The idea of living amongst the trees is something that captivates the inner child in many of us. Thankfully, despite being all grown up, we can still appreciate treehouses in all their arboreal beauty, with many designers creating beautiful, adult-sized builds.
Nestled in a wooded area near the village of Raray, France’s Atelier LAVIT built this geometric treehouse for a local hotel. The designers say:
ORIGIN is an exceptional cabin, a unique and tailor-made project. The architectural challenge for Atelier LAVIT was to create a functional and comfortable hotel room, being faithful to the first inspiration of the project: a bird-nest. The design of the cabin, coupled with the construction techniques, led to a rationalization of the assembly logic of the branches collected by the birds to create their impregnable shelters.
Inspired by the bird nest, the 247-square-foot Origin treehouse is a human-sized nest that embraces a 100-year-old oak. Its facade bristles with interlocking wooden sticks, creating an interesting pattern of planes and lines against which the structure’s octagonal form engages and recedes.
To get in to the treehouse, one has to cross over a suspended walkway, which is accessed via a platform elevated on another oak tree about 30 metres (98 feet) away. Before entering, there’s a small patio space flanked by two sliding glass doors, centering around the trunk of the host tree.
It’s no secret that we TreeHuggers are big fans of modern treehouses, for obvious reasons: besides being a functional shelter, treehouses such as this one offer a chance to experience something different, to more deeply realize that already existing dependence we have upon the trees. This treehouse hits all those buttons and more; to see the rest, visit Atelier LAVIT.
After the California fires, the building expert has some suggestions that really make sense for anyone building.
Decades ago, Lloyd Kahn was the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, and he is still at it, writing books, the Shelter Blog, and his own personal blog. Recently, after the terrible fires in California, he wrote:
I would like to offer some suggestions to people whose homes were destroyed by the California fires of 2017. I have built three homes of my own and, as well, been publishing books on building for some 45 years now. From this experience I’ve come to some conclusions about practical, sensible building.
But his suggestions are really good for anyone building anywhere, whether or not you are recovering from a disaster. He offers good, sound advice for people on a budget and in a hurry. Some of my favorites with my comments:
Stud frame construction. Straw bale, cob, timber frame, and other natural materials each have their benefits, but the stud wall system, with insulation, wiring, and plumbing within the walls is by far the quickest way to build.
There are all kinds of different technologies for building out there, but stud framing is still the fastest and cheapest, and if done carefully, can be as well insulated and air tight as any other method of construction.
Rectangular design. Stick with rectangles. If you get into building curves, or polygons (e.g. hexagonal, octagonal) you’ll end up spending a lot more time and money.
This also makes it easier to insulate and seal the house; every jog and joint is a potential thermal bridge and air leak. That’s why the Passive House people promote #BBB or “Boxy But Beautiful.
Use some kind of non-toxic insulation (not available when I built). Wool, denim, cellulose made from recycled paper products. Research it. “Roxul” is a very good non-toxic, non-water absorbing, non-rodent and non-insect supporting type of batt insulation.
Even good old fiberglass, available when Lloyd built, is now formaldehyde free and less toxic than it was. Cellulose has the lowest embodied energy, and Roxul is no longer Roxul; they recently rebranded as Rockwool, the name they have used in Europe for 80 years. I think it is a dumb move, given that they were just getting really well known as Roxul, but nobody asked me.
Avoid architectural cleverness. Watch out for architects trying to make a statement. Quite often, tried and true designs produce economical, practical homes. The wheel needn’t be reinvented.
One could look at Lloyd’s sites and his books and see more “statements” of a different kind than any architect came up with; he has a different taste, but shouldn’t conflate style with substance. Architects are often clever at doing things efficiently and cheaply. Full disclosure: I am an architect.
Consider the possibility of radiant heat — pipes under the floor (or in concrete slab) — with water heated by solar panels (will need backup heater most likely.)
I do not think Lloyd goes nearly far enough in his discussion of insulation and doesn’t mention windows. But lots of insulation and quality windows is a lot cheaper than a boiler and a radiant floor, which in a super-insulated house will never even feel warm.
But otherwise, all good solid suggestions for anyone anywhere: plant trees, have a vegetable garden, keep it all small and simple. Consider orientation, roof design for future solar, use non-combustible cladding and roofing, especially in California.
Rents and real estate prices in major cities like Vancouver are increasing. While it remains difficult to find an affordable place to rent or buy, policy solutions have been slow in coming, and the lack in rental vacancies have been made worse by other factors such as AirBnb rentals. All these issues are prompting some to get creative with affordable housing solutions, one of which is living in converted vehicles.
