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Couple Sharing 320 Sq. Ft. Modern Tiny House

Tiny homes often face challenges related to codes and zoning, but some are conventionally permitted and totally legal. Alex and Allison built their striking, modern 320-square foot home legally as an “accessory dwelling,” a type of small house that shares a lot with a larger, primary dwelling. But in their unique case, they bought an empty lot, applied for permits to build a primary and accessory home, and then built the accessory first.

They’re in the process of building a larger (but still modest) primary home, but meanwhile, they’ve been happily living full-time in their accessory dwelling in the quirky and cool small town of Yellow Springs, Ohio. Both share an interest in sustainable design, and in the ways that small housing can contribute to healthy, livable communities. Their drive to build small came partly so architectural designer Alex could design and build an entire, energy-efficient house. One interior plywood wall separates the public living area from private spaces like the bathroom, and the bedroom that’s lofted above it. Though it’s just “one big room,” the high ceilings make it feel much more spacious than its floor plan would suggest.

Couple Sharing 320 Sq. Ft. Modern Tiny House

Modern ADU tiny house exterior

Images © Billy Ulmer

Bathroom/bedroom wall

Kitchen of modern tiny home

Exterior of modern small house with deck

Alex and Allison

Images © Billy Ulmer

Alex: I’ve been drawing small houses for as long as I can remember. What can I do in 16’ x 16’? 10’ x 10’? It’s a challenge. It’s a small enough project that a very beginner architect can really wrap their mind around the whole thing… Designing for myself is practical at this scale, at this time. It’s a real pleasurable thing to be able to do a design for yourself.

Their housing choice was also inspired by Allison’s interest in living in a small space near a vibrant community, which she felt would be a good way for her to balance of community connection with private downtime. The lot they purchased is just a short walk to the amenities in town, both of their jobs, and several close friends.

Allison: I really value community, but I’m a fairly private person. I like to have down time that is solitary. Our space doesn’t have to be huge for that, but I need to have a nook that I can call my own, and then I can go back out and be energized in the community…

Though their time in the accessory dwelling is temporary, it’s been a living and learning experience that both of them value and enjoy.

Allison: When it’s sunny, you feel like a cat. The sun streams in and you have so many relaxing places to sit. It’s deeply satisfying to me to be comfortable in this size space, and to know that I don’t really need anything else.

Learn more about my visit with Alex and Allison, and see more of their amazing home and inspirational story in my Life in a Tiny House Ebook.

If you enjoyed Alex and Allison’s little house you’ll absolutely LOVE our free daily tiny house newsletter with even more! Thank you!

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Billy Ulmer
Billy Ulmer is the author of the Life in a Tiny House Ebook, a collection of photos and in-depth interviews with people who designed and built their own tiny homes. He writes about how home shapes our lives at UnlikelyLives.com.
Billy Ulmer

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{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Cahow February 23, 2015, 12:58 pm

    Allison wrote: “When it’s sunny, you feel like a cat. The sun streams in and you have so many relaxing places to sit. It’s deeply satisfying to me to be comfortable in this size space, and to know that I don’t really need anything else.” <<<That is 100% how I feel in our cottage! 😀

    From the article: "They bought an empty lot, applied for permits to build a primary and accessory home, and then built the accessory first." Smart. That's how it used to be, back when I was a kid and when my grandparent's were kids. My pioneer stock would build a Dug-Out or live in their Conestoga Wagon until they built a very small single room house; then after the acres were cleared and the children began to arrive, a larger, more human friendly (read: WIFE-friendly!) house was built with real glass windows, insulation and rooms with doors.

    I applaud this couple for not only looking at their Present but their Future Needs!!! Finally, some Common Sense people. 😀

  • Lynnette February 23, 2015, 1:32 pm

    Yellow Springs, Ohio is not that far from me. I’ve been there. It’s a quaint little place that puts you in mind of a small, hip European village. Great little shops and restaurants all within walking distance. I think this is a great little space for them in that small community.

  • Lisa Valerie February 23, 2015, 2:59 pm

    I feel your pain, Lisa E. I, too, would love to see more pictures of the space these two lovely people live in.

