Tear Down the McMansion, All Hail the McMunchkin Home… with No Electronics?
There is a new trend for uber-tiny homes, but electronics are curiously missing from them. Integrators need to be prepared with lifts and other solutions to hide technology for these mini-homes.
Chuck Schneider · March 27, 2014
Can you design a whole house control system for a home only scantly larger than a maximum security prison cell? Can you plan a smart home so miniscule it makes a double-wide mobile home feel like San Simeon?
A domicile where a 27-inch LCD dominates a room could be coming to your world sooner than you think. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg may have lost his battle to ban the Big Gulp, but just prior to leaving office late last year he took the wraps off what he considers one of his greatest achievements—a building in Midtown that will contain over 50 apartments ranging in size from 250 to 370 square feet each. Rents are expected to start at just over $900 per month.
New York, despite having legal residences of at least 400 square feet for decades, is not the birthplace of this phenomenon that nationwide city planners and developers insist is not a fad, but rather a rapidly accelerating trend. Tokyo, Osaka and many European cities have also had these “micro-lofts” for some time as well. In the United States, Seattle leads the way with San Francisco, Austin, Denver and Chicago not far behind.
I know what you’re thinking and you’re right…you could have guessed which cities are leading the way on this trend. It certainly seems to be a blue state phenomenon with a pinch of green consciousness tossed in for good measure. And yes, in large part it’s being led by Zip-Car Millennials who are likely to still be single, have as yet no real roots, and are naturally drawn to the magic of a city.
But if this is a lifestyle choice of someone in their mid-20s, what’s going to get them to leave all this for the boring burbs 10 years from now with lots of electronics? This is something to ponder because these kids could be your potential customers.
Welcome to the Small House Society
This movement is not just for kids, and it’s not all whale savers either. Welcome to the Small House Society, a rapidly growing group of over 60,000 people who extol the value and virtue of “Better Living Through Simplicity.”
The opening paragraph of their website reads, “Founded in 2002, the Small House Society is a cooperatively managed organization dedicated to the promotion of smaller housing alternatives which can be more affordable and ecological. Our desire is to support the research, development, and use of smaller living spaces that foster sustainable living for individuals, families, and communities worldwide.”
OK, that does sound a tad tree huggy but not radical board-the-fishing-boat extreme.
There are links aplenty on the Small House Society website. The most valuable and worth looking into for the CE community are the builders’ websites. The two builders that appear to have their ducks in a row are the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company based in Sonoma, Calif., and Colorado Springs, and Four Lights Tiny House Company, also headquartered deep in the wine country of northern California.
Each of these companies has pages and pages discussing the tiny home movement but the rubber meets the road when they show off their plans in detail. The house plans are well thought out and even better laid out with a surprisingly large number of options considering the total square footage starts at 117 and grows no larger than 874.
Both builders take a number of cues from the mobile home industry (indeed, many can be built with wheels) and cruise ships/luxury rail staterooms. Think smaller appliances and built-in multi-purpose Murphy bed styled fixtures.
Where are the TVs?
As I browsed the pages of both company’s full color, Robb Report-quality catalogs, one thing really stood out: In no picture of a fully furnished room did I see a single television. That can’t be a coincidence.
These are not the “Jewel Box” new homes filled with automation and electronics Gordon Gekko and his minions are supposedly building as all Baby Boomers are forced to downsize. Jewel Boxes? More like thumb drives if we are making an accurate size comparison.
There are clearly challenges to designing relevant A/V, home theater, whole house entertainment/convenience and security for a tiny home. Multi-purpose structures and thoughtful use of hydraulics just begin the scratch the surface. An exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York has a full size working model of a mini apartment that shows all sorts of folding and sliding stuff including a television. It almost looks like two different apartments, literally day and night.
The time to start is now in order to stay ahead of the curve and be ready when those first customers tell you they’re thinking of building a tiny home. Tumbleweed Houses has two-day relatively inexpensive workshops scheduled all year from coast to coast. Attend one before your competition does and get a first-hand taste of the movement.
And don’t be surprised if your first query isn’t an uber-money manager type of client who wants one on the back lot of the McMansion property just because his/her significant other found them adorable. No matter the end game or net worth, you’ll be prepared.
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Chuck Schneider is a freelance writer with a long history in consumer electronics. He started and restarted his award-winning manufacturer’s representative firm - Value Added Marketing - and was also a vice president and general merchandise manager for a multi-regional CE chain, as well as a buyer for Lechmere's (a division of Target). Today, he is a freelance writer. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Chuck at email@example.com
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