Atli’s unusual path toward van dwelling came a few years ago, when Atli was working full-time. She noticed that there were a number of bus drivers living in RVs and converted vehicles beside the bus depot, under the bridge. While some of her coworkers ridiculed these vehicle owners, she realized that they were saving a lot of money living in this way, and that seed of an idea was planted in her head. It took a couple of years for that idea to become reality, and now Atli is onto her second van, a 2016 Ford Transit that she lives in full-time.
Exploring Alternatives/Video screen capture
Atli’s van conversion, nicknamed T-Rex, is simple but feels comfortable and homey, thanks to the minimalist design and the use of wood panelling throughout. The van is fully insulated all around with fibreglass insulation, rigid foam insulation (not the greenest nor safest options, but certainly cheap) and a vapour barrier to help prevent condensation forming in the interior, as Vancouver’s climate can get quite wet.
There’s a large open space as soon as you come in, with a small kitchen and storage on the other side. The kitchen has a two-burner propane stove and a small sink, which operates with a water pump. Atli plans to install a bamboo counter and more overhead cabinets later on. In addition, there’s a closet here, which hides her clothes and offers a place to store her folding chair.
The bed platform provides more storage, part of which features an extra door designed to accommodate Atli’s sitar, once the bench’s padded top is removed. Under the bed is a Hypervent mat, something from the marine supply store which prevents condensation (and therefore mold) from forming under the mattress.
There’s also a convenient table that can roll out and back in when it’s not in use.
Exploring Alternatives/Video screen capture
The interior is lit with three skylights; two of which can be opened, and one of which is outfitted with a mechanical fan to increase ventilation. All three can be stuffed with insulation to block out light. Atli purposely chose a van without windows, as it was cheaper, and it offers more privacy, something that she values, after years of renting and sharing a home with roommates.
For safety, the home is also equipped with a combination carbon monoxide and propane gas alarm, and there’s an extra wall and door between the cabin and the driver’s seat up front. There is no bathroom, but that’s where Atli’s gym membership and public bathrooms come in handy.
At the rear, there’s plenty of space for Atli’s bike, inflatable kayak and other gear. The van gets its power from a solar panel, which is hooked up to a Goal Zero inverter, a 100-AmH AGM (absorbent glass mat) battery, which gets charged using a solenoid that is hooked up to the van’s AGM truck battery.
Atli’s choice to live in a van has enabled her to cut down on expenses significantly, which means she can now work part-time instead of full-time. During winters, she can now travel to warmer climates down south, in particular the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Quartzsite, Arizona:
Living in a van allows me to work less and have a lot more free time, and not have to spend as much money on living expenses. I get to live by myself and have everything that I want it, and then I get to move my whole house anywhere I want to take it, which is also super awesome.
Housing policies can be slow to change, so for Atli, this is her long-term housing solution to her city’s affordability problem. She loves it so much that she plans to live in her van for not only the foreseeable future, but also for many years to come. To help support the van-dwelling community in the city, Atli has also recently launched a Vancouver Vehicle Dwellers Meetup, at the Spanish Banks during the first Sundays of every month during summer. To see more, visit Exploring Alternatives.
Small, lightweight and nimble, teardrop trailers are a smart compromise between the camping comfort of larger recreational vehicles, and travelling as lightly as possible.
Based out of Vancouver, Canada, the Droplet is a streamlined teardop trailer that only weighs 950 pounds. Inspired by Scandinavian design, the Droplet features a minimalist interior with large side doors and a generous window and a skylight to maximize views.
Created by Diane and Pascal, an interior designer and an engineer, the Droplet’s genesis came from the pair’s desire to forego the hassle of loading gear from their basement to their car. They decided to purchase a teardrop trailer, but couldn’t find one that fit their needs and was also comfortable and well-built enough, so they built one themselves. After testing out the fully engineered and detailed prototype last summer via a renting scheme, they are now planning to launch a production model through a crowdfunding campaign that will take off March of this year.
It’s a insulated teardrop, using closed cell, aluminum-laminated foam (R value is 2.81), making it an all-season trailer. The Droplet’s interior encapsulates a queen-sized mattress, as well as storage cabinets and shelves. There are convenient pockets in the doors for quick access to frequently used objects, and the interior is lit with two touch-activated LED lights. The three big tinted windows allows for lots of natural light to come in, or for stargazing at night.
The galley kitchen at the back is small but functional: it has a 12-volt drawer refrigerator, a sink that uses a hand pump, a small propane stove and a large drawer to store kitchen stuff. The stove, refrigerator, water tank and battery pack can be all taken out of the trailer, giving users an option to use them separately from the trailer if needed.
