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tiny homes books

Tiny Homes on the Move - Wheels & Water by Lloyd Kahn

ReviewsShawn A. Dehner

Tiny Homes on the Move, written by Lloyd Kahn, celebrates houses that, well, move around! With over 200 pages of color photographs and text detailing a variety of portable houses - from tiny ones that are towed to ones that roll on their own or even float - one finds an eclectic mix of converted buses and pick-up trucks, pop-up trailers, hand-made RV's, sailboats, tiny houses on wheels, vans, motorcycles, bicycles, gypsy wagons, and more. It's definitely a fun book to browse.

In addition to tons of photos, there are plenty of entertaining stories to tell. Lloyd often finds people (and their "homes") in unexpected, out of the way places. For example, while swimming off the Costa Rican coast, he stumbles onto an Argentinian couple living in a converted VW van, traveling Latin America and selling hand made jewelry to fund the adventure.

Worthy of note too are wholly unexpected structures like the Chinese Tricycle House, a polypropylene "house" that unfolds like an accordion and uses a modified bicycle as its foundation. The entire structure is "human powered and off the grid." Or how about a horse-drawn house like the Whinny-Bray-Go  (you'll have to get your hands on the book for an explanation of that one!). And, if you're a gardener, Eliot Coleman's Veggie Wagon will make you smile.

Tiny Homes on the Move is an amusing book that's part documentary, part-journal. If you know and enjoy reading Lloyd Kahn's works then I bet you'll you'll like this book too. If you're less familiar with the author and expecting to find a collection of portable full-time houses or tiny houses, then this may not be the book for you. While I enjoyed browsing the great photos and reading some free-spirited stories, I found few "homes" in the traditional sense of the word, and by that I mean houses, structures where people actually live. Most of the book is comprised of temporary structures designed more for short-term travel and weekend getaways. There's much more attention given to the portable nature of the featured structures than to, say, their livability or enduring quality or craftsmanship.

There are some liveable structures - i.e. homes - in this book. And there are some cool hand-made, well-crafted ones to boot. There's also plenty of cobbled trailers and just downright badly built structures too. For example, featuring a 5' x 8' trailer built from recycled plywood and calling it a "home" is a bit silly. It's perhaps a bit disingenuous since no one even lives in the ones featured in the book. Besides, building something of value from recycled materials is one thing; throwing together a heap of old materials and junk for the sake of doing it isn't really "green" building so much as it is an entertainment (I suppose) or something of an odd sales-pitch (which it is was for the featured builder in this book). 

So, here it is in sum, if you're looking to add to your library a fresh book detailing progressive houses or if you're hoping to see pages of how-to information then I recommend checking out some of SHELTER PUBLICATIONS other books, such as Shelter II, a DIY classic, or the absolutely stunning Builders of the Pacific Coast, one of the first au naturale architecture books I stumbled upon many years ago, and possibly passing up on this one.

If on the other hand you love nutty, whimsical and adventurous boats, vans and trailers, liveable or not, and the people who own them, I think you'll find this a very cool book.


Tiny Homes Simple Shelter Book Review

ReviewsShawn A. Dehner

Tiny Homes Simple Shelter is a newly released (2012) offering from Shelter Publications. It builds on earlier publications from Shelter and deals specifically with small and tiny homes. The homes within the pages of this book will most likely delight you. I noticed that on, the book is in the top 500 sellers in their books department, and it’s easy to see why. Here are some of my impressions from reading the book.

For starters, the size is excellent for the material contained within. It’s a large, coffee table book with soft covers and a size that is just right for perusing with friends or a partner or for spreading out on the couch to enjoy with a cup of tea. Inside there are so many pictures (all color) that it’s a real feast for the senses. Each photo essay – that’s really how they come across – introduces you to  real, living people, frequently just regular people who have, for one reason or another, struck out and built for themselves a tiny or small dwelling space to call their own. The homes vary in size from tiny houses built on trailer beds, trucks, or caravan wagons, to tree houses; from natural cob buildings and veritable hobbit holes to architecturally sleek and ultra modern spaces – and back again – to homes framed entirely from hand collected beach wood, recycled materials and modified-traditional stick framing. In location, you’ll find these homes in British Columbia, Austin, TX, San Francisco, the Arizona desert, in places like Mali and Costa Rica, on islands, even on the road and in the water! The stories vary from person to person, just as you’d hope and expect, and they’re all intriguing. The stories are generally told by the builders themselves and are often set into the photo essays as letters written to Lloyd Kahn and Shelter Publications about various projects.

