The tiny home movement has been sweeping the United States and is often discussed in conversations about sustainable living, affordable housing, multigenerational living, and downsizing in retirement. However, moveable tiny homes typically do not address the needs of people living with different abilities. With this blog post, we hope to spark conversation and encourage interdisciplinary collaboration in the industry of moveable tiny homes, and join the innovation happening with ADUs (accessory dwelling units) such as FabCab and Minka.
Our interdisciplinary collaboration was a 4-week project at Colorado State University which included 20 interior design and architecture senior level students from their CIDA-accredited program, a local tiny home specialist, and myself. With an educational background in occupational therapy and gerontology and professional specialization in residential universal design and livable communities, I was able to bring research and stories that the interior design students might not have been exposed to before.
The results were simply delightful as the universally designed tiny homes were conceptualized. I am incredibly grateful to Dr. Laura Malinin, Assistant Professor and Director of the Nancy Richardson Design Center, for her vision and encouragement during this experience. We hope that this interdisciplinary project can be an inspiration for other universities to create similar learning opportunities for their students. Here is how it worked, including lessons learned, with Dr. Malinin’s class of interior architecture and design seniors at Colorado State University in Fall 2018.
The students were given two requirements when designing their tiny home:
It must be moveable.
It must be universal.
Focus on the WHY
The first week with the students was a lecture Q&A, with a focus on WHY it is essential to design homes for all users. Without being able to bring user experts into the classroom, I utilized videos such as Desires for the Design of Homes from The Universal Design Project. The presentation was image-focused and reviewed disability and aging statistics, principles of universal design (using residential examples), accessible vs universal design, and guidelines for dimensions. I also included tiny home and small space considerations for inclusion. The students were very interested in examples from my experiences in the homes of elders and from my work as a homecare/hospice occupational therapist.
Design pin-up & special guest
One week from the initial lecture, the students presented concept ideas and renderings for discussion. Additionally, we invited special guest Brandi Powell to join us from WeeCasa (a Colorado tiny home resort community in Lyons, CO). Brandi and her husband have built a tiny home, they currently live in a tiny home, and Brandi helps to manage the tiny home resort community of WeeCasa. Her insights into tiny home living, zoning, and transportation were incredibly insightful and helped to guide the reality of these plans. Myself, Brandi, and Dr. Malinin comprised the review panel for pin-up presentations and provided group feedback.
This class was dedicated to open studio time and individualized feedback. The students could sign up to meet with me and/or Dr. Malinin for personalized design review and suggestions. Creating an equitable entry into the home (eliminating steps) did not prove to be much of a challenge. However, many students requested help problem solving the interior space and storage needs for their designs.
After a week off, to give the students more time to complete their designs, I was back in the classroom for their final presentations. The concept universally designed tiny homes ranged in size between 120 sf – 600 sf. The students took the requirement of “mobile” in many different directions including modular/prefabricated, RV, flatbed trailer, and even a houseboat.
“Proud” doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings. It was evident that the students became invested in the idea of residential universal design, and the beautiful concepts they created exceeded my expectations. It is my great pleasure to share some of them with you now.
Hello, I am an AGNG 320 student at the Erickson School of Aging. I really like this blog, as even though I’m not someone who plans on living in a tiny home, I am very intrigued by their structure and purpose. I think it is good that there are creative minds who have thought of ways for a mobile, universal tiny home. These tiny homes can definitely be of better service to certain older adults than a nursing facility or other home care services that are currently offered. My position on this relates back to our topics in class, because the nursing facilities may not always be the best decision for some older adults. A mobile, universal tiny home can serve many duties for older adults. It is a smaller surface area, therefore it can be easier to control and prevent falls from occurring. It is also not as constricting as a nursing facility is, as the older adult would have their home as their “room” and can make better use of the area that can be customized to that specific person.
Melissa Pharris says
I think this article was great about bringing light to how universal design is important in any kind of structure. Tiny homes have been trendy for a while and I had never even thought of how inaccessible they could be for the elderly or disabled. I like that Nichole Kain walked through the stages of these students’ designs universally designed tiny homes and included sketches of their designs. This article really helped to highlight aspects of universal design. Pointing out that there couldn’t be stairs was important for the design aspect but couldn’t have easily been overlooked if you weren’t thinking about it. I also liked that the article focused on teaching students how to design these tiny homes because those students will now have a greater insight into universal design and maybe carry it over to other projects. I would like to know more about the specific changes or requirements needed to make a tiny home more universally designed.
Jayne C says
It sounds interesting. I think advances in design are wonderful. I am not sure that we are ready for Universal Design to be a norm, but I get it…it’s a great feel good concept. Do you think this is something that is mass appeal or is this just something that we are doing as academics?
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Hello, I’m a AGNG 320 student at the Erickson School of Aging.
I’ve always been in love with the concept of tiny homes for multiple reasons; mostly because I find them practical, efficient, and sustainable. Now that I’m reading this blog post here, I can now see that they would make excellent homes for older adults.
A major health concern for older adults living on their own is potential falls. These tiny homes can be designed to be “fall proof/resistant”– single level, with all amenities easily accessible. Just because they are fall proof does not mean their occupancy could only be limited to seniors.
Tiny homes are cost efficient, and can even be customized to fit the needs of older adults who prefer to live on their own. Because they are moveable, they can choose to live in communities with other older adults, or near family members. They are also cost effective and provide more privacy than a senior living community would.
I saw Tiny Homes on youtube but I don’t think I could live in such a small space. Is not for claustrofobic people 🙂
r jonathan kramer says
SAME COMMENT (anybody home) – prefab residential unit for top story of shopping mall would be excellent option for both the mobility challenged and multi generational community:
I have shared this idea with many people, and have yet to encounter an unfavorable reaction to this idea. People love it! I have suggested this idea to authorities at Ithaca Mall, NY and The Village of Lansing, NY. They tell me that they like the idea.
Fossil fuel free communities for Baby Boomers Residents would get around on individual electric propelled devices.
EV pods could be “parked” in one’s bedroom. Once the user transfers into the EV pod, they depart to their desired destination.
Living units could be constructed on the top floor of vacancy plagued shopping malls. The live in mall would also provide tremendous commercial opportunity for many goods and services, such as convenient access to diverse restaurants and health care offices. A resident could go to a different eatery every night of the week if they so desired.
It is a win/win/win/win/win situation for everyone, including residents, merchants, property owners, governments, and civilizations alike.
Interesting … Why did the homes have to be moveable?