Balancing an abundance of space, light and a decent number of features with a price tag of CAD $17,950 (or USD $14,000), the Droplet can also be rented if you’re curious to try it out. For more information, visit Droplet.
As real estate prices rise in cities around the world, micro-apartments and tiny houses are gaining traction as one potential affordable housing solution. In Beijing, tiny homes have existed for quite some time in the narrow alleys of the old city neighbourhoods, called hutong. In modern times, real estate developers have attempted to raze these traditional neighbourhoods to the ground to make way for high rises, but the local government has taken steps in recent years to preserve the hutongs for their cultural history.
In preserving these traditional courtyard homes on the outside, homeowners are now turning to revamping their interiors. Designboom shows this renovation of a 484-square-foot intergenerational hutong home in Beijing, carried out by Christian Taeubert of CLOU Architects. Previously in damp, run-down condition, this old alleyway house has now been updated with a high-performance building envelope and a well-lit, modern interior that a family of six, spanning three generations, can call home.
To do this, Taeubert took the approach of designing a “house within a house,” with an emphasis on healthy indoor air quality. The existing home was gutted down to the structure and outfitted with 100 millimetres (4 inches) of continuous insulation all around (including the floor). The air-tight building envelope is paired with an energy recovery ventilation system, which ensures a flow of clean air for improved ventilation, energy-efficient heating and cooling, and prevents a build-up of condensation.
The layout has three bedrooms (one for the parents, one for one set of grandparents, and one for a lone grandmother), one loft for the family’s little boy, plus areas for sitting, dining, a kitchen, bathroom, and a reading loft. To create more space, the ladders can be rolled out of the way when not in use.
The design has a “introverted façade” and inward-turning feel to it, as the exterior courtyard space was previously divided among five different families, so the fragmented outdoor space could not really be incorporated into the design. Instead, the scheme uses natural light and a layering of spaces to create an interior haven from the hustle and bustle outside.
Incorporating a good balance between private and common spaces means that this small but efficient design doesn’t feel cramped. And rather than destroying these small but vital bits of cultural and architectural history for soulless, modern high-rises, projects like these transform them into energy-efficient, comfortable and viable homes, ensuring that the hutongs will be here to stay for future generations to enjoy. For more, visit CLOU Architects.
Those who are skeptical about tiny house living often point to the potential challenges of having kids when it comes to living in such a small space. While it’s true that living tiny isn’t for everyone, there are intrepid people who do enjoy it, and yes, there are even those who do it with a child (or two, or three).
Samantha and Robert of Shedsistence are one couple that took the plunge into tiny living a couple of years ago, by designing and constructing their own small dream home. They’ve since welcomed a baby daughter into their modern 204-square-foot abode, and have made some modifications to make their space more baby-friendly.
The biggest change was obviously making that minimalist sleeping loft safer, with the addition of a sturdy net and DIY safety gate (plus a slim opening for kitty) that permits the same view, without the tumbling-down factor. More privacy and darkness for naptime is afforded with a blackout curtain that can be hung up. A lot of thought went into its design and installation, balancing the desire to keep the space open without sacrificing security.
In addition, the couple made this awesome DIY baby loft crib that allows for co-sleeping, and it looks like they have now upgraded into something even bigger that functions as a safe space for the little one to play. Downstairs, an extra crib has been added. Those open stairs might be a bit harrowing though when baby starts to walk, but it seems that the couple does have solutions later in mind.
The young family’s first month together was a restful one, made all the better by both mom and dad being able to really spend time with their daughter in the formative first six months, thanks to the financial freedom (and therefore parental leave) afforded to them by owning and living in a small home.
Most importantly, this new development in the couple’s life has brought not only new joys, but also reflections on the future, especially when people ask them: “What about when your daughter gets older or you have more children? How will you make the tiny house work?” Here’s their thoughtful and honest response, which I think applies to anyone already living in or considering tiny houses:
We are here to openly admit that our tiny house journey is not forever; at least not from a full-time living perspective. With that said, it is one of the best decisions of our lives and has already gifted us so much more in return than any sum of money could provide. It has been an incredibly fulfilling experience that is far from over.
Our tiny house has been and continues to be an incredible tool and experience for this stage in our lives. It has allowed us to own our home outright while refinancing student loan debt to a very aggressive five year repayment plan and simultaneously building a financial safety net that would allow us to live comfortably for a year even if our sources of income completely stopped. Most importantly we have been able to take extended parental leave. [..] None of this was possible for us three years ago but we took intentional steps (including the tiny house) to design the life we wanted.
