Tiny houses are generally under 300 square feet—not a type of dwelling that production builders will be offering any time soon—but the growing tiny home movement is putting the spotlight on a new way of thinking about home building. The idea has some takeaways for the country's mainstream builders as the number of Americans aiming to reduce their carbon footprint and live affordably grows, says Ryan Mitchell, a Charlotte, N.C.–based tiny house builder and blogger.

"Often when you talk about normal houses, it's all about the space, the layout, the appointments, and the materials," he says. "With tiny houses, while we talk about those things, too, we also deeply connect with living a debt-free life, about spending time with loved ones, about a space that suits the needs of the inhabitants but also the environment."


Project Escape Traveler
Location Almena, Wis.
Designer/Builder Escape Homes, Almena, Wis.
Size 269 square feet
Price Starting at $58,800

A line of Prairie-style cottages that debuted this summer offers this type of downsized lifestyle in a refined package designed by architect Kelly Davis of Minneapolis-based SALA Architects. With full-size appliances, a 60-inch-long bathtub, and a washer and dryer, the 269-square-foot Escape Traveler differs from most typical tiny houses that feature downsized spaces with bare bones amenities. Other luxuries not typically found in a house this size include a living area with fireplace, a big screen TV, and a large kitchen table. Energy-efficient products such as LED lighting, low-E windows, and closed-cell foam insulation help it to meet or exceed international building codes, says Escape Homes owner Dan Dobrowolski.

Measuring 28 feet long, 8 1/2 feet wide and 13 1/2 feet high, the Traveler can hold more people than your average tiny house—up to six adults via an upper sleeping loft with queen bed, second sleeping loft (or attic), plus a first-floor couch that folds into a daybed.

The home is outfitted with building materials and products found in much larger, site-built homes, including Grohe faucets, a Toto toilet, recycled tongue-and-groove Dakota Planking flooring, and an on-demand LP hot water heater. Heating is via baseboard heat, but customers can upgrade to an LG split system A/C with heat pump. The kitchen boasts a 30-inch LP range, 30-inch refrigerator, and plentiful cabinetry.

"Our units have a completely different feel from other tiny homes because we do everything at scale—we don't make things microscopic," Dobrowolski says. "But at the same time we don't have a ton of room, so we're using a lot of strategies with the architecture and design to make it feel open and airy."

Here, these strategies converge to create a stunning home that feels much larger than it is. Designed in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright and built in a factory in his native Wisconsin, it boasts tall ceilings, cleverly placed shelving, and large bands of oversized windows that provide plentiful natural light.

"Basically, we tried not to jam too much stuff into the space," Dobrowolski says.

"Let's face it—most houses consist mainly of empty space. When you take out that space you're left with what's important."