Today’s article on cohousing communities was contributed by Alyse Nelson of Sightline Institute. We hope you enjoy the article and the two galleries that follow!
Cohousing: Living large in small houses
The small house movement has grown dramatically as the housing crisis and economic recession has hit the United States. There are many reasons small home dwellers have selected less square footage: some hope to save money on housing; others are trying to “live green” in a smaller space; some are trading living space for a neighborhood they love; and others want to live closer to family or friends.
Jay Shafer, a co-owner of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, told the BBC: “People are thinking more about what really is a luxury now. Is it a 30-year mortgage, or is it just living simply and having the time to do more of what you want? And I think a lot of people are starting to really change their idea of the American Dream.”
But the question remains: Does living in less space mean giving up on a larger life? A small home can save you cash but if you don’t have room for your hobbies – playing a musical instrument, baking cookies for your child’s classmates, creating furniture with your tools – the monetary savings might not seem worth it. This may mean small houses appeal to only a minority of the population.
There is a solution that allows many individuals and families to choose small houses while living a larger life – the “cohousing” model, where smaller individual homes are coupled with shared community spaces. These spaces might include a shared kitchen, laundry facilities, tool shop, studio space, gardens, and bicycle and kayak storage. Lina Menard, a small-house dweller and blogger, writes: “People who lived in a tiny house community would have access to all these things, but they wouldn’t have to own all these things themselves.”
Cohousing is a unique type of housing style – it’s a community where “residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods,” according to The Cohousing Association of the United States. Like condominium or apartment communities, residents share access to common facilities. But the sharing doesn’t end there – cohousing communities typically feature a common house with shared kitchen and dining areas. The residents also take a more active role in shaping their community, typically including dinners together a few nights a week, work parties to maintain their property, and resident meetings to make group decisions.
Small home communities are starting to become a reality in Portland, Oregon. Eli Spevak, owner of Orange Splot LLC, has developed several innovative housing projects in Portland. “My goal is to keep modeling new ways of providing affordable, community-oriented houses,” Spevak told The Oregonian. Taking advantage of Portland’s accessory dwelling unit regulations, several interesting developments have combined elements of small-home living with community – creating intentional, small-home developments.
Ruth’s Garden Cottages sits in a neighborhood in Northeast Portland. The project blends into the existing single-family neighborhood. Spevak took an existing 50-foot by 100-foot lot and added two small accessory structures to the side of an existing 800 ft2 (74.3 m2) home. The home has an attic bedroom and a full kitchen on the main floor that is shared among the site’s residents. There is also a courtyard, covered bicycle parking, and a 50-foot front yard garden.
The cottages may be less than 200 ft2 (18.6 m2), but they provide the necessities for residents – including a shower, micro-kitchen, sleeping loft, and a well-proportioned front porch.
Small living in a community means that the site’s residents get to share some special amenities. At the Ruth’s Garden Cottages, that includes covered bicycle storage, a rainwater harvesting system, a courtyard, and an outdoor fireplace.
Photographs by Steve Hambuchen, Mike O’Brien and Eli Spevak, courtesy of Orange Splot LLC.
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#TinyHouseLover is a channel sharing homes under 500 sq ft. In the past few years, #tiny homes have surged in popularity. They're economical, environmentally friendly, and encourage people to live minimally.