Tiny house, TiltMN

The Tiny House Movement is Coming to St. Paul

Alchemy Architects, a modern architectural firm that gained fame for creating the weeHouse, is working with home builder Robert Engstrom Co., the East Side Neighborhood Development Co., and the Metropolitan Council to create a tiny house community right here in St. Paul. The neighborhood is being planned on Payne at Maryland Avenue in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul, and each unit (in the 900-1200 square foot range) would cost $100-$150k.

But don’t start packing just yet.

First they’ll have to convince St. Paul to change its zoning codes to allow the small structures. This has been the biggest challenge for small home communities across the country. But it has happened. Washington D.C. for example, has loosened restrictions to allow tiny homes to be built, and in Colorado, construction of the country’s largest tiny home community is already underway.

Live a smaller life

So what is a tiny house? And what are the benefits of owning one?

Tiny houses give homeowners the ability to downsize the space they live in. It provides an option for urban home buyers who can’t afford, or simply don’t want, a larger house. After the housing market collapse of 2008, where foreclosures and financial ruin made the idea of owning a home superfluous to many Americans, the idea of “less is more” began to seem a lot more appealing.

It’s also one of the greenest places to call home, as the energy expenditure is about 7% of that of a normal home.

lighthouseThese tiny houses are a boast of the latest domestic technologies, from appliances to lighting to online tools. For example, Alchemy Architect’s model LightHouse features a dashboard website (pictured above) that shows the minute-by-minute usage of water, electricity and natural gas.

And for some, it’s about adopting a minimalist philosophy; getting rid of all the extra stuff and simplifying your life leads to happiness (more ideas here: 8 Benefits of Living a Minimalist Lifestyle) and the idea that we don’t need bigger, better, more extravagant in order to be happy.

But a tiny house might not be for you

Labelled as just the latest craze by some, a silly idea cooked up for Millennials by Millennials, and condemned, as seen with these comments on the Pioneer Press article about tiny homes,Tiny house revolution in St. Paul, TiltMN

Tiny house revolution in St. Paul, TiltMNClearly they’re not for everybody. But they don’t have to be. For some, traditional housing is the way to go, and for a growing amount of others, a tiny house is an economical, eco-friendly, streamlined, and easier way to live.

It provides diverse housing options, and means more people will have a place to call home.

And it’s not a new thing; a crazy idea cooked up by counter-culturalists or Millennials. The philosophy behind living smaller (minimalism) can be traced back to Thoreau’s Walden. Lloyd Kahn’s Shelter and Lester Walker’s Tiny Houses, from 1973 and 1987 respectively, are also credited as early inspiration for the movement.

If you’re interested in checking out one for yourself, you can tour one at the Minnesota State Fair: Alchemy Architect’s model Lighthouse will be on display and open for touring starting August 25th.

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  1. Betsy Gabler

    Thanks for mentioning Alchemy’s LightHotel (name updated for clarity) being at the MN State Fair! We are aware that people are confusing this mobile hotel room with an actual, full-time dwelling. The LightHotel is a beacon for ecotourism … it’s about leaving a light-to-none footprint when you travel in urban spaces like the Twin Cities. Alchemy is working with the East Side Neighborhood Development Corporation to build an eco-village featuring sustainably designed and built homes. Alchemy’s weeHouse© will celebrate its 15th anniversary in 2018. We continue to investigate new paradigms for living with our architectural designs. Learn more about us at weeHouse (dot) com … thank you!

    1. Rachel Mezey

      Hi Betsy,

      The past few months I’ve been trying to find a piece of land near Minneapolis or Saint Paul where I could build a ~340 sq. ft. home that I have design plans for. As you know, the zoning in the cities makes this basically impossible at the moment. Then during my research, I came across the article in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press about your plans to make a small home community in Saint Paul. But aside from this article I couldn’t find any additional information as to the status or likelyhood of this happening. Would you mind pointing me the right direction?


  2. Ron

    Are there any tiny houses at the fair?


The Tiny House Movement is Coming to St. Paul