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Where and How Did the Tiny House Movement Originate?

Dec. 06, 2023
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Are you looking for a comfortable and affordable living situation?

Regardless of whether you’re looking for a place to settle down in your old age, a place to retire to after doing your fair share of labor, or somewhere to call home while you’re out there pursuing your dream, a house should fulfill 2 things. Living in it should make you feel comfortable and it should be affordable.

The problem of real estate today is that land property can be as expensive as having a house made, especially in California. In an effort to cut costs, the tiny house trend is something a lot of people look into.

Tiny houses are the main focus of a popular trend that prides itself on being a friend to the environment and the solution for middle-class homebuyers. How did this trend start though? Let’s take a look.

1. The Original Blueprint

Ever seen a granny flat, also known as an Accessory Dwelling Unit? These are units built right next to a house, functioning as both an extension and as a separate home. It’s possible that tiny houses originated from ADUs.

There’s a lot of debate as to when the first ever recorded, modern tiny living situation was in pre-revolutionary France. And believe it or not, a lot of people argue that it was Marie Antoinette who boasted the first, modern small housing. You heard that right. And while it’s true, her 255 square foot boudoir was smaller than the houses nobles had back in her time, she still led a lavish lifestyle as an archduchess.

Pretty interesting right? The fact is, the tiny house movement encourages living in a modest home and living a modest lifestyle to go with it as well. Considering Marie Antoinette’s lifestyle, the community obviously never considered her a part of them. Instead, for another notable example, look at Henry David Thoreau’s small house.

Back in 1854, Thoreau published Walden, a book about Thoreau’s thoughts and musing while experiencing life in the wilderness and in a small cabin. Walden detailed how he spent 2 years, 2 months, and 2 days in the small cabin by Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. He also listed the merits of living in a small space and even praised them with enthusiasm.

Little to Henry David’s knowledge, his writings would inspire not just the people of his time, to the whole world even today. Thoreau’s is actually considered to be one of the biggest influences of the tiny house movement today. People also celebrate the merits he listed to be what every tiny household should aspire to follow.

Today, you can find a replica of his cabin on Walden pond, along with a statue of Henry himself.

2. The Influence Spreads

Following the inspiration of Henry David Thoreau, a lot of authors also wrote books about tiny houses, many of which wrote about tiny house living and what it entailed decades after Thoreau released his book.

Lloyd Khan and Bob Easton were among these authors. Shelter, the book they wrote, depicted the residential design of former and current houses. The book also depicted the construction methods of small houses across the globe. They meant for their book to be a sourcebook to promote, sustainable, harmonious living.

More than a decade later, Thoreau’s work was again quoted by another author. Lester Walker was the first person to use the words “tiny houses” in a cover for his own book. Walker’s work serves as a tribute to the ideology of Thoreau and is also a source for many, practical tiny house tips.

The influence of his book spread across the country since its release. It even played a hand in influencing Portland to allow accessible dwelling units on private properties even without a special permit.

1998 was also a big year for the movement as Sarah Susanka published her book The Not So Big House. She gave the community a big boost as people all over the country loved her work. In fact, the support her book received from readers prompted her to launch a franchise.

3. The Need Arises

Near the end of the 20th century, the need for affordable living situations increased dramatically as real estate prices in the California cities soared. Without suitable housings, families gave up a lot to cover their living expenses and keep enough money for bills.

It was around this time that Jay Shafer wrote his first article about the merits of tiny housings. Shafer argued that tiny houses solved the problems of a lot of people, and jumpstarted the movement, propelling the popularity of tiny houses today. His success was substantial enough to help him open a company for tiny mobile homes.

Later in 2002, Shafer, along with other influential names such as Shay Salomon, teamed up to form a “small” society. They dedicated their time in this group to support more research and development for more efficient living spaces.

After 5 years of research, Shafer was ready to show the nation his findings. He was invited to be a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s show where he gave the audience a tour of his small house. With Oprah giving people advice on how to save space at the end of the show, Shafer’s campaign to start the movement again was a huge success.

4. A Way of Life is Born

After Shafer’s resounding success with Oprah, tiny houses became the craze people started looking into. It wasn’t long before Kent Griswold rode the wave and opened the first blog dedicated to tiny houses, a guide that gives people designs and tips for downsizing their lives.

And no surprise, traffic going to Griswold’s site boomed in 2008 during the mortgage crisis..

Only a few years later, and a show called Tiny House Nation dedicated to showing off those who downsized their homes was aired. The show celebrated the creative ways people all across the country live in their tiny houses, and sparked a national interest. The following was so large that it inspired another show called Tiny House World with the same core.

