Finding Freedom: a return to Usonia

“Tiny House History” is not so much an actual academic topic as it is a supposed idea of how we got to the place of sustainable homesteading, as it were. While it may come with some argument or even disdain I propose that tiny house history did not begin in the late 1990′s with a man, his 100 sq.ft. house on wheels, and a discipline in beautiful, functional, little dwellings. I propose rather that tiny house history began in the “old world” with caves, huts, squats, and other primitive but very natural dwellings. I also propose that tiny house history is not just an exploration into the architectural aspects of a dwelling but also the philosophical, academic, spiritual, and relational aspects of a housing movement. Because of this definition I find myself more and more curious about the homes built in the last 2,000 years. And so it is because of this curiosity that I have come across the Usonian Houses developed by Frank Lloyd Wright beginning in 1936.

Pratt HouseUsonia was a word used by Wright to refer to his vision for the American landscape including urban planning and building architecture. Wright proposed the use of the adjective Usonian in place of American to describe the landscape as being distinct and free of preceding architectural conventions. The homes would be smallish, single-story dwellings without a garage or even storage options. The majority of the designs were L-shaped so as to compliment a garden terrace on unusually shaped lots. They incorporated passive solar heating and natural cooling by way of flat roofs and large, cantilevered overhangs, natural lighting with high windows near the ceiling line, and radiant-floor heating. Even at this point it is easy to see how the influences of Usonian houses work into tiny houses, small houses, and sustainable homes.

Usonian is the term used in reference to 60, middle-class, homes designed by FLW. The first home was the Jacobs House built in 1937 in Madison, Wisconsin.

As history has it Madison newspaperman Herbert Jacobs – a friend of FLW’s – challenged the architect to design and build a home for $5,000. (with current inflation that equates to $80084.70 in today’s currency.) Wright went about designing and L-shaped house with an open floorplan and just two bedroom. To make the build more economical Wright developed a 2-1/4″ thick plywood sandwich wall for the house. (think SIP in today’s building world).

Jacobs House

Jacobs House courtesy of Florida Southern College.

Declared a National Historic Landmark in 2003 the Herbert Jacobs house has undergone some renovation, modification, and ultimately restoration since the mid-1950′s.

Wright continue to explore his Usonian idea even after the Jacobs challenge. Wright saw this as an opportunity to redefine architecture and economy just as the nation was in the throws of the Great Depression. FLW knew his homes could control costs on a number of levels while still providing style and substance to American homeowners.

Besides being small, one-story structures on concrete slabs, Usonian homes also had kitchens incorporated into the living areas. They had open car ports rather than garages. In short, they eliminated ornamentation in favor of function. In the 1950′s as FLW got older he continued to explore the notion of affordable housing by expanding into Usonian Automatic homes which were – in short - Usonian style houses made of inexpensive concrete blocks. The three-inch-thick modular blocks could be assembled in a variety of ways and secured with steel rods and grout. Wright hoped that home buyers would save money by building their own Usonian Automatic houses. Unfortunately assemblage proved to be a bit more difficult than intended and most buyers ended up hiring pros to construct their homes.

Pope-Leighey House

Photo of the Pope-Leighey House in Falls Church, VA courtesy of Library of Congress.

While Usonian homes actually built was limited to just 47 and while the costs to build often exceeded Wrights own projections causing them to overshoot the middle-class, they had great influence on what we now know as ranch style homes (complete with open floor plans, flat roofs, and connections to nature through glass and natural materials) that have helped define the American suburb experience.

Even today a number of Wright’s Usonian houses are still lived in by the families of their original owners. A couple have recently come on to the real estate market commanding millions of dollars. While this price point may be a long shot from FLW’s initial intention of affordability they are a great testament to his design ability and commitment to homes for the masses.

The Pope-Leighey house in Woodlawn, Virginia as photographed by Rebecca Robertson.

The Pope-Leighey house in Woodlawn, Virginia as photographed by Rebecca Robertson.

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

Ethan’s Tiny House Story

by Ethan Ramirez

My name is Ethan Ramirez, several months ago I posted pictures of my first tiny house. A 100 square foot silver rectangle that my girlfriend and I built and lived in…at the time. Well since that time a gentleman approached me asking if I would be willing to sell him our house. I was so excited I told him yes immediately, because I had so much fun building the first one and was already thinking of how I could do it again. This time more efficiently and dare I say it, smaller.

front door

The gentleman told me the lease on his rental house was up in February and without much thought I told him great I will have it available. Keep in mind he approached me around late October/early November giving me around 3 months and with my job of working overnights I have several full off days during the week so I figured sure my girlfriend Kelsey and I could totally build another in 3 months. Well turns out that November was a pretty rainy month so we had to scratch November out of the picture and then came December and with it the Holidays and travel so we went a head and scratched that out as well. Which had us frantic and left only with January and February.


Well after putting on our “grown up” pants and “work ready” gloves (we actually don’t work with gloves) we got down to business building our tinier tiny house. This house was to have only 8ft ceilings so we could fit under trees if needed, because Texas summers can be brutal. We also wanted to have a 20% smaller footprint. Well ladies and gentlemen I am happy to say that after 6 weeks of sun up to sun down off days we did it!

more details

Our tiny house 2.0 as we call it is complete and we have moved into it. The house consists of a kitchen space with similar plumbing to the last house (water crock fed sink) an “office” which consists of a standing desk with storage beneath it, a sleeping area and living room. We decided to place the bed on the floor in this house because last summer we found out exactly how hot air rises and decided that if we put our bed down low and our a/c unit up high we will get a much cooler sleep.


