make sure to drill any holes beforehand.
Next install the sides and the middle piece. (If you want to use a peg system for adjustable shelves, mark for the holes now. See the section below about the shelves.)
If you wish to give the cabinetry extra strength by providing pocket holes on the back of the three upright pieces in order to attach to the back panel, that is entirely alright.
Now that we have the legs, back, top, bottom, sides and middle pieces connected, the only thing left is the shelves and doors.
The shelves may be attached by various methods. Yet to make them adjustable, drill two rows of holes on the middle and side supports that will accept pegs. Hardware stores have brass pegs for shelves that just require insertion into a hole. Obviously, marking for these holes before installing the pieces will be much more convenient. Here is a video about adjustable shelves:
In this case the doors are installed with pivot hinges. The direction for installing pivot hinges is given above in a video. Nevertheless, pivot hinges come in a few different forms and instructions may be included when buying them or on the manufacturer’s or company’s website. At any rate, plenty of information is readily available.
The graphics being used display a circular wood handle made by cutting a circle in half, offsetting the application of the half circles so that they meet on the edge of the central support and act as a stop. The featured image shows a steel handle. Using a handle from a store means you will also have to think about a stop to prevent the door from going too far into the body of the cabinet. The simplest and easiest to install is a magnetic stop. This can be as simple as a small L shaped bracket as the stop and a magnetic strip on the door. Whatever you might purchase will most likely come with instructions. Of course, if you decide to go with something like the round wood door handle (very mid-century modern), you might not need a trip to the hardware store for a stop. One other thing concerning the doors, the shelves dimensions will only allow the door to shut flush anyway. Why all the information about stops, then? You don’t want the doors constantly banging against the edge of the shelves and you want the doors to stay closed.
This is it, except for the painting or staining. Whichever you use, I suggest a glossy finish. The mid-century modern look to the cabinet certainly suggests such a finish.
Here are some further suggestions on color and finishes:
Now, the reason for inclusion on moderntinyhouse.org, this simple and inexpensive cabinet design can work very well as cabinetry and storage for small spaces:
The sink and cooktop installation involves simple cutouts with a sabre saw and access through the back. The unit with shelves is created by extending the back 27 1/2″ legs an additional 36″, hanging some IKEA shelf supports and adding 12″ shelving. A convection oven in the bottom and one has a small kitchen system.
If you decide to tackle this project, good luck. Since I am making one myself, I will append the images to this article as soon as they are available.
In a post on midcenturymoderngroovy.com, I described the Aluminaire House, a prefabricated metal house that could be taken apart, packed up and moved to a different location. I am including the article here on Modern Tiny House because of the Aluminaire House when the garage and deck footage are excluded, is a relatively small house of just a few hundred square feet. Besides the Aluminaire House, I have included information on another modernist prefabricated house by Serge Binotto, an assistant of the famous French mid century modern architect, Jean Prouve. This is a circular house put together using pre-made insulated panels.
The main reason for including such information on Modern Tiny House is the form and nature of these two houses lead to all sorts of interesting ideas in terms of designs for tiny houses. As a further bonus, I have generated a 3D model of a dwelling based upon the concepts embodied in these two houses and will post the article as soon as possible.
Early on in my post secondary education I studied architecture. The notion that one can, in artistic fulfillment, create a work that not only others see, but also encapsulates them usefully for work, endeavors or domestic desires, brings a different sort of satisfaction over the embellishments that painting or other two-dimensional productions provide. In my nascent understanding of architecture the lofty goal of the modernists to design an inexpensive and quickly built dwelling that satisfies economic and social needs of the ordinary person, grabbed me as it has many an architect such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller and for differing reasons.
The concept of a prefabricated house built of mass-produced and industrial materials that can be packed up and reassembled like a factory made doll house without a lot of consumed time or resources certainly garners fascination and experimentation.
Asked by Walter Street of the Allied Arts and Industries and the Architectural League of NY exhibition in 1930, A. Lawrence Kocher, who was the managing editor of Architectural Record, enlisted Albert Frey, a 28-year-old Swedish architect that had migrated to the US to help in developing a modern design for a house using off the shelf materials. Albert Frey was imbued with the Internationalist Style due to his experience with Le Corbusier’s office. The influence of American manufacture in the ready availability of materials that went into Aluminaire House also strongly pointed Kocher and Frey in the direction of metal and prefabrication.
