Minimalist Homes May Be Antidote to Sagging Housing Market

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Gregory Johnson, president of the Small House Society in Iowa City, Iowa, said when the society first began several years ago, about 100 visitors clicked on its website every day. Today, still without advertising, about 1,000 people visit the website on average, though the site has received as many as 70,000 visitors in a day.

Johnson said another reason for the growing interest in smaller living spaces in addition to the economy, is greater awareness about human impact on the environment.

"Living small is a way to reduce our negative impact," he wrote in an e-mail.

Johnson wrote a book two years ago called, "Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons Learned Living in 140 Square Feet," in which he discusses simplifying five areas: housing, utilities, transportation, technology and food.

Rich Daniels, another small-home builder in Oregon, began building his first group of mini-homes over a year ago in North Powder, in the northeastern part of the state. His company, Rich's Portable Cabins, is building a community of 50 affordable cabins in the style of an RV park. Tentatively called "Heritage RV Park," he said it will be "a little utopia on a very small scale" with a "frontier" appearance.

Around the area, which was formerly a saw mill, is mostly farmland. But Daniels said it is also situated near the I-5 corridor, which is accessible to travelers exploring the Oregon Trail who could stop and stay a while as well. He hopes to attract businesses that would be "like-minded to our business philosophy" of creating a community where people could live and work.

He also has considered traditional "heritage-based" businesses such as weaving and spinning, a quilting shop, a bakery, saddle-maker and an art gallery for local artists.

Daniels said each cabin will be for sale from $30,000 to $50,000 for a space on average of 400 square feet. He is planning to build a community center, high-tunnel green house and small farm. He is selling the cabins, as opposed to sub-dividing the land, with the future option for owners to move their cabins off the property.

Daniels said he intends to continue building specialty homes for customers on the same property as the development. Called a craftsman by his clients, he will customize the home according to his customers' needs. That includes everything from a composting toilet to batteries for someone who really wants to be off the grid.

"I really enjoy working with customers, building custom cabins and making them unique. That's what people like. I'm willing to try to build whatever they want."

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