Who’s Next Entry – Version 1

I’m not sure how your 2010 is going but mine feels like it’s flying by a little too fast. I looked up from my work for a moment and noticed that the deadline for the Who’s Next Competition is almost here. I’ve been working on some ideas and finally cleaned them up enough to share with you. Over the next few days I’ll post iterations to the design based on reader feedback. My hope is that by Monday I’ll have a design that’s a strong contender.

The competition is steep, 400 other designers have entered and I’m certain many of them are professional architects. I’m also trying to compete against people who are designing big houses (competition limit is 1800 square feet). I imagine that the general public may have a little difficulty accepting my proposal but I wanted to stay true to tiny house design.

What you’re looking at is a cluster of 4 tiny buildings that I think would not only meet the competition design requirements but provide Free Green an extremely popular set of plans.


The requirements were laid out in the form of a homeowner profiles. My readers helped me choose between two profiles, a younger couple just starting out and an older couple approaching retirement. The later was the readers’ choice. Here’s the complete homeowner profile:

This is the story of Charles and Barbara Parker. The Parker’s both recently retired and are looking to downsize from their current home. Barbara and Charles currently live in a 4,000 sq. ft. colonial built in 1973. This structure has been their home for over 20+ years, but with their 2 kids gone and on their own, they don’t use at least 50% of their homes space any more. Unfortunately, Charles has recently gone through knee surgery (due to his years of involvement in Athletics) and he is very worried about his current and future ability to navigate stairs.

Charles spent his life working in the engineering department of a large auto company, while Barbara has spent her life dedicated to promoting the arts working a various state programs and initiatives. The Parker’s plan to use a combination of their social security, retirement savings, and pensions as their source of fixed income for their retirement. With the recent stock market crash both are aware of the dangers of fixed income living and both want their new home to be affordable with low maintenance costs.

Barbara and Charles plan to make this home their last and are keenly aware of the accessibility needs that need to be built into their home. It needs to be single level and potentially accessible by a wheelchair. They don’t know how to integrate it, but an eventual private space for a home health aid is something that is in the back of both of their minds. Charles, being a true engineer, is very interested in all of the “green technologies” that he reads about in his copies of Popular Science and wants to integrate any technologies that they can afford. Barbara (the matriarch of the family) is worried about the smaller space and wants to make sure that they can still accommodate visits by their children, and hopefully grand children one day. She also desires to still hold family functions and wants to make sure that there is proper space for family events.

The Parker’s have toured many over 55 communities in their area but just don’t see themselves as “over 55 community” people. They are both active and are interested in taking up many hobbies in their retirement. Charles has a goal of continuing his regimented exercise routines and even exploring new activities such as Pilates and Yoga, while Barbara is excited to start up her lifelong goal of painting landscapes. Both Barbara and Charles are interested in taking as many trips as possible to explore the world. They know that this means they will not be at home for extended periods and are worried about maintenance issues.

With all of these needs Barbara and Charles have decided to work with a design professional to design their dream retirement home. They know that this will add expense, but with this home being their last they believe the investment is worth the money. To help with this process they have developed a list of issues to discuss with their designer in initial meetings:

Lifestyle issues to consider:

  • What is Universal Design and how is it implemented into a home and floor plan?
  • How will their space accommodate family visits, functions, and the potential of a live in home
  • aid in the future?
  • How can a home be designed to limit maintenance both inside and out?
  • Can they fit in a hobby room which will allow them to take up new activities and hobbies?
  • How is a home designed to eventually allow wheelchair accessibility?

Potential lot types:

  • Scenic rural over 3 acres no neighbors
  • Semi rural development 1-2 acre lots with neighbors

To meet these requirements and stay true to tiny houses at the same time I realized that a cluster of small houses, similar to my shed cluster concept, would work perfectly. Each of the different needs could easily be broken into different structures. When the Parkers were home alone they would spend much of their time between the bedroom unit and the main living unit… or in their separate personal spaces, the two 16×16 buildings. When guest visit they could stay in the studio/guest house building. When a live-in home health aid is needed the unit that doubles as an office could be used as an apartment.

Splitting up each of these spaces into different buildings and connecting them with a shaded outdoor space would also make it fairly easy for the Parkers to move from one interior space to another. This shaded outdoor space would also provide a cooling effect in hot weather much like a the breezeway in a dogtrot house. In winter the covered outdoor space would provide protection from the wind, rain and potentially snow.

There should also be some energy savings with this approach since only those spaces that are in regular use would need to be heated and cooled. The passive solar design, long eaves, trombe wall, and thickly insulated walls would also add to the energy savings.

Main Living Unit

This space is simply a large great room with a generous kitchen at one end. Tucked away behind the kitchen would be a half bath, laundry room, and utility closet.

Bedroom Unit

This space is provides a generous bedroom, bath, and walk-in closets. It is comparable to many larger homes which is something I suspect the Parkers would not want to give up.

Art Studio and Guest House

This space serves a dual function. Most of the time it would be Barbara’s place for art and time to herself. But when family comes to visit it could easily turn into a guest room. A small sleeping loft could be added above the murphy bed for younger, more agile visitors. The building is heated with a trombe wall on the south side and lit naturally with north light which is ideal for Barbara’s painting.

Office and Apartment Unit

Opposite the Art Studio is another small 16×16 building with a slightly different purpose. This is primarily a space for Charles but it’s also part of the Parker’s back-up plan to have space for a live-in home health aid. There could be an optional loft over the tiny kitchen for the agile.

You’ve also probably noticed that the house would have photovoltaic panels and a rain water collection system to fulfill Charles desire to have green technologies.

My plan is to rapidly incorporate feedback into the design and go through at least 3 iterations over the next few days. Please tell me what you think.

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