After this experimental house was displayed at the shows the house sold to architect Wallace K. Harrison for $1000 and was moved to his property on Long Island, NY. There it remained until 1987 when the New York Institute of Technology accepted it to prevent its demolition and for its reassembly next to the School of Architecture by students. Although, annual lectures and events surrounded the Aluminaire House, plans to move the house to a location in New York City were not approved and the house, through the auspices of the Aluminaire House Foundation, was set to be moved to Palm Springs across from the Art Museum in 2017.
The Aluminaire House incorporated mostly aluminum and steel for the skin and framing of the building. Wood in certain places allowed for the attachment of insulation board and the floors were linoleum. At the time, the designers thought that aluminum would become ever cheaper and abundant and quite useful for building construction.
One of the most appealing qualities of the Aluminaire House comes from an overall design that seems in place at a more advanced stage of modernism. In fact, with little modification, this house could be built today and stand critical scrutiny. Of course, the use of steel instead of aluminum and a few other small changes would also result in a dwelling not all that expensive to produce.
It is fitting that the Aluminaire House will exist happily in Palm Springs, California where Albert Frey created notable work.
A future article will include further information on Albert Frey and his unique designs.
For more detailed information about the Aluminaire House visit these websites:
The L-Up Chair comes from a series of designs by me to see how many outdoor furniture works I could come up with that can be made with simple tools and materials and without complicated angles and joinery, all the cut angles being straight or 90 degrees. To my amazement, just with casual and dining chairs, the number continues to grow. Working on my second volume of Outdoor Furniture You Can Make Using Simple Tools and Materials, the collection has risen to 30 dining chairs alone.
As with any size house, modernist impulse leads to an intimate relationship between indoors and outdoors in designing space. Especially important for the tiny house, outdoors areas increase the living spaces through decks and patios. The chair becomes one of the most significant furniture additions to any outdoor venue.
The chair, which I will tell you how to construct, has a floating look due to the difference between the front and back supports and emphasis based upon the way in which color is applied to the chair. As with all the designs in the series in which this comes from, this chair requires few materials. In this case, five standard size 2 x 4 studs. Every cut is made at 90 degrees and can be done with a miter box, although an electric miter saw is recommended.
In terms of joinery, the following instructions do not include any particular method. Some of the pieces such as the seat and back slats could even be set into place with nails. However, in the above mentioned book, the suggestion to use pocket joinery makes for a strong connection. Plus, a good and generous use of exterior wood glue helps keep water from deteriorating the ends of the wood pieces. Being very much a modernist, I quite enjoy when mechanisms or differing materials are left exposed. So when joining the slats for this chair, for instance, a large washer and lag bolt proudly showing on the side of the chair would make for a strong and attractive attachment. At any rate, wood screws of 2 1/2″, lag bolts or construction screws of the same length or 2 1/2″ pocket hole screws with a pocket hole jig will provide excellent fasteners.
The first Kreg Jig Kit comes to $39 and the Mini Kreg Jig Kit only $19. Extremely easy to use, these jigs will give a strong joint that will last a very long time. However, rather than always use the jig, a place where a construction screw will go straight through the material and into the end of a piece, with glue, gives a very strong joint and cuts out the added time of drilling the pocket holes. For this chair, in formation of the side structure, pocket hole joints will work great. The rest is up to you which joinery you would like to utilize. Just remember, my second choice for joints is construction screws that are weather resistant and tough to break a grip.
You will need 5 standard length studs (92.675″). If you have or obtain 96″ or 8′ studs, then the cut list can remain the same. You will have a little more waste. If you are a viewer from a metric country and stud sizes are different, possibly the instructions will be clear enough to allow you to still construct this chair. The illustration below shows how the studs will be cut. Remember to cut each length separately. If you draw lines on the board and cut along the lines, then the pieces will be inaccurate. The blade of the saw will take out material on both sides of the incision. Instead, to ensure that a 17″ length is 17″ in the final cut, you must cut one at a time with the saw cutting up to the line, but not over it in any way.
This chair contains two Ls on the sides, one up and one upside down. The chair floats on a back piece that juts out 2 inches on either side. Let’s make the side frames.
Once you have these pieces assembled, add the top, upright piece. The top/side pieces should be attached to the cross top piece first and then you may attach to the bottom seat frame.