Inside the sleeping area we have placed shelves inside the joists of the lofted living space where we store underwear and other items used either before sleeping or just after waking. The living room consists of a couch with storage underneath for media and across from it an entertainment center neither of which were in the last house (our movie collection felt neglected). The sleeping area has a height of 3 feet inbetween joists so we can both sit up and read before bed and the living room has a height of 5 feet so it is too short to stand in but in a space that is only 5 feet wide there is not much ground to cover to get to your seat.

view from the loft

We did not put any drawers or doors on any of the storage instead using curtains giving the space an airier feel (or maybe we were lazy who knows). We live on an organic farm with other people living in small structures and tiny homes and have a community bathroom that has a plumbed toilet and washer and dryer along with an outdoor shower. When the weather is too cold for outdoor showers we use the city rec center which only costs us $80 a year which turns out to be cheaper than a water bill.

ground level

Most of our cooking is done on the grill outside and we also have a small toaster oven. I believe that about covers most of it (not that there is really much to cover in a tiny house) Oh wait the house is about 80 square feet and yes both Kelsey and I live in it full time. If there are any other questions be it about building a tiny house yourself, about our tiny house, or what ever they might be you can email us at

Thank you and good night.


looking to the entry

the front

Why I Want to Live in a Tiny House

by Michelle in Oregon

If you were to ask me why I am excited about living in a Tiny House, I would tell you that the list is so long we’ll have to sit, and chat for a bit, for you to understand how perfectly perfect the idea is, to me. You see, the answer isn’t simple.

The answer is my life’s story…

I have worked since I was 15 years old. Most of those years have been spent in front of a desk, and a computer, and working for someone else. Problem solving and resource management has always been my strong suit and I enjoy my work, but I have no intention of sitting in a cubicle till I’m 70 years old. (or even 60!) I want to explore more creative, active, and social career endeavors. Having a paid-for Tiny House will give me the flexibility to do just that. It’s finally time that I put my problem solving skills to use for myself.

Tiny Project House

I am inspired by the non-traditional roofline of the Tiny Project House, and all those windows!

And I can’t wait to get started!

I have been married and divorced twice. Each time, I designed and then supervised the construction of “our” home. I landscaped, and painted, and stenciled, and mowed, and put all of my emotional and financial self into our new space. With each divorce, the house was left behind, in the pile of carnage, that was once (twice) the plan for my life. I have, since then, vowed to never let the success or failure of a relationship dictate my domestic security. I’ve been on my own, dependent on nobody but myself, for over ten years now. My Tiny House will finally fill that void, the hole in my soul, it will be my emotional security blanket. It will be the end result of my creative and financial efforts.

floor plan

And here’s my latest sketch

I’ll finally have my own space in this world that nobody can take from me.

Words can hardly express how excited I am to be moving on to the Empty Next phase of my life. I am a single mom and sole provider and have devoted my life to raising responsible, respectful, children. My youngest is going off to college next year and, as such, there will no longer be a need to maintain an expensive, suburban, three bedroom, two bathroom, yard and garage lifestyle. So far, however, this transition hasn’t exactly been easy for me. Redefining my role with my children (my oldest is already 18 and in college) and redefining my role to the world has been harder than I thought it would be. Who am I? What do I do? “Mom” has always been the answer. Granted, I will always be “Mom” but to a much lesser extent than before. They won’t need me. My job is done.


My décor plan includes lots of color, and space saving ideas that utilize wall space, like this one!

It’s time for me to find, me, again.

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that nothing in life goes according to plan. My ability to roll with the punches, and get up after being knocked down, is one of my best attributes. I don’t even think about where I want to live when I retire because I know that no matter how I see my future now, reality will be very different. I don’t know if I’ll live in a bustling city where strolls to the coffee shop or farmers’ market will be a part of my everyday life. I don’t know if I’ll live on a farm, and raise animals again, or next to a lake where I can greet the sunrise over the water with my pen and paper in hand. My Tiny House can go where I go, it can be where I need and want to be.

Whether I am alone, or with my love, I will be where I want to be.

My love is one of my biggest fans. While he occasionally feels the need to inject reality into my Tiny House Fantasy (“You have over 50 pairs of shoes! Even they won’t fit in a Tiny House) he also understands that once I get something in my head I won’t be talked out of it. And although the exact logistical details of our future together remain a mystery, the Tiny House will provide us both with options we had not yet considered. Maybe we’ll rent out his houses and pull the Tiny House to another state where we’ll live for 6 months, then move again. Maybe I’ll live with him and we’ll park my Tiny House on his lakefront land for use as my personal escape space or a place where the kids can stay when they come to visit. Maybe we won’t last long enough to know the details but we’ll part knowing that I didn’t put undue pressure on him to take care of me.


Love These Doors!

Life is full of maybes, but with my Tiny House, I’m not afraid of them anymore.

It has been a few months since the idea of building my own Tiny House struck me, and although I am still in the planning stages, I can already smell the cookies baking in my vintage oven, in my tiny house, in a quiet lot, where ever I land.

Visit Michelle’s brand new blog by clicking here and her FB fan page here.

MichelleMichelle is an outgoing single mom, published author, speaker, patented inventor, blogger, craigslist stalker, enthusiastic Glamper, and Northwest native. Her interest in all-things-tiny-and-old started when she was only 12 years old when she became fascinated with a tiny abandoned farm house near her parent’s home; and she’s been sketching floor plans ever since. With pencil and graph paper in hand she’s more than ready for the next phase of her life. Her Tiny House, aptly named “My Empty Nest”, is the culmination of a life spent dreaming of a tiny reclaimed space, all her own.