The dwellings of my childhood were all quite tiny. Sometimes indigenous in that they were built from locally quarried stone, with bricks baked from on-site clay, or timber: grown, felled and milled in the district. In such houses the kitchen table was parliament, library, study, soapbox and sometimes a baby would be born onto it. Such houses fitted into, were not imposed, on their landscape. It was the same in the district where I live now.
The houses were necessarily small, with small windows: the inhabitants were out in the view all day long, they worked in it. They didn’t need picture windows: they needed warmth. They were often built of green, not seasoned timber, straight off the saw, often from the builder’s own spot mill. One by one these houses have vanished, sometimes buried under a renovation or restoration which might have been sympathetic, sometimes not.
In their place have come the McMansions, large, intrusive and alien, often made with highly-processed materials from somewhere else, and furnished from another continent. Acres of glass, often double- or triple-glazed and many cubic metres of enclosed space, occupants isolated from each other in time and space and culture and with room for huge amounts of stuff. The average size [floor space] of the new house in Australia is 214 square metres. In England it’s 76 square metres, in Hong Kong, 45.
Looked at another way, square metres per occupant, Australia is top of the world list at 89, the US at 77. The French get by at 43, and in Russia you get half of that. In an ‘Opinion’ in the NY Times, March 9 2013, Graham Hill related how he had successfully down-sized to 39 square metres. He ruthlessly culled his stuff until he could live comfortably and happily in that space. No CDs, no DVDs, and a tenth of his former book collection.
He said he needed time in his life for living, not minding possessions. He owns six good shirts, four pairs of pants, and lives out of and entertains from, 10 shallow bowls. He said ‘for me, it took 15 years, a great love and a lot of travel to get rid of all the inessential things I had collected and live a bigger, better, richer life with less’. Amen to that!
The message is getting through. Local architect Andrew Kerr is documenting progress on his $60 000 house in Flowerpot. Andrew’s building genes are good: his father, Steve, has been a jobbing builder in the Lower Channel for 30 years. He is highly respected as a no-nonsense, no frills down-to-earth tradesman, and local DIY owner builders, the writer included, see him as something of a patron saint.
Andrew’s $60k House is a small project with a modest budget. He says that ‘need, not want is a guiding principle: as an architect, he wants a hands-on awareness of the intricacies of the building process. The one-bedroom shack is 60 square metres and satisfies all of my spatial and functional requirements’.
He says ‘It’s an opportunity to develop both design and construction skills while delivering a comfortable, affordable house for myself. Many people of my generation are priced out of the current housing market…I disagree with…a large house and even larger mortgage. The $60k House may be considered a critique of this situation; a practical means of exploring a philosophical position’
If you are thinking of building, go and visit the real and the virtual sites: the latter is an amusing and informative account of a building journey, with many asides on the profession of architecture. He is on the vibe. All around the country, people are building small, tiny, even, houses. There is a quirk in building by-laws to the effect that if your house is movable and with no fixed foundations, then it can have a much smaller footprint than the conventional house. Very small houses are being built on wheels: they’re not caravans, but are more like a shepherd’s or a railway fettler’s hut. They can be moved, but at walking speeds. Studios, workshops, sleep-outs are going mobile, and not before time, people are building fewer McMansions. Very small houses are easier on the budget, and kinder to the planet.
I am planning ‘a room of my own’, and it will be on wheels, or, like me, on skids. Move over, Virginia Woolf, hello! Bernard Shaw.
This article was previously published in The Cygnet & Channel Classifieds and appears with the permission of the author
RIP Steve Kerr: 7.11.1949 – 28.10.2016
Inspiration for this project and avid follower of the blog
Disclaimer: Any advice contained within this blog is of a general nature only and cannot be relied upon. Details provided are in good faith and relate specifically to this project. Any author will not be held responsible for advice or information presented.