Hello House: The Future of Design is Community
I have the pleasure of writing for Tiny House Magazine each month. We’ve been given permission to reprint our articles a month after initial publication, and I was so happy with this one, I wanted to share. However, I do encourage you to subscribe as well.
The small town of Clarkston, Georgia, sits about 11 miles to the east of Atlanta. It’s a community known for inclusion, diversity, and, now, tiny homes. The Cottages on Vaughan is a first-of-its-kind development in the city made up of 8 small and tiny houses in a pocket neighborhood centered around a common green space.
The community was the vision of Will Johnston, the Executive Director, Founder, and CEO of Microlife Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. It’s an organization founded in Atlanta to promote the use of small and tiny homes. The mission is to educate individuals, groups, and cities about the positive impacts of micro-living. They are putting their money where their mouth is by building The Cottages on Vaughan community.
I had a chance to visit the community on a gorgeous Georgia spring day. I met with Will, who will also be living in the cottages, and my friend Rachel who was excited to show me her tiny house under construction. I also spoke with Rich Pasenow whose home is the smallest in the community at only 250 square feet.
The community is steps away from Refugee Coffee, and we met up with Rachel over coffee and chai before heading to the cottages. I could immediately see how the community was situated ideally in the city.
I asked both Rachel and Rich about why they choose to buy a home in the community.
“It was the middle of the summer during the pandemic,” Rachel told me. “I was sitting on my couch basically feeling sorry for myself. Then I saw Will Johnston posting on Facebook that the tiny house community he had been working on for years was finally going to be constructed. It suddenly occurred to me that I could actually do this.”
Previously, Rachel and Will had lived in the same cohousing community together, so she already knew he would make a great neighbor.
For Rich, the idea started to germinate years before. “In early 2018, I saw a show about tiny houses. I was going through a divorce at the time, and since I didn’t own a lot of stuff and I wanted to own a home again, I figured that going with a tiny house would be perfect for me.” But his search for tiny homes in Atlanta didn’t return a lot of results. But he was able to connect with Microlife Institute. “I wanted a home on a permanent foundation, and I didn’t have the time or inclination to deal with permitting and zoning issues involved with placing a tiny house on wheels in most locations.”
The Cottages on Vaughan is a pocket neighborhood of eight homes, all under 500 square feet. Seven of the eight homes are about 492 square feet, with just one, Rich’s house, at 250. “The basic layouts of the homes are all the same. Mine is just smaller.”
After Rachel decided to buy a home in the community, she began to take trips to the building site. She admits it was pretty underwhelming at first. The site was cleared, mostly dirt, so the entire concept was hard to envision. “But I took pictures, went home, and started staring at the floor plans and imagining myself living there. Over the rest of the summer, every few weeks, I would get up early enough before it was crazy hot and bike over to visit the site.”
“This will, by far, be the smallest house I’ve ever lived in,” Rich said. “But I don’t think going tiny will be a huge change in my lifestyle. I actually like the idea of knowing that I will have to consider the fact that anything I buy from this point forward will need a place to go. When you only have 250 square feet, that will generally mean not buying anything you don’t need. It will not just be cost-saving for me, but I will produce less waste.”
Rachel is also anticipating her expenses going down. “I’m a little tempted to buy a Tesla Model 3 after I sell my townhouse, but my Chevy Volt just got paid off, and it’s a great car, so I’ll hold on to that idea for a while.”
In Rachel’s tiny home, where she could pick details like the countertops and flooring material, I saw how it would be a cozy but roomy place to live when construction was complete. There are no stairs to the loft yet, but it will add plenty of room for storage or maybe even a home office. Even with a small 24-inch vanity, the bathroom is notably larger than the bathroom in my own 700 square foot bungalow. The vaulted ceilings in the main living space are lined with windows allowing for incredible natural light. And the porch, without stairs at the moment, would be a great spot to add a table and chairs for al fresco dining or hanging out with neighbors over coffee.
More than anything, I was struck by the excitement all three new homeowners felt when they talked about living in the community. Will told me that was a big part of the concept. “It’s crucial as we move forward to retrofit and connect urban, suburban, and rural areas together. We are experiencing a loneliness epidemic. So many Americans are facing complete isolation, and it’s literally killing us. We need to and should interact more with our neighbors.”
“I’m really looking forward to being part of both the CoV community and the Clarkston Community. Since the start of COVID, the owners have been doing weekly Zoom meetings, which have been a great opportunity to get to know my future neighbors, and I’m really looking forward to being able to interact with people on a more face-to-face level once we all move into the community,” said Rich.
Rachel agreed. “I’m so excited to go live in a tiny community with great people in a space I helped design and only bring the things I consciously decide to have in the house. After living in a very large cohousing community, I think it’s going to be a nice change to have a small group of 8 people who all want to live in this neighborhood.”
Construction is still happening fast and furiously, but the homes aren’t quite done, and as we stood in the central courtyard, now just clay and construction debris, I had to imagine what the cottages would look like when complete. But once they are, Will told me, they will be hosting monthly tours set up like small tiny house festivals. You can sign up for more information here.
“The future of design is community,” Will reiterated. “We are just one of many examples of how you can utilize space, layout, and structures to drive a better-connected community. It’s up to us to direct the narrative.”