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Tiny Dreamers

This article appeared in Green Magazine #46, Nov-Dec 2015

The pair who built the opposite of a McMansion. Cheap, ethical and cosy - a couple embrace their 'tiny' house.

Andrew Bell was already living in a tent near Bendigo in a bid to simplify his life when his partner Alicia Crawford suggested they build a tiny together. A tiny? A tiny house; in this case, one measuring just 18 square metres, though technically speaking anything that comes in under 37 square metres qualifies as a tiny.

The pair built their house on a budget of $20,000 in just eight weeks, with help from family and friends, who c all them Belly and Ali. They built it around a steel frame on an old trailer chassis and used recycled or found materials wherever possible. And yes, it is small … but it’s big on smart design and character.

The roof slopes at a seven-degree angle to allow for rainwater collection. The bathroom sits at one end; the loft bedroom at the other. A repurposed ladder suspended with plants, a fruit bowl and cooking pots runs parallel to the roof above the kitchen, and shelving built inside a bay window in the bathroom serves as a light-filled indoor garden space. A sitting area is nestled underneath the bedroom, and backs onto a double hanging closet that is neatly curtained out of sight.

The walls are insulated with a 70/30 blend of wool and polyester; the floor, with rubber matting seconds from a playground.  Acacia wood panels form the floor on the 7.2 metre long interior of the tiny, and natural wood finishes abound. The bedroom boasts a 270-degree view out windows the pair made themselves, from Perspex, and currently affords them a forest view in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges, where they’re leasing a paddock for just $25 a week.

A Nectre Bakers Oven – the couple’s first purchase for their tiny – sits opposite the front door. The top oven is a wood fire that amply heats the entire dwelling; the bottom an oven for food roasting and baking. They can heat water on the top, and plan to install a wet pack in the back to heat their shower water. In the bathroom, a composting toilet sits opposite a wine barrel that has been cut in half and serves as the shower recess. 

Belly and Ali are early Australian advocates for the tiny house movement, which rallies against the trend towards super-sizing family living with ‘McMansions’. The tiny house movement is big in the United States, and it’s gaining traction here in Australia – home to the world’s biggest houses – as people seek ways to live a cheaper, more environmentally sustainable lifestyles.

Many tiny houses are built on wheels for mobility, but also to get around restrictive building codes. Of course, the tinys are then subject to vehicle size limitations: no more than 2.5 metres wide to fit on a road, and 4.3 metres high to come within boundaries for bridges and lights. 

Ironically, living here doesn’t feel cramped at all,” says Belly. “I think the raw wood finishes and expansive light from the windows is a big part of that. We’ve also got a lot of nature, stunning nature, just outside our door.”

“We have a barbeque and table and chairs outside, so there’s more living space outdoors too,” adds Ali.

"I work in an environmental space; I'm always talking about living a more ethical life. Building the tiny has allowed us to live our values a lot more."