Closeness emphasises family bonds

Lightweight plywood is used throughout the interior, making the space feel bigger while an open...
Lightweight plywood is used throughout the interior, making the space feel bigger while an open plan living area and a window on a roller that slides back ensure the quintessential Kiwi indoor-outdoor flow.

Bryce Langston is a New Zealand-based actor, musician, filmmaker, environmentalist and tiny house dweller who has spent the past five years travelling the globe exploring trends of alternative living and small space design. Today he visits a family of five in Napier.

Sarah-Lee and Francois have always been fascinated by small-space design. When they first met 10 years ago, Francois was living in a van. They would meet, intending to go out on a date but would often end up just staying in and spending the night coming up with designs for small homes.

Their home is an outstanding achievement. Many couples doubt their ability to live together in a tiny home, and yet these two do so happily  with their three young children, Poppy, LouLou and Francis. A cabinetmaker by trade, Francois has an incredible talent for building and making spaces work. He’s certainly succeeded here and, at only 7m by 3m, this home is more than capable of accommodating the needs of the family.

The key to the home’s success is the open central area, which gives the impression of abundant space. The kitchen has been pushed to one end, while the bathroom, sleeping loft and kids bedroom are at the other, allowing for a living space in the middle. The co-ordinated walls and cabinetry are all made of the same lightweight plywood, a clever design trick to avoid the eye being distracted by contrasting colours and materials and helping the home feel larger.

The kitchen, loft and bathroom are relatively standard in their construction,  although exceptionally finished  and the design of the kids’ bedroom is pure genius. Three single beds have been stacked, one on top of the other, each perpendicular to the one below, allowing the three children a bed and their own little bit of private space. Ample storage has been built into the room, too, for clothing and toys. The children enjoy sharing the space and, even though they have their own separate area, Sarah-Lee says it is not uncommon for them all to climb into a single bed during the night  and then into their parents’ sleeping loft in the morning.

The family do almost everything together and the children are home-schooled. Everyone is used to working co-operatively as a family unit. They cook and clean together and, as Sarah-Lee says: "If you send your child off to clean their room, it will never get done, but if you do it with them it will. We’re always with them.  One of the beautiful things is we are sharing everyday life constantly. You are always together in the tiny house. The rooms are linked. It’s nice. You know what your kids are doing, and if there’s a bit of tension between them, you can quickly pick up on it."

Conflict does arise on occasion, as it does in all families. But living in such close quarters has taught this family to resolve issues quickly and not allow tensions to build up. In many cases, there are conflict resolution lessons which get lost because we allow issues to get swept under the carpet and not dealt with. Living together in a tiny house, you simply can’t do that.

"It does take a certain emotional resilience to be constantly in each other’s space. But you develop that resilience over time if you’re willing."

During the daytime, the home is transformed, sometimes into an office or lounge, sometimes a playroom. When designing the home, Sarah-Lee and Francois felt that the indoor-outdoor flow would be important to make it more liveable. One entire side of the tiny house is designed to open up to the garden, through large double doors and a sliding window, which open out on to a deck. The abundant sunshine hours in Hawke’s Bay helps to provide lots of outdoor time.

The family’s tiny home is located on the same property as their business. Francois builds cabinets  and now tiny homes  out of several workshop sheds, allowing them separate work space and a bit of additional storage. Often our homes become storage spaces and get cluttered, but keeping only commonly used items in the house and having less frequently required items, such as luggage, stored somewhere else helps to keep everything organised.

Living in a smaller home has freed up the family’s financial resources, so they can afford to always have at least one parent around for the children,  which is important to them in terms of their children’s early development. For this family, living in a tiny house is not a "forever" solution. When the children eventually outgrow their room, Sarah-Lee and Francois say they’ll need to find an alternative solution.

There are plans to buy land, which they could move the tiny home on to, and eventually construct a slightly larger home or perhaps even build other tiny homes for the children.

For now, though, this small home works perfectly for this family. Whatever it may lack in square metres, it more than makes up for in love. It allows the family to grow together, form tight bonds and, no matter what, be there for one another.

"The bigger the space, the more impersonal," Sarah-Lee says.

"We just think we are better together. After all, you want to be doing life with your children, you want to grow with them."

• Living Big in a Tiny House by Bryce Langston, published in hardback by Potton & Burton, RRP: $49.99 


The details

• 21m2 / 226ft2

• $NZ88,000

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