Who Can Have a Tiny House?

My sister practising her wheelchair handling skills with my fiancee.

As a life-long chronic overachiever, when I broke my leg I made sure I did a really good job and broke it in seven places. You may think this is silly, but who now has a distinction in Schatzker fractures. Me.

Between haphazardly balancing on a bed pan and lolling in and out of opium induced comas, I wondered about what would happen to some of the people I know who live in tiny houses if a similar accident befell them. I am in a full length cast now, and am not allowed to stand up or walk for a total of nine weeks.

As a disagreeably autonomous person, the full extent of my independence has been reduced to pointing at things around the room that I need and asking somebody to pass them to me. We are lucky because our living room is big enough to stuff a single bed into, and because I live with both my fiancée and my sister who are duty bound by familial ties to tend to my increasingly unreasonable needs (frustration is making me irksome), but plenty of my participants live alone, or in a cabin in the woods, or in a tiny house on top of a massive hill in a muddy field – what would they do?

A cabin in the woods – not wheelchair friendly

Many tiny house designs boast of the ingenuity of their space saving and daylight enhancing multi-purpose agile interiors. But if they are not big enough to turn a wheelchair around inside, that becomes a problem when you break your leg and have to use one. I’m not sure how many people think of these kinds of situations when they are planning their homes, but I would guess not many.

And then of course there are those who are always in a wheelchair, or people who can’t climb stairs, or any number of other things that make they way they interact with space different from able-bodied people. I haven’t seen many (any?) tiny house documentaries or Instagram feeds featuring designers or end-users that are alternately-abled.

It would be great to understand this better, because being able to design and build a bespoke home that caters exactly to your needs is a huge motivator that comes up again and again in my research – so why does the movement seem to be constituted of able-bodied people? It is also very white and middle class, despite its claims to radical and liberationary ideals of freeing the working classes from the drudgery of entrapment by bloated rental prices and stagnating wages.

What is keeping people out of the tiny house movement? Myself and the gang over at OpHouse will be running a workshop next month focusing on the criticisms of both the movement more broadly and the physical homes themselves. This session will help us to think with and think through the problems that undoubtedly exist around the movement, with a view to helping us understand how to ameliorate and design to reduce or eradicate the concerns expressed. You will be able to find tickets towards the end of next month under the events tab of the website.

Our next workshop is on the 30th of June and is looking at people centred design; how we do it, why it’s a good idea, and what the outcomes might be. Accessibility should play a significant role in these conversations, so if you have any input please get a ticket here and join us.