Anna Reddy, a retired teacher from Bengaluru, lives free in the fall of her life. She downsized and moved into a 320 square foot little house that was recycled from an old shipping container. Having experienced the loneliness of a lockdown and waking up to the need for smart budgeting as a retiree, she chose to be resource-conscious without feeling the pinch. So she rented a piece of land on a friend’s farm away from the city, parked her prefab house on an outcrop overlooking a lake, decorated the interiors and wrapped herself in a huge sunny terrace. In addition to sleeping, cooking and doing chores, she spends time outdoors from sunrise to sunset, tending to her organic garden, dabbling in landscaping with rocks and foliage, writes a blog on the patio, lounging with her dog, dining with friends under the stars and watching the changing color of the seasons. “Can we make room for something more meaningful in our lives than cluttering it with things we don’t need and spaces that are unmanageable? asks the 58-year-old.
Not far away are Rohit and Maya Chinnaswamy, two software professionals in their late twenties who have their own little house on land purchased years ago by their parents. Newly married and with COVID-19 giving legitimacy to a work-from-home culture, they’ve created their oasis without the burden of NDEs, living wealthy rather than squeezing into an apartment in the city. “Minimalism it’s not about giving up, it’s about choosing what you need. We don’t have a big TV wall, but we do have a bigger pull-down projection screen,” says Rohit.
The micro-house movement, which advocates “living with less philosophy”, is no longer an alternative way of life. As cities swell and shrink green space, tiny homes are seen as a sustainable, energy-efficient and low-carbon reality rather than an option. In India, where houses are repositories of memories, collectibles and heirlooms and the acquisitive measure of success, we seem to be scaling our mindset where bigger is not better and less is more.
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Reddy says she had to cut her business by a third. It wasn’t difficult. “I hadn’t used them for years. But I kept my books. My “smart” kitchen is bigger and more functional. Maintenance costs and bills are now less than half, I’m debt free and I can spruce up my house in 15 minutes. My lodge is small, but I live big,” says Reddy, who is working on a wildflower project with locals. And if she chooses to move elsewhere, to the hills or to the coast, she can disassemble and reassemble her modular home.
So what is a tiny house? According to the 2018 definition of the International Code Council in the United States, it is a dwelling unit with a maximum area of 37 m² (400 ft²) of floor space, excluding lofts bedroom and mezzanine facilities. But they extend outside with extended porches, leading from inside to outside. It is debt-free (price range varies from Rs 6 lakh to Rs 25 lakh depending on embellishments) and low maintenance living. One day it will run off-grid, using solar power and harvested rainwater.
As space optimization is a challenge for urban planners, tiny houses are seen as a way to sustain our existence on this planet. And now that industrialists like Anand Mahindra are backing Chennai-based Arun Prabhu NG, who built a portable home on a rickshaw, and big furniture IKEA has been running a pan-India ‘Tiny House Project’ since 2019, the trend has spread. Endorsement by Tesla chief Elon Musk, who described his rented one-room apartment in Boca Chica, Texas, as “more intimate,” and with Netflix and YouTube spreading the movement, ostentatious consumerism is no more. an aspiration but a societal vice. In a time when resources are scarce, greatness is about letting go and creating a healthy space for the next generation. Alternative living is an experiment, but when you consider that between 2014 and 2018 the average apartment size in seven major Indian cities fell by 17%, according to a study by ANAROCK Property Consultants, the small house movement is carving out a niche in our real estate market. USA-based Jay Shafer, who started his company, Tumbleweed Tiny House, in 1999, is now considered an icon by millennial tiny house builders in India.
“Owning a big house is a socio-cultural statement and a small house has until now been seen as a second home. Most of our prefab homes were used in resorts and country properties, with owners renting them out to Airbnb customers. After the pandemic, more and more people want to live there permanently. With technological features and sumptuous comfort, we have built more than 200 homes in two years. We even spotted one in Hyderabad’s posh Banjara Hills. And while southern India has been waking up to the concept for some time, we are now getting orders from the north as well,” says Payal Jindal, co-director of Loomcrafts, which builds modular steel homes with patented technology and stylish interiors.