The slats on the back, attached flush to the front, are approximately 1/2″ apart. However, you may wish to adjust the spacing slightly because you do not want to go past the end of the 14 1/2″ lengths. The bottom seat slats will need to go underneath the lowest back slat. To set the slats consistently, make a spacer to place between the pieces.
The lowest front slat should line up with the back strengthening support cross-piece, so both should be placed starting at 9″ from the ground. If necessary, adjust the slat spacing.
To begin adding slats to the seat, start from the front of the chair and work your way back leaving 1/2″ spaces between them.
The back legs are rather straightforward. The strengthening cross support is flush to the front because the seat support that crosses the middle of the bottom of the seat slats is secured to the center of this support. Remember to attach the cross support’s bottom edge 9″ from the bottom end of the side leg. (If you wish to use the full width of the top length to secure to the seat/back piece to the back legs, refrain from attaching the cross support until after attachment to the seat/back.)
Secure the completed seat and back construction flush to the length of the back leg assembly leaving 2″ on each side.
The only thing left in terms of building this chair is the middle support that connects the back legs to the seat/back L shape.
The central attachment at 16 1/2″ attaches to the lowest front slat and the back cross piece attached to the legs.
As previously mentioned, the lowest front slat and the back cross-piece should align by being 9″ from the ground.
With all the pieces connected, the chair is ready for paint or stain. I strongly suggest creating a difference in color between the seat/back and back leg pieces. The design purposely emphasizes the difference so the chair seems to float. Even so, sand and prime the chair and use a good exterior paint such as Arbor Paint by Benjamin Moore. Get creative and bold with paint and you can take an inexpensive DIY chair such as this and have something very useful and attractive that will last a long time.
One of the things that can occupy a large footprint in a room is the bed. It is also one of the essential objects that one can not be without. Minimizing the space taken by such necessary furniture becomes an important part when designing a small or tiny house. Fortunately, many ideas have come about since this dilemma reared its head.
Some of the main strategies are:
Fold the bed up and out-of-the-way.
Use the bed as a piece of multipurpose furniture as with a daybed.
Slide the bed underneath an elevated area.
Elevate the bed to free up floor space.
Fit in the size bed that one desires and forget about the loss of floor space.
Let’s start with different ways to collapse or fold up a bed to relieve congestion:
The good old Murphy bed, an invention of William Murphy which he patented according the Smithsonian in 1911, filled the need for small apartments and dwellings as the result of an explosion in the need for housing around the turn of the century. Due to the moral climate of the time, in order to entertain a lady, Murphy could transform his room from a bedroom to a parlor by folding the bed into a closet.
Like the bed pictured above, the Murphy beds of today, even though one that stows away in a closet is still an option, mostly come in a cabinet. However, the cabinet can be made in a variety of ways such as those that contain a library or office when closed. Also, the cabinets do not have to be tall, but can stand about half the height of the more familiar beds.
Some interesting variations of the Murphy bed concept occur with a bed such as this:
Almost like a magic trick the Zoom-Room Murphy bed rolls up into the cabinet. With many different styles, this bed includes storage of all kinds from office to entertainment centers and certainly does a great job of providing extra floor space during the day.
As for the multipurpose furniture that turns into a bed, many configurations exist, the most common is the daybed and pullout sofa. Yet other types are available:
The above bench/ottoman converts to a sleeper by unfolding. There are, however, disadvantages in terms of size and possibly comfort in dealing with such designs.
Fold up beds do not have to be put away lengthwise. Movement sideways is possible even though the bed is slightly harder to make up.
Then there is the chair that converts to a bed. This solution also takes little space, but the bed is generally narrow. Even so, the designs can be quite attractive and modern and are excellent for guests as well.
The old method of a daybed is a solution that provides many choices in terms of availability, configurations, styling and size:
Then, of course, is the pullout sofa:
And the usual pullout sofa:
It almost goes without say, but sliding a bed under an elevated area requires customization of the area and the bed. This means that a good deal of design, construction and carpentry will make the bed function properly:
The sliding bed can roll lengthwise or sideways. The disadvantage of this arrangement for some people results from the necessity of making the bed every time the bed is put away. Certainly, a different method can be purchased and not require construction.
Elevating the bed can free up space underneath. This occurs in many of the tiny houses on wheels where bedrooms are placed in “lofts”. Nevertheless, a loft bed means something a bit different:
As one can see, a loft bed or bedroom does not have to be as in a trailer, but can work equally well in all sorts of house sizes.
