Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Superhero Tiny House Builders

George Carlin said our houses are nothing more than places to keep stuff while we go out and get more stuff. Why do we need so much stuff and so much space to hold it? I read about a guy who pledged to own only 100 items, including a toothbrush and a pencil. I’d like to try that, getting rid of one thing each time I bring a new thing into the house (other than Ben & Jerry’s, of course—but, then, that’s not hard to get rid of).

I started thinking about space and possessions when Deek Diedricksen came to stay at Fern Forest with his wife Liz, four-year-old son Jonas (Deek calls him “Jones”), two-year-old daughter Angie (she calls Deek “Magic Dad”), and big black dog Orzo. I worried that a 90-square-foot treehouse would be a little snug for the family, especially since Deek is well over six-feet tall. But no. Deek loves small spaces. In fact, he builds them. Check out his website www.relaxshacks.com. You'll also see Deek's take on his weekend in the treehouse.

Deek has been written up in the New York Times, ReadyMade and Make magazines, and he’s been on NPR and Boston’s Chronicle TV show. The New Yorker has courted him, as has (hush-hush) Microsoft. He even has his own TV show, Tiny Yellow House.

He must be onto something.

Is it the teeny houses he builds out of reclaimed materials—windows made from wine bottles and wood from, well, anywhere and everywhere? Some of the houses are big enough for a small party. Others fit just a body, albeit as big as Deek’s. Some are solar heated. All are utterly charming and quite romantic.

I keep asking the question, why do we like small spaces? Rabbits huddle in cozy warrens. Bears like their winter dens. At parties, everyone crams into the kitchen. Our own house is about 1200 square feet, which feels capacious to us. We have a city condo in Burlington that’s 370 very cute square feet that enlarges another 60 SF in the three seasons we use the covered porch (thanks to Plexiglas over the screens). The pull-down Murphy bed makes the back room feel much larger than it is.

Small spaces suggest a specific, deliberate set of meanings. They’re designed to be used instead of just inhabited. Blogger Joey Roth says, “The smallness I love so much in a space might be the small number of different ways it could be interpreted due to the richness and completeness of the world it creates.” We like built-ins and bookshelves and color on the walls and lots of windows to let in light and breezes. At the condo we have exposed brick and refinished old wood floors. And we keep things tidy.

That’s the trick. A sink full of dirty dishes makes a small space feel crowded. I keep surfaces free of clutter. We recycle and compost and burn paper products in the wood stove, even in the summer—in the cool hour of early morning. We live outside a lot, both in Burlington (which has a gorgeous waterfront) and in Fern Forest (where I can happily pull weeds for hours and then take a soak in the spa).

Buckminster Fuller said, “Our beds are empty two-thirds of the time. Our living rooms are empty seven-eighths of the time. Our office buildings are empty one-half of the time.” And yet there they sit, gathering dust. And, worse, costing us money.

As the recession takes hold and people worry about money and jobs, it becomes more and more important to use what we have efficiently. And to use less of everything. Having a smaller space and fewer items of junk saves us dough, uses fewer resources, and burns less fuel, which helps the environment. According to some figures I stumbled upon, in 1973 the average house was 1525 square feet and had 3 people per household; in 2006 the average square footage expanded to 2248 with only 2.6 people per household. Appliances have gotten more efficient, but the cost of heating and cooling a larger home offsets any green savings.

But there’s hope. Liz told me that one day she caught Jonas stuffing wads of crumpled paper under the couch.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m insulating,” he said.

When he grows up, Jonas would like to be a superhero. Or maybe a builder like his dad. His favorite TV show is This Old House. He fashions a compressor out of the vacuum cleaner and builds lovely and solid structures from blocks. Structures where a family of four can sleep comfortably and cozily. With even room for a big black dog named Orzo.


Gummie said...

You have caught the essence of my creative son-law and his family Thank you and Fern Forest looks to be a slice of heaven!Kathie

Life's Beautiful Path said...

I love tree houses.I have a book "Tree Houses" by John Harris and I take photos of kids tree houses. My friend Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell has a blog about living in a small house just over 500 feet. http//livinglargeinourlittlehouse.com

Relaxshacks said...

Thanks for an amazing stay- and your extraordinary hospitality. We all had a blast up your ways and certainly hope to see you guys again at some point. Jonas LOVES your book "Two tracks in the snow" as well- and has often picked it as his bedtime story.
Thank you for the kind write-up as well, and I hope you and "H" have a great summer!
-Derek "Deek" Diedricksen