Once the customer has chosen the layout and design, a unit is completed, from chassis to electrical wiring and interior fittings, at the factory within 90 days. “Steel limits the use of other materials, is structurally sound and requires low cost insulation in the form of fiberglass blankets, which are fire and sound resistant. And while we manufacture trailers for international clients, we place them here on a concrete base. We then hook up the water and electricity lines that are available in the farmland or leased community land,” adds Jindal. Loomcrafts offers an all-weather warranty for 50 years.
The Habitainer, based in Bengaluru, manufactures luxury container homes with fold-down sofa beds, bar tables, extendable kitchen counters and custom refrigerators. Inspired by the high demand, its director Gaurav Chouraria is now exploring the possibilities of creating the first tiny house community in India where investors can rent their own small green space and set up their homes there. “We completed 70 projects in 62 locations across the country during the pandemic years. Of these, only two are offices, the others are homes. Many have embraced the idea of living in containers permanently after their stays at Air bnbs during the pandemic,” he says. The company buys containers at port auctions, using 20ft x 8ft for regular homes and 40ft x 8ft for premium homes. “There is a 27-point checklist. For example, we will not use containers that have transported radioactive materials or chemicals. We then take it apart and insulate it with aircraft grade rock wool. High ceilings control room temperature and doors, skylights and windows provide cross ventilation. People confuse tiny living with cramped or forced compromise minimalism. But the basic idea is to stay indoors as little as possible and pursue activities outdoors,” he says.
While it might seem more appropriate for singles, empty parents, and young people, Chouraria dispels those misconceptions. “The fluidity of adding or joining more containers on your land means families can actually stay close to each other while maintaining privacy. And since these homes are portable, you can take them with you as you move or sell them online if your priorities change. You can reuse, recycle and renew,” he says.
Chouraria is now partnering with campground operators to bolster its revenue stream in the travel industry. Like Tejaswi Rajanah, who owns a five-acre guava plantation an hour and a half drive from Bangalore. He parked a 160 square foot single container with a 200 square foot porch called The Little Ranch. “I rented it during the pandemic at Rs 1,000 per day with discounted offers for stays. Overlooking a valley, it has good mobile network connectivity where you can comfortably ‘work in nature’,” he says. The Little Ranch was built using a used shipping container, which is usually discarded.
Harshit Puram and Parikshit Linga, two 23-year-olds from Hyderabad, work with wood while building holiday homes in Gandipet, on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Launched in April this year, Okno Modhomes builds Swiss chalet-style homes with high atrium ceilings in 90 days. They import timber guilt-free, from New Zealand, Finland and Norway, which means that for every tree cut, four more have already been planted. “In addition, the cellulose and water are extracted in such a way that no termites or moisture can enter. Cement attracts and radiates heat, wood does the opposite,” says Puram. Waterproof, synced to cloud-based voice service Alexa, and outfitted with IKEA, these span between 300 and 500 square feet. It is the only project to be recognized by the Indian Green Building Council.
Caesar Fernandes, CEO of Wooden Homes India, lives in an 800 square foot manufactured home himself. He too imports boards of certified red pine and spruce, arguing that the Scandinavian cutting technique reduces waste. “Our wood panels fit together. And apart from treating the wood every two years, there’s really no maintenance,” he says.
With tiny houses dotting the fringes of our big cities and in the absence of Western-style building codes, what are the legalities involved in building a house? Fernandes says, “Given their portability, small houses are considered temporary structures and do not fall under civil building laws. Usually, people rent farmland or take advantage of farms owned by friends or relatives, but renting land, especially in Tier II and III cities, where there are controlled green areas (non-residential area) with 10% allowed for housing, is a possibility. . But we need a review of building regulations to dedicate new areas for 160 to 300 square feet. Nevertheless, a start has been made. Simplicity, according to Renaissance Man Leonardo Da Vinci, “is the ultimate sophistication”.