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Lloyd Kahn shows his book on simple shelters under 500 sq-ft

Lloyd Kahn learned to publish books working as the shelter editor on Stewart Brand’s The Whole Earth Catalog over 4 decades ago. In his 1973 book Shelter, small buildings were praised as “quick to build, adaptable to used materials (cheap), easy to heat, simple for the inexperienced builder, and can later be added on to.”

It featured an old school bus converted to a “housecar”, a “housetruck”, houseboats, treehouses, yurts, domes, zomes, sheds and traditional shelters like English cottage frames, Wichita grass homes, Ethiopia’s Tukul’s and Timbuktu’s Dogon dwellings.

A publishing legend’s take on tiny homes

Now, nearly 40 years later, Kahn has released Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter, a nod to the current “grassroots movement to scale things back”. He profiles about 150 builders who have created homes under 500 square feet (his limit for tiny): “homes on land, homes on wheels, homes on the road, and homes on water, and homes in the trees.”

We visited the home offices of Shelter Publications (Bolinas, California) before the book went to print where Kahn was busy creating the layout in the old-fashioned way: not on the computer, but using photos and tape.

Scaling back in the 21st century

On one wall, he had mocked up a  title page with a subtitled of “Scaling back in the 21st century”. This for Kahn is at the heart of the current trend toward smaller living; it’s less about the size of small and more about reducing to a more personally manageable size of life.

“I think if you’re young or you’ve been laid off, you know maybe you’re not going to have a 400 square foot house, but I think people are going to look at this and they’ll say, ‘maybe I could get by with a smaller house’, or if you’re young and you think, ‘if I can avoid paying rent and paying money to a bank, my life’s going to be a lot freer’ so maybe it’s a stage you’d go through.”

“It’s like self-sufficiency maybe you can’t go all the way but you can get the idea maybe it’s time to cut back and, or maybe it’s okay.”