If you’re a regular reader of Inhabitat, you know that we have a soft spot for small houses. It may be because they are often cleverly designed, or because they are low-impact, or maybe because so many of us on the team live in a small house. The new book Nano House: Innovations for Small Dwellings by Phyllis Richardson (due out this fall) is packed with small homes that push not only the boundaries of size, but of design. While there are a lot of mini houses out there, Richardson’s focus is to highlight projects that stimulate conversations about “design, efficiency, sustainability, proportion, harmony, function and necessity.” A bold agenda, and something we take to heart, read on to see if this book lives up to its credo.
The Nano House follows up on Richardson’s XS book series about small home design – the author clearly feels comfortable with the exploration of the very small. The volume slips into 42 unique homes, and categorizes them roughly into five sections – which she readily admits could be a little arbitrary at times. The largest tops out at 807 square feet, but many fine examples are less than 300 square feet. Richardson details each home with a flowing narrative and a handful of pictures cataloging each project. Her attention to detail is critical in keeping the writing interesting, moving it from mere descriptions to pieces that highlight how such small spaces use a variety of approaches to create something livable.
You may recognize many of the homes from reading Inhabitat, but putting them in context with other micro homes helps illuminate their strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps the best chapter is “Small and Mobile”, which highlights a kaleidoscope of unusual designs that literally re-imagine the idea of a house being placed in just one spot. Whether it rolls, unpacks or pops up, the chapter holds some of the best surprises.
Many homes are set in an idyllic landscape and clearly have been built as retreats, rather than full-time residences – and in fact, Richardson alludes to the vacation home as not being the most sustainable building solution. Alas, the book has only a few primary urban homes, a critical missing link for the wide-spread adoption of low-impact housing.
The text also falls into the trap that we are just as guilty of: praising design elements that may be detrimental to the efficiency or livability of a house. For example, the 275 square foot Sunset Cabin in Ottawa will be a nightmare to heat with 3/4 if its wall being glass, and its green roof may retain storm water, but being sited next to a lake, the effect is insignificant.
Where the book excels is pointing out design nuances that are become very pronounced when the house shrinks. Egress, light, form and materials are carefully explained and put into context of the greater appeal, and they show us how small home design is very much about the particulars.