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Design, Lecture

Jay Shafer and Subtractive Design

Jay Shafer, “the tiny house guy”. I suppose he is potentially old news by now, but I only recently came across him. He gave a very inspiring and entertaining talk the other evening at Butler University, as part of the Butler Earth Project series. The place was packed, with people left standing in the back, even after he invited some of them to come forward and sit on the floor for “story time.”

Quotes and notes from the lecture:

  • “I decided I was never going to pay rent again.”
  •  Moved into a airstream trailer. After several years of scraping the ice off the inside of his windows, he realized he should probably construct something more long-term, with insulation perhaps.
  • Has been living in houses of approximately 100sf and less since 1998.
  • He believes that our lifestyle is wasteful. In designing multi-functional space he “decided what made him happy and edited out everything else. Eliminate the underused and overbuilt space.
  • Average American home is 2,300 sf and consumes 1/4 acre of woodland to construct.
  • Wasted space in homes is more than just that, it also wastes life energy required to construct it and pay for it. [Just think. 2300sf with 30% wasted = 690sf wasted x $100/sf construction costs = $69000. How long might you have to work to pay that off? Not to mention the extra it takes to heat, cool, insure, clean, etc. The environmental and economical toll keeps adding up.]
  • Had to add wheels to the homes to meet code, not allowed to live in something under 300sf or so. Wheels allowed it to be considered an RV, but…
  • You’re not allowed to have an empty lot and live in your RV on it, But if there is already a house on the lot, then you can “camp out” in the backyard in your RV as much as you like. So with his first house he bought a lot with a 300sf house on it, rented out the house, and lived in the backyard.

While I can’t imagine living in a house that small, it did get me thinking about designing small spaces. Last summer I lived in a 300sf apartment with my fiancé Lauren. By the end of the summer we were ready to move out!  I often think about how the space could’ve been much better utilized, but after seeing some of Jay’s designs I realized that 300sf could be downright spacious with the right approach.

Ever since attending the lecture I’ve come up with all sorts of small space designs. Having lived in small apartments, I believe I have a good idea of what’s needed and what isn’t. I’ve included one of them, it doesn’t quite take it to the same extremes as Jay’s, but I think those may be a bit extreme themselves.

My main idea with this design was to consolidate all the necessary open space. The bedroom overlaps the living room which overlaps the hall which overlaps the dining room which overlaps the kitchen. Together, all these spaces are more than adequate. The bed/kitchen wall could be constructed as one large piece of casework, that would contain all the necessary elements. The opposing wall is composed of shifting panels(doors) that reveal more private program. These shifting panels could become a feature of the space. The furniture items would also interact with one another. The Murphy bed could fit down on top of the couch when needed. The couch could also be slid down and tucked underneath the island if a larger open space was needed, for dancing/exercise/etc. Any critiques, let me know!

About bjmcghee

Architect in training.


4 thoughts on “Jay Shafer and Subtractive Design

  1. I must have missed this if it’s “old news” by now. That’s really minimalist living! I can’t imagine living in such tight quarters, but I love the concepts of financial responsibility and more efficient energy usage. Thanks for sharing Jay Schafer’s story. Cheers.

    Posted by Cabbie Notes | March 27, 2012, 17:10
    • That was my thought as well. I like the ideas behind everything, and I think they can definitely be put to practice. But if I had to live in one of those houses, I think it’d only be a matter of time before I started freaking out! Thanks for reading!

      Posted by bjmcghee | March 27, 2012, 23:29
  2. Thanks for the post. Jay is always happy to know that people are inspired to re-think their use of space after listening to his perspective.

    Posted by BT | March 28, 2012, 12:15


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