  • John February 23, 2015, 3:05 pm

    The reason one may include a chair in the pic is for size relation…
    Nice to see layout and dimensions, true. However, in some minds, those are still challenging to understand actual or relative size.
    Showing a chair occasionally is not actually a non-sequitur.

  • Comet February 23, 2015, 3:08 pm

    Okay Alex—That was a nice “teaser”–now show us the REST of the house!!!!

    • Chell February 26, 2015, 11:10 am

      I totally agree, I wish I could have seen more of the house and a floor plan so I could better see the layout… this is just the main room. I would have liked to see the sleeping and bath rooms, and the other sides of the main room.

  • Virginia February 23, 2015, 3:22 pm

    Lisa E and Comet said what I wanted to say. We don’t want to see your kitchen clutter. We want to see how the kitchen relates to the rest of the room. Where is the bathroom? Are you on the grid or off? Is Alex an architect or a hobbiest? How do you get to the loft? How large is the loft? Where are your closets and storage space? Where do you store kitchen items? In short, please start again and tell us the whole story.

  • Fred C February 23, 2015, 3:46 pm

    I agree with wanting to see the floor plan above all else! They most likely didn’t just think they were taking shots of their furniture, but of their space.

  • eaufraiche February 23, 2015, 5:13 pm

    so cool! Yellow Springs is such a fabulous little town – near Xenia, Dayton…. haven’t been there in decades, but it makes sense that that cool little town would “permit” this dream!

    yes, show us more of the house, please!

  • BrownLuster February 24, 2015, 9:08 am

    I too would’ve liked to see at least a floorplan and most certainly thier bathroom. I really like the kitchen with all of the natural light from the windows & full sized fridge, dishwasher and oven. I also llve the subway tile backsplash!! Now the carpet in the kitchen would be a huge no-no for me…actually carpet anywhere doesn’t work for me (allergies) but from the outside their tiny house is pretty nice!

    I would still like to know did they have any issues with codes or permits for the bathroom/sewerage or do they even have a bathroom area? Also how long has the city given them to build and/or complete the main house/larger structure?

    I give kudos to the couple for finding a work around to the coding and permit issue and am so glad that the city they chose to build in is where they really want to be and are happy!! Congrats!!

  • Rich February 24, 2015, 4:20 pm

    I’m sure Alex has shared the info he was given. As it says in the above post, additional info is available in the ebook.

    • BrownLuster March 2, 2015, 2:23 am

      Rich,
      No doubt Alex posted as much info as he could and the pics were nice, however I don’t plan to pay $20 for an eBook that (may or) may not answer the questions I have for this cute couple & thier tiny home journey.

      Living in Michigan, we have some of the most restrictive rules, code & permit issues for land/lot use and I would seriously like to find out where the tiny/small house movement & development is LEGAL & not an issue…which is why I subscribed to this blog in the first place. This couple lives in Ohio which, is not that far from Michigan and I’m not opposed to leaving Michigan in an effort to live peacefully in my small home without a municipal inspector attempting to make me jump thru hoops in order to stay in it. However, I am not ok with having to build another “Main” house in order to do that. This option is working out fine for this young, nice couple however for me, building a “Main” house just to have a tiny/small house + mainain a 2,750 sq.ft two-family flat I already own, live & rent out is not an option for me in the tiny/small home transition. I’m trying to downsize to stack my savings & earnings to make living more carefree for my latter years, not throw it away by buying & maintaining more homes.

      I did check out even more pics of this couples nice tiny home however, eBook aside…my questions still remain and I still would like to have seen a pic of the bathroom which I think would probably be wonderful and totally fuctional as well.

      Once again, Kudos to this cute couple and Kudos to Alex for this website/blog site. I’ve gained so much info & motivation since I subscribed last fall!!

      • Tom January 9, 2017, 9:50 am

        I bought some lots on Rose Lake (subdivision) near Cadillac, and you can build pretty much anything there. The association fees are only $85 a year, the land is cheap, and it has dump stations, showers, lake access, etc. The lots are generally 1/2 acre and everything feels secluded. The covenant restrictions are no longer in effect, just in case you see something about 720 square foot minimum.

