Tiny Homes – Big Life

Some time ago a Realtor suggested to me that the formula for calculating the cost of building a home should be a large multiple of the cost of the lot.  At the time it struck me as a bit odd.  The more I have considered it, the more out of step that thinking seems.  It reminded me of advice I received as a young man.   I was contemplating marriage and buying an engagement ring.  The jeweler informed me that I should budget a certain percent of my annual salary for that ring.  There was no consideration for any of my personal values, economic circumstances, nor of my future bride, only custom and fashion.  A thinking person holds neither fashion nor custom in very high regard.  It seemed that someone concocted these  formulas more for the benefit of the salesman than for the happiness and well-being of the buyer.

For a person who values nature, if there is to be such a formula, shouldn’t the numerator and denominator be flipped?  Shouldn’t the land value be a multiple of the house?  Which is the more durable, the more valuable over time?  What does REAL in Real Estate refer to?  Great architects will invariably assert that good architecture is molded to the character of the land, not the other way round.  The most famous example of the principle is “Falling Water” designed by our most lauded architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.  But I hold that the true spirit of the principle was best illustrated by my favorite philosopher, Henry David Thoreau.  He found his greatest joy living in about a 150 square foot house of his own construction beside a lovely pond in the woods.

Today, it has become quite fashionable to downsize to small, even tiny houses.  How good it would be if behavior were driven by wisdom not fashion, but what a happy coincidence we find ourselves in!  The unforeseen benefits of a small home are substantial.  When the land one lives on is of greater value than the house, the true proportional value emerges between things made by man and those made by God.

This conflict of interest has reached absurd proportions as American suburbs filled with McMansions that people can neither afford nor use.  Huge spaces that only require the owner to fill them with furniture that they can also not afford.  Possessions own us.  Thankfully, current economic hardships have brought a degree of common sense back to at least some.

In the Village, it’s really ok to own a small house rather than be owned by a huge, wasteful one.  There is no minimum house size here. We are blessed with a mild climate and stunningly beautiful land filled with plants and animals in their natural state.  A small home invites one to be outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer.  The Village lifestyle is the antidote for the cocooning generation, holed up with TV’s, video games in cavernous mansions, full of things and yet empty of life.

How full one’s life becomes when the great out-of-doors becomes the boundaries of our habitation, not the walls of our house.

For some ideas on living small, check this out:   http://www.tinyhousedesign.com/

The “New Ruralism”

Whenever I have thought I had an original idea, there are always a bunch of folks out there thinking the same thing.  I used to be discouraged when this happened.  But I have come to understand that it’s just a confirmation that I’m on the right track.  It just means that it’s the right time for certain things to coalesce in a certain way, so they do, and I’m in tune at the same time other thinking people are.

I just discovered there’s a word for what we’re doing at the Village.  It’s called “the New Ruralism”.  The word was apparently coined at about the same time I began developing the Village on Sewanee Creek.

There is another major trend called “New Urbanism”, that I discovered had a lot in common with what we are doing.  It’s all about old fashioned small town neighborhoods with fairly high population density so that everyone can walk everywhere, surrounded by green space.  It’s a major trend.

Read more of my BLOG and you’ll see that we are all about developing a close knit community connected by foot trails, planned activities and amenities that bring people together surrounded by nature.  But there’s a big difference.  We’re not about high density.  While the old-time neighborhood community is important to people who come here, they want some elbow room.  They want to connect directly with the land.  That’s why our lots are bigger, ranging on the small side from an acre and a half to 8+ acres in the current phase.  It’s also why we will have a community garden with an organic coach to help people develop skills and connect with the land while they connect with their neighbors.   But each lot will be large enough so that villagers can take their new skills back to their own place and apply them privately on a larger scale.  There’s a time for community and there’s space for seclusion.  Most of us need a good mix of both.

Here’s how one white paper defines this phenomenon.
“New Urbanism promotes community through planning that mandates the interaction of neighbors designed to recapture the sense of community that was once the defining characteristic of American small town life. The small home sites and close proximity of homes stimulate a sense of community.”
“In a New Ruralism setting, participation in community activities is more by choice with privacy options carefully preserved. Larger home sites, often separated by nature preserves or agricultural land, provide a buffer between neighbors. Here the front porch is a place to scan the vastness of your domain.” It “provides an opportunity for community of like-minded neighbors, but only as desired.”

… And I thought I was being so original when I required large covered porches in our covenants!

Interested in learning more about the New Ruralism?  Just Google it.  There’s a lot written about it even though there aren’t many places actually doing it yet.  It’s nice to confirm that we’re on the right track and that there is a handy label for what we’re doing.