Humble abodes use space wisely

23:58, Jul 22 2014
Lily Duval
SPACE SAVING: A good use of space, including cupboards hidden under the floor, means Lily Duval's tiny home doesn't look cluttered. Here it is under construction, left, and all finished, right.

Lily Duval does not want the burden of a big house and the sizeable mortgage that inevitably goes with it. But, after years of flatting, the 27-year-old craved her own space. She wanted a home she could call her own, just without the debt.

"I don't earn much; I suppose I could. I have an education, but it doesn't interest me to work 40 hours a week to pay off a mortgage for 30 years."

Her somewhat unconventional solution was to don a tool belt and build her own home, albeit a tiny one on wheels.

Lily Duval
A NATURAL: Lily Duval had only built a bookcase before embarking on her house project.

At just 14 square metres, Lily's house is about 10 times smaller than the average Kiwi home of 149sqm. Seeing people struggle with housing and insurance issues after the earthquakes has made her realise she made the right move.

"I don't want a possession as expensive as that. It just looks stressful. I make decisions based on happiness and I don't think large houses equal happiness."

Stefan Cook, 34, also shares Lily's views on housing and he has embarked on building his own home on wheels. His reasons are solely financial, because, as a student, he is fed up with paying high rents.


Daniel Williams
COMMUNAL LIVING: Daniel Williams rents one room in a 10-bedroom house.

The Canterbury University geology student says at a cost of $15,000, his home will pay for itself in two years.

"I don't want to be bound to the landlord and I don't want to flat with 19-year-olds; I've been there, done that."


Stefan Cook
INNOVATIVE: Stefan Cook has built a home on wheels to avoid paying high rents.

While the solution to Stefan and Lily's housing issues could seem a little extreme, some are seeking other answers, including mixed-tenancy rentals.

Mixed-tenancy rentals, where multiple rooms in one house or apartment are rented out separately, have grown in popularity during the past few years, property manager Gillian Blakely says.

The owner of Executive Property Management says mixed-tenancy rentals used to be popular with unemployed people and international students, but now more professionals are choosing to live this way.

"People like the ease of it. There is less maintenance. People don't have to mow lawns," she says.

Aspects of each mixed-tenancy home can differ, but the rooms are usually fully furnished, with a bed, wardrobe, television, desk, chair or small couch, bar fridge and kitchenette with a toaster, jug and sometimes a microwave. Many have ensuites, but, in some cases, people share bathrooms. The main kitchen, dining areas and laundry are usually communal.

Gillian says the number of people wanting to live this way has increased since the quakes. Previously, her apartments' occupancy rate was about 70 per cent and now it is 100 per cent.

Camille Eder, 29, has lived in a five-bedroom mixed-tenancy home in Riccarton Rd for more than seven years and loves it.

"The property is small, but it's perfect for what I like."

The customer services representative manages to fit a queen-sized bed, two desks, a book case, a duchess, a computer, a clothes horse and "too many clothes" into her six-metre-by-five-metre space.

"The only thing that is lacking is storage space."

Camille's clothes are piled on the floor and the couch, but she proudly states "you can still see the floor".

"I only buy clothes when it's necessary. I need to go through and do a spring clean. Living here for seven and a half years, you start to accumulate things.

My dad jokes with me, saying 'you have been burgled; no, you just need to clean your room'. I have this every time he comes round."

The house has no garden or grass, but Camille says she can go down the road to Hagley Park if she wants to get outside.

And she does not have friends around for dinner, because there is no room. She says she would rather go out somewhere to meet them anyway - that way she doesn't have to cook.

The safety of such living arrangements was questioned by Christchurch police this year after a serious assault at one rental in the city's western suburbs.

Camille says she has always felt safe. However, she did catch a fellow tenant going through her rubbish. His tenancy was not renewed.

The rents where Camille is living range from $190 a week to $250 for a couple in an ensuite room. Tenants pay for their own electricity, internet and food on top of that. Camille says flatting would probably be cheaper, but she relishes her own space.


Daniel Williams, 25, is another person enjoying the ease of his mixed-tenancy home. The carpenter from Birmingham, England, has rented a room in a two-storey villa with 10 bedrooms, three bathrooms and two kitchens for a year.

"This sort of property was ideal for me. I've met some good friends here - friends for life. It's a real good place to meet people."

He was not so keen on having to put up with noisy neighbours who slam doors, but he says that doesn't happen too often.

"Everyone gets their own space and does their own thing."

Neighbours slamming doors is something Lily and Stefan will never have to contend with in their tiny homes.


Lily first thought of building after seeing a documentary on the tiny house movement while travelling in the United States.

"I thought it was really cool. I thought I would do that at some stage."

The movement started in the US after people lost their homes during the global financial crisis and it is beginning to gain momentum in New Zealand. Two 28sqm cabins even won the 2014 Home of the Year competition organised by Home New Zealand magazine.