What other things can I say about this book? In terms of inspiration, it’s worth the price. It’s a beautiful looking book and is positively hefty in terms of idea generation, enjoyment and interest. You’ll learn a lot reading it or just studying the photos, and you’ll certainly see things you hadn’t even thought of before! The layout has an interesting, organic feel thanks to a good balance of text and photos, photos being dominant and text being varied in terms of individual writers and scenarios being described. I can’t say how many times I simply felt happy while reading these intriguing stories of people who’ve done what a lot of us imagine doing (and sometimes are doing ourselves)…taking a dream and hammering or otherwise molding that dream into a physical form and then enjoying the fruits of that labor. Many of the stories have similar threads, whether written by a woman in her early 20’s or a man in his 60’s, or even a whole group of people. From the unique homes that ooze personal expression as well as pride of craftsmanship, there’s a strong do-it-yourself energy that emanates from the pages. Authors repeatedly mention the freedom that results from plunging into self-building and from coming up with creative methods to allow more time for personal interests while simultaneously fulfilling two of the basic necessities of humanity: shelter and creative expression. Really, the two go hand in hand and nowhere is that better expressed than in the photos of real projects by real people.

Another reason I can heartily recommend this title is that it would appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. The contents are not strictly high-end architectural works or storybook tree houses; they’re not all tiny spaces that many might have a hard time imagining themselves raising a family in for instance. The homes contained in the pages of this book are tremendously unique. You won’t find any cookie cutter homes in any sense of the word. There’s a fine introduction to dozens of ways of doing the same things: learning to build, building, and loving the end results. If you are like me, you will quickly wonder what new things have happened to these builders. I found that to be my only real issue with the book; the stories seem to request a supplemental publication revisiting these homes and the people who built them. Some of the essays do in fact do that although I found myself sometimes wishing to know more about the people doing the building. I can certainly say that it was pleasant to feel that there is – and really always has been – a community of people from all walks of life, from all over the planet, answering the fundamental questions of What is a good shelter and What is a home in their own, “defiantly homemade” way. That this book has been compiled is a real treat for those of us who sometimes feel out of place or vastly outnumbered in our opinions regarding what we seek in our housing requirements. Sometimes it’s just a nice thing to read about creative, ingenious people that are just like anyone else out there. Maybe they’re a little further along the path than we might be in our own personal building projects, but there’s much to be said for trailblazers.

This is a book I highly recommend. It will appeal to builders, building enthusiasts, small home and tiny home champions, fans of alternative building and ecological building & living, people considering downsizing or wanting to build a smaller space for whatever reason, as well as homegrown DIY’s that love an engaging read that makes us feel like we’re all are part of the solution. All ages will enjoy this one too. I can confidently recommend this book to all sorts of people as well because no one “style” is represented; from earthy to modern, it’s all in the book. It seems as though every taste is expressed and no judgments are made. There are all sorts of building methods represented; timber frame, stick built, cob, and straw bale all make the pages. From an anthropological perspective, what a great peek inside the minds of so many interesting people this book is. You get a little introduction to lots of cool people who are just going out and simply doing it, and doing well as a result. I found this book a wonderful antidote to the evening news. What a nice way to spend a night…leafing through a compendium of smiling faces and great stories.

I’d like to close this review by saying one other thing. Aside from the great stories and structures, the thing that most strikes me about this book is the particular quality of the smiles on the faces of the builders represented. There’s a giddy sort of excitement in the smiles that I recognize from personal experience. It’s kind of a cross between happy pride, settled hilarity, contentment and exhilaration. I love the smiles in this book. Give this book as a gift – to yourself or others.

Technical details:
Title: Tiny Homes Simple Shelter: Scaling Back in the 21st Century
Author: Lloyd Kahn
Publisher/Year of Publication: Shelter Publications, 2012
ISBN: 978-0936070-52-0
224 pages, 9” x 12”
List Price: $24.95 list price

You can purchase this fantastic book online from Shelter Publications or