And finally, some practical thoughts on what to do once they do cross that bridge of upsizing:
We will utilize the tiny house as long as it works for us and then re-purpose it. The best part about this project is it has the ability to serve our family in a multitude of ways. Should we choose to design and build a small home on a foundation to raise a growing family, the tiny house can serve as a back yard studio, or guesthouse, or AirBnb rental or even be turned into an off grid retreat in the mountains. Its value and positive contribution to our lives will far outlive its use as a full-time residence.
We like that inspiring, non-dogmatic way of looking at life — regardless of the size of one’s home. To see more, visit Shedsistence.
The tiny house movement has evolved dramatically since its early days, when a saccharine-sweet, rustic aesthetic was de rigeur, and floorplans were relatively simple. Now, things are getting interesting in the tiny house world, with a variety of styles, configurations and price points to choose from — or at least oogle at.
Combining a modern sensibility with transformer-furniture magic and tiny house portability is this striking tiny design by young Italian architect Leonardo Di Chiara. Feeling like a hyper-efficient, minimalist micro-home on wheels, we get an extensive tour of the aVOID house via the excellent Fair Companies. It’s a must-watch:
What’s immediately apparent is how pared-down the space feels. As Di Chiara explains, he prefers small, minimalist spaces, a hold-over from his childhood, when he lived in a small room that had to be constantly cleaned due to his allergies.
This tiny home is called “a void” because it’s an “empty space, connected to an experience — your living experience. The more you live inside, the more you open the things that can make this void functional.” For instance, to activate this void, one can fold functional elements down to suit one’s needs: a bed, a dining table, open and tuck doors to reveal a kitchen, cabinets, even dining chairs.
Di Chiara collaborated and worked with over 150 various companies and suppliers to create or install customized items such as his kitchen sink, faucet, lights, insulation and more. For instance, Di Chiara worked with a lighting designer to create a lighting system that illuminates the space in a way that makes it feel bigger.
Wood was used exclusively throughout the design, even down to Di Chiara’s recycled wood-fibre sleeping bag. The outer-facing surfaces are painted white, but as one discovers, unfolds and deploys various elements, warm wood colours appear to signify “home” and habitation. The roof deck is accessible via a ladder. The bathroom is a tight fit, however; it’s designed as a wet-room but the drain and sink haven’t been installed yet.
After graduation, Di Chiara had wanted to own his own home, but also realized he wanted to travel around Europe and experience other cultures. So instead, he embarked on building this house as a compromise of sorts, which he says is almost a “traditional apartment on wheels.”
Di Chiara likens himself to a “sculptor” when living in this ever-transforming space:
Living inside aVOID is not, in my case, just a minimalistic challenge measurable in square meters. Rather it seems an intimate relationship that, over the past few months, is getting me in direct contact with my first creation as an architect. It happens often that I stop and think, watching the space in its different functional arrangements. The living experience allows me to verify, test and modify the house, implementing it with new solutions. For this reason I call aVOID an “open” prototype: a work-in-progress construction site. The tiny house is like a short instruction manual to reductionism. By itself, it teaches and pushes you to deprive yourself of unnecessary things, to consume less water and less energy, to put back your clothes in their place and to wash the dishes immediately after eating. The void, which is obtained by closing again all the wall-mounted furniture, is the refuge of my creativity. The absence of any visual distraction caused by personal objects or daily business makes room for my imagination, which is reflected into my future designs.
Notably, the home is conceived as a “row house” — there are no windows on the sides, so that units can be placed right beside each other. This neighbourly consideration for increased urban density makes the aVOID a bit different than its North American counterparts, which are often designed to be situated separately from one another. Di Chiara’s aim is to someday create “migratory neighbourhoods” of tiny houses all over Europe.
“More people are becoming nomads.” he says. “Everyone wants to experience this life going around to all the different countries.” Di Chiara envisions that in the future, tiny house owners can use an app to find different spots to park their home.
For now, Di Chiara is working on promoting the idea of tiny houses in Italy and the rest of Europe via workshops and an pan-European tiny house tour. Di Chiara has now moved his house to Berlin, Germany for the first stop, where he is a participant in the Bauhaus Campus Exhibition until March 2018; he is also part of Tinyhouse University as well. For more, visit Leonardo Di Chiara.
Often, the popular stereotype might envision these converted vans as second-rate housing alternatives for bohemian types. But that is changing as images of impressively tricked-out vehicles — and stories of professional digital nomads working while travelling — emerge. It’s evident that a lot of care, thought and creativity is going into the design of many of these portable homes that you see, enabling their owner-inhabitants to live and work differently, and inspiring many others to do the same.