Lily was left some money when her father died and, instead of frittering it away, she decided to put it towards building her home. She was not going to let her lack of construction knowledge stop her from achieving her goal. Before embarking on the project, she had only ever built a bookcase.

An architect friend drew up some detailed plans, which she followed.

"I guess it's like complicated Lego."

The four-month build was not without its ups and downs. Lily was marched to the doctors at one point after suffering concussion when she dropped a piece of framing on her head.

"I was just trying to lift the triangle frames and there wasn't really anyone around. People were coming to help me, but I'm quite impatient, so I thought I'd just give it a go. I can be a little bit gung ho at times. It was a bit scary, but that is the only serious injury so far."

When Avenues caught up with Lily, she had been living in her house for a month and was loving it.

"It's just so peaceful. I've been flatting for ages, so it's really nice to have a space that is mine."

Her home is gorgeous. With polished wooden floors and white walls, this tiny home seems rather spacious, and not cluttered, despite having bookshelves lining the walls, a two-person couch, a table, a dinky modern pot-belly stove, a small fridge, a gas cooktop and an oven.

Cupboards are hidden under the floor, where she stores shoes, tools and food.

"I like what I like. I know it's quite quaint. Sometimes I think that I'm not really 27; I might be 60 or something."

Lily's bathroom is hidden behind a recycled wooden door, where there is a composting toilet and a shower over an old tin wash tub.

She says the tub was advertised on Trade Me as something to wash your dog in, but she says it is big enough for her to bathe in.

"I love baths and the thought of not having a bath upset me. That was $20."

Her bed is upstairs on a mezzanine floor, which she accesses via a wooden ladder.

"It's lovely up there. I sleep walk a little bit, so I was worried about that, but I've been sleeping a lot better since I've had my own space."

At $30,000, Lily says her house is at the more expensive end of tiny homes - "$30,000 and it's a home, as opposed to $300,000, which I could never afford on my income".

The $8000 trailer upon which the home sits at a housing co-op in the central city was the most expensive part of the home.

"I don't know where all the money went sometimes."

Lily also hopes to install a solar-panel system soon. She describes herself as a bit of a collector and used to go secondhand shopping for fun, but she has had to curtail that hobby.

"I'm just not sure how to stop buying books."

She gave away a lot of possessions before moving in and did find some items hard to part with, including her grandmother's chest of drawers, but she gave it to her sister, so it is still in the family.

Lily says she can see herself living in her tiny house forever.

"I don't see myself having children; even then, I think we have really ridiculous standards in the west."


Stefan also finds it difficult to imagine living in Christchurch without his tiny home. He does not think he will ever be able to sell it.

"There is so much blood, sweat and tears that has gone into it."

He could always convert it into a games room or a sleepout to provide extra beds for visitors, he says.

The house is 8m long, 2.5m wide and 4.2m high. Once finished, it will weigh under 3500 tonnes, which means it can be towed without need for a special licence.

But don't call it a caravan. That C-word is banned in Stefan's bachelor's pad.

"It's more set up for permanent living. It's a building that is moved sometimes."

He is building the house at a friend's father's property and once it is finished, he plans to find somewhere within a 5km radius of the university to park it.

Everything Stefan puts into the house is weighed and he keeps track of every item using an Excel spreadsheet.

Stefan started building his home in November last year and hopes to have it finished this month.

After failing to find a trailer the right size, he enlisted the help of a friend who builds trailers in Otira and the pair ended up building the entire frame out of metal.

Most materials have been sourced secondhand and many products have come from demolished red-zone homes, including the kitchen bench and shower unit.

The place is insulated using polystyrene originally used as packaging in shipping containers and destined for the dump.

In a bid to keep the costs down, Stefan tries to incorporate materials that have more than one use.

"This polystyrene, not only does it insulate, but it's a deck and then it could be a raft as well with a bit of duct tape and Glad Wrap."

An industrial trolley Stefan uses to store tools will be turned into a coffee table.

He also plans to have a study desk and a laundry chute coming down from his bedroom on the mezzanine floor.

 "I've always wanted a laundry shoot."

There is a full-sized shower and he will have a portable toilet.

He has a 14-litre hot-water cylinder, which heats water up to 70˚C, so while 14 litres is not a lot, when mixed with cold water it will be enough for a shower.

"You can't have a half-hour shower."

There are even two bi-fold windows and one is two metres wide, which opens up the house to the outside world, making it seem much bigger than it actually is.

Like Lily, Stefan had almost no building experience before embarking on this project.

"People keep saying 'why did you build it' and I say 'why shouldn't I build it?' You just take each bit as it comes."

While a growing number of people are choosing to live in small spaces, the majority still prefer conventional homes, so only time will tell if the idea catches on.