For DIYers, one can find many plans for loft beds:
In an article on www.gadgetspage.com, a creative individual hinged a bed to close over a bathtub!
Anything that can be covered with a flat surface is eligible for the same treatment as the bathtub above. Nevertheless, if a flat surface isn’t required, many other solutions such as a hammock or sling come to mind. Or sleeping on mats like the Japanese that can be rolled or folded up will work for those that can accept such arrangements. And don’t forget the fold up or roll away bed and the cot.
At any rate, most people want something resembling a standard bed instead of exotic means to save space. Here, thinking out of the box can lead to amazing results.
Previously, we had taken a model and a floor plan from a well-known maker of manufactured housing and converted it into a modern small house. This is another attempt at such a conversion.
The above floor plan shows the dimensions and arrangements of the various spaces in our new home. The size of this plan is 374 sq. ft. and certainly fits within the definition of many people as a small or tiny house. As with the previous conversion, cost and speed will be strongly considered in any redesign. This house costs $19,500 before any changes. Obviously, asking a manufacturer to either use different cabinets or fixtures or not including them and installing personal choices yourself, might be considered in the final price.
The above image displays the front of the mobile home before redesign. This particular home comes with generic siding and standard windows typically seen in manufactured housing.
The house is covered in a beige carpeting except for the kitchen area and the bathroom which have a dark, muddied tile. Unfortunately, my models are such that they look better than the real thing.
The backdoor is to the right, while the front door is to the left. The two doors on the right are access to the air conditioner and the water heater. The furthest away on the left leads to the bedroom. Through this little hall, on the right, is the bathroom door.
I have been pleasantly surprised about the floor plans of many of the manufactured houses that I have seen. Most times they are quite efficient, requiring little in terms of adjustment. This is certainly true of this model. Of course, gutting a place, moving things around including walls, would give one great leeway in the overall design. Yet this hardly seems economical, logical or necessary since one of our concerns is expense. Moving things like plumbing and electricity as well as a water heater and air conditioning would hardly make much sense. However, changing the air conditioning to a different system not taking up floor space or going with a tankless water heater that could be moved outside or occupying much less territory, is not altogether out of the question.
In our case, the floor plan remains the same. Things like cabinetry and fixtures do get updated. Nevertheless, the doors that came with this model surprisingly did not need replacing, just repainting with a glossy finish.
As with the first conversion, landscaping is kept at a minimum. Although landscaping can make a sizeable difference in the look of a house, for our purposes we will keep our focus just on the house. Compare the front here to the front of the original. The most obvious change is the addition of a deck. In this iteration, a deck on the front becomes necessary because of the layout of the bedroom which has a closet built into the back. So without tearing down the closet, the deck is placed onto the front.
The other major components added are the French style sliding doors which replace the windows on the kitchen and bedroom sides. Not only does this open the house up to much greater natural light, but it also provides access to the outdoors all along the front. To break up the long visual expanse that mobile homes have, different materials are applied as siding. Instead of the common external siding found on the original, 2/3 of the house is clad in a light grey English parquet, while the bedroom area is covered in a dark stained cedar planking. This helps distinguish between the unique spaces of the house without major construction and even though the house is only 374 sq. ft. The addition of a pergola does much the same thing.
The doors did not need replacing and French style sliding doors were used to match them.
The inside of the house needs only a little updating. The major changes occur after adding the sliding French doors, which change the flow and nature of the rooms both inside and outside. First to go are the traditional cabinets, replaced by a contemporary design. I say contemporary rather than modern because the term properly fits. In this particular conversion I use contemporary modern finishes rather than those of the modernist. This includes shades of grey, although I avoid the use of beige since I have a distinct aversion to shades of beige.
The beige carpeting has been replaced with a light wood flooring and the dark tiles are gone from the kitchen area. When looking at the bookcase to the right, the doors and any trim, the color has not change but repainted to a glossy finish. New lights and fixtures are added throughout the house.
The window on the left and all the windows along the backside of the house have not been change. The cabinets are Shaker style cabinets painted grey with contemporary handles. The dining chairs are Platner chairs found at places like Knoll or any modern design store like All Modern. The blue chairs in the living room are of my design called Cube Chairs.