Tiny House World focused on families and individuals looking to downsize. The inspired the leadership of Texas offered hundreds of vacant lots for sale. These lots had the sole purpose of accommodating those who wanted to build tiny houses and ADUs.

The town then proclaimed it as the country’s first community for tiny houses. Soon enough, more states saw the success of the trend and relaxed their regulations as well. With that, the movement for tiny housings started to shape today’s living situations.

Get Yourself a Tiny House Today

The tiny house trend is now more than a trend today. It’s a way of life for some people, a community, and an art form, too. And though accessory dwelling units differ in lots of ways form tiny houses, the same spirit of downsizing and affordable homes right in your backyard resonates.

If you need help planning and building an ADU, and not simply a tiny house, we’re happy to help. Don’t hesitate to contact us here. We can help you ask the right questions, determine if your property would be a good fit for a backyard home, and get your ready to move in from design to construction. We even offer financing.

Tiny house movement timeline: A brief history of tiny homes

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This is a tiny house movement timeline… A brief history of tiny homes. How far back does the tiny house movement go? Some could argue that tiny homes have been here since the dawn of man. And it’s true, isn’t it? But for the purposes of this article, I’d like to start by skipping to the year 1854 because that’s the year that Henry David Thoreau published his book, Walden, after living in a 150-square-foot tiny cabin near Walden Pond on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s woodland property.

Little did he know, that he may be largely responsible for having sparked the giant tiny house movement that we are witnessing today. So please join me on a journey back in time, to explore the tiny homes of yesterday and see how they have inspired the tiny and small homes of today. And who knows, maybe we can figure out what the tiny homes of the future will be like? Let’s go…

Please don’t miss other incredible information on the tiny house movement – join our FREE Tiny House Newsletter with even more!

1854 – Henry David Thoreau publishes Walden while living in a 150-square-foot tiny cabin.

Perhaps he knew that a tiny space could provide such a stress-free existence to be able to have the time and energy to write and publish his works?

The 1800s – Shotgun shacks in the south (U.S.).

Image © Creative Commons CC by WhisperToMe

Image © Dave Taylor via Dave’s 396-square-foot shotgun tiny home

Late 1700’s – American Pioneer Cabin… Early Settlement of Oregon… The Original American Tiny House?

On second thought, it’s just not right to start this by skipping all the way to the late 1700s-1800s, isn’t it?

It isn’t.

But we already started it that way, so, let’s just jump into our make-believe time travel machine…

🛸 🧭

…and stop at approximately 1000 BC.😊

1000 BC – Yurts or “Gers” in Mongolia.

These homes originated in Mongolia as a very practical and mobile home because you could literally disassemble and reassemble it anywhere you like, and you and your tribe can continue on your way according to the weather. They are built to be waterproof, heat-resistant, and can be heavily insulated too!

Image © Exploring Alternatives via Woman Living Fully Off-Grid for 2 Years in a Tiny Yurt

500 BC – Tipis or Teepees.

Image © Exploring Alternatives via Magical Four Season Off-Grid Tipi

There is evidence out there that suggests tipi dwellings have been around much longer than 500 BC. You can read up on that here.

The 1940s – Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome.

Image © ForestHotel.com via Geodesic Homes at Hotel Forest

By the way, you can see R. Buckminster Fuller and Anne Hewlett’s Dome Home in Carbondale, Illinois right here. It was their residence from 1960 to 1971. His house was one of the first residential geodesic domes ever built. You can also see it in the video below too! The RBF Dome NFP has started the Fuller Dome project and is in the process of restoring it now. More info on that project here. The blueprints are available too.

1973 – Lloyd Kahn and Bob Easton publish Shelter.

Besides publishing Shelter in 1973, Lloyd Kahn has continued to publish fascinating books on alternative homes tiny and small. See Shelter II (2010), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Home Work Hand Built Shelter (2004), Small Homes: The Right Size (2017), Tiny Homes Simple Shelter (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). It’s a beautiful collection of books, stories, and creative homes.

1987 – Lester Walker publishes Tiny Houses: Or How to Get Away From it All.

Besides Tiny Houses: Or How to Get Away From it All, Lester Walker also published Tiny Book of Tiny Houses (1993), A Little House of My Own: 47 Grand Designs for 47 Tiny Houses (2000), Housebuilding for Children (2007), among others.

1998 – Sarah Susanka publishes The Not So Big House.

Along with The Not So Big House, Sarah went on to publish Creating the Not So Big House (2002), Inside the Not So Big House (2005), and others.

