Tiny Tuesday: Everything You Need, Nothing You Don’t

Jay Shafer could be called the Father of the Tiny House. Jay first captured the world’s attention 13 years ago with Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, and today he advances his designs and philosophies through his company Four Lights. Every person and dwelling I ever feature in Tiny Tuesday was influenced, directly or indirectly, by Jay.

But it’s hard to pinpoint what makes Jay a pioneer. He certainly didn’t build the first house on wheels: travel trailers and so-called mobile homes have existed for decades. Nor was he the first to deliberately super-downsize his living quarters: that honor probably rests with Henry David Thoreau. No, as far as I can tell, this is Jay’s claim to fame: he was the first to show that a tiny house need not be sparse or unpleasant. He proved to the American public that one can live in such a space while maintaining creature comforts and a “familiar” high quality of life.

Any house is a small house if the space is used well.
-Jay Shafer

One of Jay’s breakthroughs was to make his houses actually look like houses. Airstreams these are not. Jay incorporates Craftsman details into his exteriors so the houses resemble getaway cottages you might see in wilderness or coastal areas. Open floor plans maximize utilization of space and thwart claustrophobia. The “Shafer shelf” in many designs strengthens the top plate at the base of each rafter, allowing it to resist horizontal reactions and eliminating the need for space-interrupting collar ties. Form begets function: that’s the sort of thing a structural engineer really appreciates!

Inside a 112-square-foot house. (Image courtesy of Four Lights.)

Inside a 112-square-foot house. (Image courtesy of Four Lights.)

Jay has a wonderfully concise adage for the purpose of a house: it should provide homeowners with “everything they want and need, and nothing they don’t.” Of course, every homeowner’s needs are different, and I like to think that even at over 3000 square feet Colin’s house honors this principle. Compared to their old house, the family of five made every single room smaller, and decided to live without such entities as a dining room, a second office, and a sauna. They got rid of a ton of stuff to enable their downsize, selling some hefty pieces of furniture and boxing up smaller items for yard sale. I’m proud of them!

As to Jay’s ultimate test: is the new space used well? I’ll have the report once Colin and family move in… stay tuned.

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