Only the vanity, mirrored medicine cabinet were changed in the bathroom. The original vanity and medicine cabinet were much like the dull, ordinary cabinets in the kitchen. A nice, new shower curtain embellishes the bathtub and a new modern overhead fixture brightens the bathroom.
The dark brown tiles become a soothing light blue epoxy.
To the left of the bed, the French style sliding doors bring in a copious amount of light. To the right of the bed, a modern armoires provides plenty of storage space.
The doors to the built-in closet are changed to match the new armoires.
Besides replacing the doors to the closet, a new modern overhead fixture was added along with drapes for the sliding doors.
Amazingly, this inexpensive small mobile home can be converted to a delightful, comfortable, modern home with out spending a lot of money. This is only the first iteration. Without changing the floor plan, I will produce an alternative to this conversion by moving access from the front to the back for the kitchen/living area and orienting a deck to the side of the house off the bedroom. This alternative design will appear very soon.
I call this design Cleopatra’s Tiny House because of the easy recognition of this figure in history as an Egyptian Pharaoh. However, this design is inspired by the design of Egyptian temples such as the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut.
Although massive and overbearing, I have always admired the towering vertical lines and the strong horizontals of Egyptian architectural design. Even though the Egyptians knew of the arch as early as the fourth dynasty, they prefered the monumental effect of post and lintel construction when using stone for their religious buildings.
Of course, we are talking about a residence here. The Egyptians, as with any warm or desert climate people, built dwellings to provide a respite from the heat. The strategies used are still used today and can be traced from the Romans to the Arabs to the Spanish and Italians.
With Cleopatra’s Tiny House, we have a covered entrance leading to a house in three sections. The tallest section encloses the living room and kitchen with a wall of folding doors that opens onto a central courtyard. On the other side of the courtyard are two bedrooms with a bathroom in between. Each bedroom has sliding glass doors on the side facing the courtyard. Because of all the glass doors, the courtyard becomes an intimate and private extension of the entire house and with this space centrally located and almost entirely shaded, it provides a cool place to dine or relax.
In this particular design the house maximizes privacy. No exterior walls have windows to look out upon the exterior landscape. Nevertheless, plenty of light comes in from the tall clerestory windows at the front and light pouring in from the courtyard.
The front boasts four large, square columns wrapped in galvanized, corrugated steel. These columns support a shade over the front entrance, but is independent of the house and does not touch the front.
The front porch as well as the rest of the roofs are covered in corrugated steel.
On this side is a barn door like gate that provides another exit as well as a means to move wider objects in and out.
The front door is to the left, while the courtyard is on the right.
The floor plan of this house is relatively simple and organized with three sections. The central courtyard becomes the unifying detail of the other two sections, yet defines the private, sleeping areas from the communal living and kitchen areas. Even with all the glass, this house is insular and private. Though this house has only around 600 sq. ft. interior space, each bedroom provides a secure, restful nest easily closed off from the rest of the house.
If made of cinderblock and stained cement floors, and without many windows, this house also would not demand any great expense. Standard, off-the-shelf materials could be used, with no need whatsoever for expensive or custom finishes.
I post this article as a bystander to an argument between two people I know. Even though this argument might offend one side or the other, I hope to provide an objective side to this division.
Simply stated, this argument is the result of some of the programs on American television concerning tiny houses. An overwhelming number of these houses are, due to the nature of the trailer frames they are built on, of a similar configuration and design. These dwellings fit on wheels and can be moved from place to place. One of my friends says these are tiny houses, while the other, with a little pique I might add, thinks the best description is “trailer”.
I suppose the first question that comes to mind is: What is a tiny house? If one does a search on the Internet, the answer to this question hardly appears consistent. As we know, size is relative. Building codes in many places have a limit of 700 square feet for residential housing. Although arbitrary, maybe this size is useful as a starting point for what is tiny and what is not. Even so, one can easily argue different sizes. Also, no real definition exists for a house. According to Dictionary.com:
a building in which people live; residence for human beings.
So, without a real definition of “tiny” and “house”, except for the dictionary meaning, a tiny house could be anything depending on a person’s perspective.
Yet, there are individuals who would never, even though they very much prefer the concept of a tiny house, consider living in a trailer, especially one with a bedroom that will not allow for one to stand up or has little difference in width, geometric or interior configuration from one to another.