1999 – Jay Shafer publishes the Small House Book and starts the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

Besides writing and publishing the Small House Book, which helped spark the tiny house movement into what it has become today, Jay Shafer has designed and built several tiny homes, most recently, his own $5,000 tiny house.

2000 – Dignity Village, a tiny house community to benefit the homeless, is built with 43 tiny homes built using recycled materials in Portland, Oregon.

Image © DignityVillage.org

2007 – Oprah interviews Jay Shafer. The tiny house movement blows up. Tiny homes built on trailers become a popular way to overcome zoning hurdles when wanting to build tiny.

Image © Oprah.com

You can watch that over at Oprah.com.

Unfortunately, zoning is still a problem and this solution is oftentimes only temporary. Building on wheels is a great way to get around zoning laws, but many still find it very challenging to find a peaceful, suitable, and legal place to park and live in their tiny homes on wheels. The movement badly needs help to become a legitimate housing solution.

2007 – The original Quixote Community was founded as a tent camp in a parking lot. Today they have built three tiny house communities/villages.

Image © quixotecommunities.org

2007-2008 – The U.S. mortgage crisis sparks an economic downturn.

“Roadside sign”by Rain Rannu is licensed under CC BY 2.0

2010 – The FREE Tiny House Newsletter is born. TinyHouseTalk.com is born. Join below🙏


2012 – Second Wind Cottages starts tiny house village in Newfield, New York – 18 tiny homes completed so far to help restore lives.

Image © secondwindcottages.org

2014 – First tiny house-friendly city – Spur, Texas.

Image © Conor Mccann via Man legally living in an 84-square-foot tiny home in Spur, TX

Also see: Spur, Texas – Nation’s first Tiny House Town?

Image © FYI/Tiny House Nation

Now, everyone knows exactly what we’re talking about when we say tiny houses.

2015 – The American Tiny House Association is formed to encourage people to work with local government agencies to gain zoning approvals.

Image © ATHA

2015 – The National Tiny House Jamboree attracts 40,000 attendees in Colorado Springs.

Image © TinyHouseJamboree.com

2015 – Zoning legislation is approved to allow some tiny homes in some areas in Rockledge, Florida. Rockledge Tiny House Community formed. The community now under development.

Image via braveheartproperties.org

Learn more at Braveheart Properties of Brevard and Cornerstone Tiny Homes.

2016 – Fresno, California passes a new zoning law that benefits tiny homes on wheels.

“Flying over Fresno, California”by purpletwinkie is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

2019 – A tiny home for good charity builds 11 tiny homes, with another 11 underway, to prevent homelessness in Syracuse, New York.

Image © atinyhomeforgood.org

2019 – Community First! Village w/ micro homes started in Austin, Texas.

Image © mlf.org

Where will tiny homes go next?

Where do you think tiny homes will end up in the next ten, twenty, even thirty years?

What will homes and communities be like then? Will our vision of smarter, smaller, and more affordable homes finally be a common reality?

I think so. 😊

Sources

  1. “A tiny house movement timeline.” Accessed May 9, 2019. https://www.curbed.com/2017/7/19/15974554/tiny-house-timeline.
  2. “Inside the Tiny Home Movement: A Brief History.” Accessed May 9, 2019. http://blog.claytonhomes.com/inside-the-tiny-home-movement-a-brief-history.
  3. “The history of the tiny house movement.” Accessed May 9, 2019. https://cozeliving.com/tiny-house-movement/.
  4. “A tiny home for good.” Accessed May 9, 2019. https://www.atinyhomeforgood.org/about.
  5. “Community First! Village.” Accessed May 9, 2019. https://mlf.org/community-first/.
  6. “See the plans for a developing tiny house community in Florida.” Accessed May 9, 2019. http://smallerliving.org/2016/08/31/see-the-plans-for-a-developing-tiny-house-community-in-florida/.
  7. “Fresno passes groundbreaking ‘tiny house’ rules.” Accessed May 9, 2019. https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2016/01/19/fresno-passes-groundbreaking-tiny-house-rules/.
  8. “Peacewind condominium cottages.” Accessed May 13, 2019. http://braveheartproperties.org/.
  9. “Henry David Thoreau portrait.” Accessed May 9, 2019. Public domain. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_David_Thoreau.
  10. “Walden cover.” Accessed May 13, 2019. Public domain. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walden.
  11. “American Pioneer Cabin.” Accessed May 13, 2019. Public domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:American_Pioneer_Cabin_(3641714830).jpg.

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Where and How Did the Tiny House Movement Originate?

Tiny house movement timeline: A brief history of tiny homes

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