  • Ruth February 24, 2015, 5:01 pm

    This is such a smart way for a young couple to build. The house + accessory house is a good model. They can live in the accessory house until the kids come. They can rent out the accessory house and save it all (or most of it) for college/trade school for the kids. They can stay in the big house as long as they can, and maybe sell the big house to the kids while they live in the little house in their dotage. Lots of different ways this could work – but a house with rental property is a great investment!

    • Cahow February 25, 2015, 11:24 am

      I agree 100% with what you’ve said, Ruth; it echoes my statement and feelings I posted earlier.

      You are ONLY young O.N.C.E. and your chief money earning/saving times are between 20 and 35 years of age. Unless you play the Power Ball every week and strike it rich, if you haven’t done everything possible to assure a safe financial future, it’s an uphill battle from then on.

      I’m SO happy to finally read an article where the tiny home people have their priorities straight and aren’t frittering away their time by traipsing around the globe, only to come home with holes in their pockets. Once you have financial stability, travel all you want; until then, build up your stability so you feel secure and don’t need to worry or depend on the kindness of family, strangers or the government for a hand-out.

      • Brian May 4, 2015, 5:18 pm

        Thankyou Cahow for expressing my thoughts. I agree with you totally. Thanks for sharing and cheers from Aus

  • Lisa May 4, 2015, 4:24 pm

    I grew up in Yellow Springs and have lived all over the US, coming to nest in Oregon (tiny house heaven!)…but the kids are in college and we’ve been thinking about downsizing to a tiny house. So fun to see the YS posts! There are a lot of cool housing things going on in the old home town, passivhaus dwellings, too! We’re currently in a traditional and lovely classic solidly but modestly built 1950’s home with two working fireplaces, built-ins, the works – which I would be sad to leave, but we’re rattling around in here by ourselves – and I can’t stop designing THs!

    One thought we had was to build a small tiny house court in our adjacent buildable lot, landscaping and perhaps even building a bathhouse (8×8 building with three separate full mini-bathrooms – sink/flush toilet/curtained shower space – and the last quadrant for maintenance, H2Oheater, maybe even metering?) to accommodate 3 tiny houses with semi-private yards as well as shared areas, aesthetically covered outdoor eating spaces (it’s Oregon, after all!), fire pits, and access to our organic raised bed garden, large lockable bike/camping/whatever storage in a separate shed, shop space with access to tools, and perhaps even access to the house & large screen porch for special occasions or group events. Even wondered about having the tiny house dwellers sign up a week in advance for family style dinners after work in the main home, as they might desire. Fun? I think so!

    Alternatively, we could rent out the big house and live in one of the tiny houses ourselves, but that would limit the amenities we could offer.
    Obviously, we could rent out rooms in the big house, but that opens up a whole different set of legal issues which we’ve had recent reason to be wary of (a friend had a nightmare experience which even the authorities were helpless to resolve). Our (minimal, so far) research suggests that there’re more options for landlords when the thing being rented IS NOT HABITATION, but is a space. Much like an RV park, if someone doesn’t pay for 6 months, you can legally have their house removed from your property. Sad to have to be realistic about this stuff, but so it goes.

    Anyway, we recently attended a tiny house mixer at a local makerspace to do our due diligence, and after interviewing a handful of folks (in a crowd of about 70 enthusiastic attendees!) who had raised their hands identifying themselves as looking for siting for their current or future tiny homes, I got a fair consensus that though several said they’d love and use the satellite bathroom (reasons cited: fuss/dampness/noise /smell – all of which may or may not be problems in actuality, of course), they couldn’t count on finding similar accommodations at other such sites, so couldn’t look at this availability as a bonanza of new available space for their TH design– they’d still have to put in their bathroom. They salivated at the other amenities and took our email…..
    So, my question here is, has anyone heard of other tiny house clusters with these sorts of features, or what other considerations should we be thinking about? Yes, we’re in a part of the country which is more kindly disposed toward THs than most, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a struggle to get this permitted.
    Words of caution or encouragement welcomed!

  • Jeremy May 5, 2016, 4:48 pm

    Don’t care for this one much at all. But as long as they are happy with it, that’s what counts.

    On a side note, what would happen if they never actually built the bigger house they got permits for?

  • Norris720 July 5, 2016, 9:43 pm

    Would like to see more of the house? The bathroom configuration, compost or sewer line. Plus a look at the loft area too.

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