For some, a tiny house, indeed any house, sits on a permanent foundation and, therefore, exists in a unique environment and location as in any ordinary house. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the concept of a tiny house on wheels predominates due to the overbearance of government, that for false and antithetical reasons, powers that be deem it necessary to quash the production of small houses and maintain the fuddled definitions of real estate. To avoid the heavy hand, the tiny house is placed on wheels and escapes many of the minions, petty functionaries who think that order should supplant the pursuit of happiness.
So to boil it down, some say that a house does not have wheels. A “home” may be anything, but a house is not mobile in a traditional sense. Those things with wheels that are limited in width and have tires are more aptly called trailers, 5th wheels or RVs, rather than “houses”. A house has a street and a number.
Admittedly, the so-called tiny house on wheels does share much of the features of the above recreational vehicles and trailers. One would assume that if one considers the travel trailer, the 5th wheel or RV as a house, then this designation would apply to the tiny house on wheels as well. However, if one doesn’t see these as houses, then obviously the tiny house on wheels comes under question. Nonetheless, perhaps the classification as a “tiny house on wheels” becomes appropriate for a distinct definition outside the term “house”.
Regardless of this little argument between friends, a “home” is what many of us search for and we are quite willing to leave the definition of “house” to someone else.
I have just published on Amazon a new book. It is about constructing outdoor furniture with distinctive designs, without making complicated cuts, not using complex equipment and no purchasing of expensive materials. All the furniture is made with only 90-degree cuts, utilizing only 1x4s and 2x4s. The book includes 200 illustrations of furniture construction and visual cut lists of the parts.
One important aspect of living in a small house, at least for me, is the modernist concept of including the outdoors, or rather, combining the outdoors with the indoors. Therefore, especially if you are a do-it-yourselfer, outdoor furniture designs come in handy. Quite a few are included in this book. Unless you live in the arctic circle, a few pieces of outdoor furniture provides an extra level of comfort. Even nicer is when you can do it yourself stylishly for very little cost.
Nevertheless, the best part of the book is the designs. One chair in particular stands out. It is in De Stijl colors and stands out from the rest. I thought I would share some pictures of this chair. I love the design so much that, like many of the chairs of Mid Century Modern invention, it needs a name to identify its uniqueness.
Dana’s tiny house is one that uses many features from the mid-century and takes in influences from the orient. The use of brick and stone were quite familiar during the time for modern residences. Also, this house promotes a sense of solitude and seclusion with a front courtyard meant for relaxation in a private environment.
Dana’s includes many elements that I use over and over in architectural design such as multiple flat roofs at different elevations, clerestory windows just under the roof, and extensive outdoor space to supplement the interior space. As with the mid-century modern designers, I look to keep a close relationship between the indoors and outdoors.
The red metal screens that reside between the brick walls, not only breaks up the expanse of the wall, but also furnishes to lighten the heft of the barrier with enough openings to provide a look into and out of the courtyard space. Only one screen, which is also the gate, is not red in color, leading one to the front entrance.
One of the most intriguing and pleasurable aspects of mid-century modern houses is the adaptation of materials into modern forms. The inculcation of Chinese patterns into a modern structure lends itself to the international appeal of modernist structures. In fact, a great impulse among the modernists derives from the compulsion to boast at the technological advancement in the production and manipulation of materials, especially in large numbers. Unfortunately, the modernists only succeeding in satisfying this impulse with objects and furnishings in terms of widespread acceptance.
The main living area in this version is entirely open and serves space for the kitchen/dining area and the living room. The smaller version of this house has a pullout sofa for sleeping, with a wardrobe for clothes storage. The bathroom, behind the door that is seen in this picture, also has a wardrobe for more items.
In the above view, we see the alternative configuration of windows. In the first iteration, there are glass blocks above the large glass windows. We will see the alternative version, which is bigger and with a bedroom, after we see the smaller house.
Alternate Plan #2:
These two versions of a modern tiny house has many features usually reserved for much larger dwellings. With a courtyard in the front and a patio in the back, plenty of outdoor living is provided. The simple, basic design of the floor plans readily fit all sorts of changes in materials and colors. For instance, instead of brick, the front courtyard enclosure could be surrounded by a metal fence with wood screens of abstract patterns in place of the Chinese screens.
