Today, wherever you look you can find mention of the growing popularity of “tiny houses.” From a complete documentary (Tiny: A Story About Living Small) to several magazines featuring tiny houses (dwell’s September 2014 profile of the 196 sq. ft. Miller house in Boise and House Beautiful’ s July/August edition about decorating small spaces), the tiny house is taking the nation by storm. If that’s not enough to whet your appetite for tiny living, look online to find communities for tiny house aficionados, such as a local Meetup group “Idaho Tiny House Enthusiasts.”


The Census Bureau reports that the average single-family house completed in 2013 measured 2,598 square feet. In a nation where the average house size keeps growing, surprisingly, so does the number of people seeking tiny homes. They want an affordable place to call their own, a simpler life (without so much “stuff”) and to live efficiently. To summarize, the benefits of living small include:

These are noble ideals, but the living small concept is not new. Before the days of “McMansions,” a majority of the population in 1950 lived in modest houses averaging 983 square feet. By 2013 the typical house size almost tripled to 2,600 square feet. According to Barbara T. Alexander, who is an executive fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, in 1950 “two-thirds of the homes had two or fewer bedrooms, and only 4 percent had two bathrooms or more.” Mary Ellen Podmolik, “Average Home Size Sets New Record,” Chicago Tribune Compare that to last year’s newly built average home that has around four bedrooms, three or more bathrooms and garages that hold at least three cars . Even before the 1950s many houses were constructed on a modest scale.


Boise’s neighborhoods have what I call the “original tiny houses” dotted throughout, creating economically diverse neighborhoods throughout the city. These houses, and houses like them across the nation, can and should become a part of the tiny house movement, an option for those who can’t imagine living in an 8’ x 10’ structure. Unlike the sleek, new, trendy tiny houses that are popping up all around, these original tiny houses have a history — they have stood, in some cases, for more than 100 years. They each have a story to tell about their neighborhood, the people who lived in them and the progression of vernacular architecture. Census Bureau 2013 housing stats

If the tiny house craze has caught your attention, look closely at your own neighborhood to spot the historic tiny houses that are all around us. And if you’re in the market for a new house, consider investing in one of these beauties.

Gallery: Vintage Tiny Homes of Boise

Images and captions by Brandi Burns

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.

  • Matt Scott

    those are all nice small houses but they come with a large price tag because of over valuation by the tax assessor, high cost of land and their trendiness —tiny houses on wheels on the other hand are affordable, movable, owner builder friendly, stylish, lend themselves to customization, and need only a small mortgage or none at all–(which amounts to a small fortune over a 30 year period. Think I will build myself a tiny house on wheels