A Short History Of Tiny Homes

The tiny home has become a big part of the sustainable living movement and it can often seem that these homes are a modern invention.

In fact, the tiny home is much older than that!

When you choose to live in one, you’re joining an esteemed group of people with a more than 350,000 year history!

Check out our short history of tiny homes and see for yourself. 


The Pre-History and Ancient History Of Tiny Homes

The oldest known tiny home is the one at the Terra Amata site in Nice, France which is over 380,000 years old, it was made from wood and the toilets were outside!

History Of Tiny Homes

Then, about 12,000 years ago, in the Neolithic Age, people started to make tiny homes of wattle-and-daub and yes, by then, in-home toilets were starting to become a thing. 

5,000 years ago, in Mongolia, you could have found tiny mobile homes (yurts) that could be moved around when the tribes migrated, sadly, there were no toilets as toilets wouldn’t have been very portable. 

The native American tipi would have emerged around 2,500 years ago and like the yurt, these self-contained homes were small and could be collapsed and moved easily. 

During the times of the Roman empire, most people lived in tiny apartments known as insulae (they weren’t nice to live in and were usually badly made though they did have toilets and kitchens). 


The Middle Ages And Tiny Homes

The lot of the poor didn’t improve much in the intervening years and by the Middle Ages the vast majority would live in tiny houses, with cooking and sleeping spaces but toilets had, once again, moved outside.

Terraced housing was also common with many homes sharing one or more walls with neighboring homes to keep construction costs down. 


Tiny Homes In The 1800s

shotgun house

Perhaps, the most interesting homes of the 1800s were the tiny mobile homes of the European Gypsy communities (we like to think of them as the precursor to these tiny house communities) which were mounted on wagons and transported on horseback to where they were needed. 

In the United States, the “shotgun house” was catching on as they were quite affordable, but tiny, with a width of less than 10 feet (sometimes as little as 6 feet!) and a length of up to 30-40 feet. 

Henry David Thoreau, of “Walden” fame, lived in a cabin of just 150 square feet in Walden Pond!

If you visit today, the house that still stands on the spot Thoreau lived in, is a replica. 


The 1900s And The Tiny House

The 20th century began with the tragedy of a major quake in San Francisco and the army was drafted in to build 5,610 “earthquake shacks” to house those who’d lost their homes. 

Over the pond in the UK, it was a much bigger tragedy, World War 2, that led to the development of tiny prefabricated homes that could be shipped easily to any destination and replace those lost in the war. 

The Venturo House

In the 1970s, Matti Suuronen from Finland, developed “The Venturo House” which was a modular building which is, perhaps, the first modern commercially available tiny house.

Then, in 1987, Lester Walker published his seminal “Tiny Houses: Or How To Get Away From It All” which was packed with minimalist plans for tiny homes, it wasn’t a major hit though, Lester was, perhaps, too far ahead of his time. 

But in 1999, a University of Iowa professor, Jay Sahfer, perhaps inspired by Lester Walker, saw the future and founded the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company which still makes tiny homes today. 


The 2000s, The Tiny House, Today

From there, the tiny house movement has snowballed into something, ahem, big. 

The Small House Society was formed in 2002, to drive research and development of smaller homes. 

NPR featured Greg Johnson living in a tiny home and explaining that he didn’t have to pay rent, mortgages or even property taxes in 2006! 

This started the trend of tiny houses going mainstream. 

In 2009, the subprime mortgage crisis saw millions lose their homes and caused millions more to look for more sustainable homes and tiny homes saw wide coverage in mainstream media that year. 

The Caravan Tiny House Hotel

The first tiny house hotel, The Caravan Tiny House Hotel, was founded in 2013 in Portland, Oregon which meant people could now try living in a tiny home before committing to one.

Then 2014, saw FYI Channel and HGTV launch shows about tiny homes, while the town of Spur in Texas launched a bold plan to develop hundreds of tiny homes. 

In 2015, the American Tiny House Association was launched to help protect tiny home owners and this was followed by an International Residential Code including tiny homes in 2016.

And things have kept rolling ever since, culminating in our own recent publication of our Guide to Tiny Homes

The future for tiny homes appears to be as exciting as its past. 


Final Thoughts On A Short History Of Tiny Homes 

Tiny homes are awesome and nearly 400,000 years of history confirms that they are a viable and natural way to live. 

If you’re thinking about investing in a tiny house, you might appreciate these tiny house plans or even these blogs dedicated to tiny houses.

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