I remember as a child traveling in the car with my parents in the direction of what are called the Foothills in Yuma, Arizona. Yuma, situated on the Colorado River on the border with California and a stone’s throw from Mexico, was only around 14,000 people at the time and surrounded by a true desert landscape. As we passed along the road toward the barren mountains to the east of Yuma, we would pass the Marine Corps Air Station where flyers from around the world would come to learn military flying. During World War II, the base was an Army flying training center. It was at this time Quonset huts were built for shelter for the troops training at the base. The huts remained there at the time of our passing by. These semicircular buildings seemed like a wonderful, exciting place to live, especially for a child enamored with their inimitable look.
The Quonset hut got its name from the place they were first manufactured, Quonset Point, at the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center in Davisville, Rhode Island on the east coast of the United States. The design came from a structure very familiar to those in the British Commonwealth called the Nissen Hut used during World War I and designed by Major Peter Norman Nissen. Later during World War II, the design was improved upon and became the Romney Hut in Britain and the Quonset Hut in the United States. After the war, many in Britain, the United States and elsewhere were either torn down, used for commercial or agricultural purposes or converted to housing, with housing being the smallest percentage of reuse.
The biggest advantage of the Quonset Hut and its other manifestations is the speed at which the manufactured shelter could be constructed. Six men could construct a Nissen Hut in about four hours, with a slightly longer time for the other iterations. The reason for the quick construction time results from the simplicity of the parts and how they go together. In the basic form, the Quonset Hut is made of a curved form covered in corrugated steel. To make the walls and the roof, one only need repeat placing metal panels to a curved frame.
Quonset Hut at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona
Of course, the World War consumed materials, shipping, manufacturing and man-hours. So the design of the Quonset Hut had to be one that used as few of these things as possible. For the very same reasons, the Quonset Hut today requires a lot less money to purchase than any other sort of residential structure. Much like the geodesic dome and the A-frame, since the roof and the walls compose the same architectural feature, maintenance is also reduced. Large amounts of space are easily covered with this semicircular building and the addition of doors and windows do not amount to anything close to difficulty.
Quonset Hut in Arizona
Is the Quonset hut a modern building? Actually it is a product of the mid-century and has clean lines and a basic form. It uses modern materials and modern techniques for production and construction. It does not require traditional carpentry or building methods. It lends itself to open spaces, without the fractured nature of other types of housing. Missing, however, are the extensive use of glass and the close relationship between indoors and outdoors. Yet not all modern dwellings and structures during the mid-century professed to perpetuate the two concepts. Some Organic and Brutalist architecture ignored the aesthetic of walls of glass and extended outdoor areas. Not all modern design can be defined by just an International Style such as found among the works of Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson or Richard Neutra.
Singleton House in Los Angeles, California by Richard Neutra 1959
So, can a Quonset hut look and feel modern? Here are some examples:
Quonset hut designed by the Charles and Ray Eames Office in 1951.
Robert Daniels House by James W. Fitzgibbon, completed in 1950. (This image was made after extensive renovations that included a new roof. The old roof was corrugated metal.)
Although technically not a Quonset hut, the Robert Daniels House was constructed using the hut frame and shows what can happen when following the basic shape. The addition of stone, leaving the frame exposed and uncovered on the side allowing large areas of glass, brought this semicircular building to a modern aesthetic.
Robert Daniels House with the corrugated metal roof.
Interior view of Robert Daniels House
Arc House in East Hampton, New York by Maziar Behrooz Architecture.
Obviously, the arc of a Quonset hut can vary in height and width creating different looks and designs. The frame can be exposed to make glass areas more available. Additions and the use of natural materials can add contrasts to the dominating semi cylindrical roof.
Office building for Tangipahoa Consolidated Gravity and Drainage District No. 1 in Tickfaw, Louisiana.
Some random examples:
As one can see, the design possibilities of a Quonset hut are enormous. The construction of a modern dwelling using the semi cylindrical form is indisputable, while at the same time avoiding the expensive, traditional building techniques and materials. Innumerable companies sell kits and materials for Quonset hut construction, which are found widely on the Internet. A little imagination and not a lot of money can put together a modern Quonset hut home.
As for the Quonset hut as a possibility for a tiny house, the idea of a scaled down version from what we have seen above should take very little mental effort:
It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out, that as a modern tiny house, the Quonset hut is easily adaptable to a modern structure as well as a small or tiny house. For those interested in a tiny house, the Quonset hut should very much be considered.