Modernist live-work space in a cargo van conversion
The first of our converted van tiny homes comes from filmmaker Zach Both, who breaks some of these stereotypes of the bohemian van-dweller. Both, who left his job as an art director at a tech startup to pursue filmmaking full-time, chose to convert a Chevy cargo van into a modernist home-and-office that could move with him, at a total cost of USD $12,000. He’s since also published an informative, online DIY manual for van conversions, called The Vanual. As he explains:
[Filmmaking] is a constant migration to and from different locations based on what the storytelling requires. With this van, I now have complete freedom to write a script surrounded by mountains, direct a shoot in a remote desert town and then collaborate with an editor or composer in Los Angeles — all within the same month. That would be impossible any other way.
Like their tiny house cousins, van conversions come in all shapes and sizes. The stories behind them are often fascinating too, whether it’s mid-life professionals retiring to travel full-time, outdoor enthusiasts using their vehicular homes to find the perfect climbing or diving spot, or a family man building the most awesome family camper ever.
Looking to create a more comfortable place to inhabit while on his nine-month climbing trip across North America, British mechanical engineer Mark converted this nondescript white cargo van into an inexpensive home on wheels, using a combination of off-the-shelf and reclaimed materials and some engineering ingenuity. Watch the tour of his simple van home and how it was done, via fellow rock-climber, entrepreneur and YouTuber Nate Murphy:
Nate Murphy/Video screen capture
Mark’s van has the kitchen to one side of the van’s middle. It features a propane-fuelled camping stove, a simple sink made with a metal bowl, faucet and water pump, and lots of storage. Since this is the most visible part of the van’s interior, Mark spent a little more money to buy cherry wood for the cabinet frame.
Nate Murphy/Video screen capture
The bed is quite clever: it’s a three-part folding design that Mark came up with himself. One lifts up the panels using a looped handle in order to transform it into a sofa. Its sliding mechanism uses hinges, bolts, latches and plywood to create something that can serve as a bed, and as a comfy sofa when it’s locked in with the latch.
To keep costs down, Mark chose to forego installing solar power; instead, he uses battery-powered LED lights. Storage has been put into all the irregular spaces, and a refillable water tank has been placed at the back of the van, where there’s also more storage space and a drawer for outdoor gear.
Nate Murphy/Video screen capture
To maintain privacy when parked in urban places, Mark has installed some thick curtains at the front of the van, which are hung on adjustable shower curtain rods.
Nate Murphy/Video screen capture
In total, Mark spent only USD $1,000 on materials and renovations for the van, taking about a week and using borrowed tools at his friend’s home in Utah to complete the build. It’s a good design that maintains a nice balance between functionality and space to stretch out your feet or sleep — no doubt helped by that clever folding bed concept. To see more smart van conversions, see our related links below.
We’ve previously made the case about why tiny houses aren’t recreational vehicles and vice versa, but we’ve also seen some cross-over hybrids that don’t quite fit in either category. Defying categorization is the sCarabane from France’s Green Cat Technologies, a sleek recreational camper that can unfold automatically into a house-like configuration, and is powered by solar and wind technology.
When travelling on the road, the sCarabane’s exterior looks like a neat, nondescript trailer measuring 26 feet long. When on site however, the sCarabane’s sleek metal box transforms in a small but full-featured 580-square-foot home with the push of a button. When fully deployed, two side decks flip out to extend the available square footage, adding an exterior deck on one side, and another space for two bedrooms on the other. You can watch a quick tour of the sCarabane at an exposition in Germany via YouTuber Tobias Hiendl:
To help it to optimize sun exposure, the sCarabane can sit on a circular track that allows it to rotate 360 degrees, allowing the whole structure — and its solar panels — to follow and capture sunlight throughout the day.
Inside, there is a kitchen, dining area, bathroom with toilet, shower and mini-washing machine, and two bedrooms that are situated in one wing of the fold-down spaces. An extra guest bed can be had by converting the dining table space. According to the company, it takes about 30 minutes to either open the sCarabane up or close it completely.
It’s powered and supported by a combination of systems, including solar panels that can generate 500 watts, a telescopic wind turbine that can produce an additional 500 watts, and a parabolic solar concentrator to heat hot water.
It’s a pretty impressive design that balances off-grid possibilities with comfort; however, it’s a prototype design so there’s no word on actual prices yet, though the Green Cat Technologies team is currently refining the design further (they aim to add some water harvesting and management systems), for production in the near future. For more information, visit sCarabane.