Atlantic Cities

Little Living Is Cheap Living

Little Living Is Cheap Living
Courtesy: Sage Radachowsky

Where I come from, a lot of affordable housing – especially rural and semi-rural housing – takes the form of mobile homes. Nothing wrong with that. But I wouldn’t expect to find many in the city of Boston, and I certainly wouldn’t expect to find one there that’s handmade.

But that’s exactly what Sage Radachowsky has. He calls it a "gypsy waggon" (he likes the double-g spelling) or, if you prefer, wheel estate:

Living in a tiny house is great. You use a lot less energy to heat the space. You have less space to acquire clutter. You are forced to be organized. You are mobile. The entire house cost me $4,000 to build (plus weekends for 4 months). Real estate is priced out of range of a lot of people. But wheel estate is accessible. I love living in a quiet, lovely small house of my own making.

the "bedroom" (by: Sage Radachowsky)Lately, the City of Boston noticed the gypsy waggon when the police investigated a nearby burglary. They reported it to the Inspectional Services, so i moved it off site for the inspection, to prove that it's not a fixed structure. I hope that works.

Radachowsky’s 88-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Vining (“growing old online,” how cool is that?) says that her grandson "likes to live simple, green, and magical." And so it appears, looking at the photos of his “kitchen” and “bedroom.”

Radachowsky says he does have to use "an outhouse-type situation," and he rents the space where he parks the wagon. He also rents a nearby garage that he uses as a studio to build beautiful musical instruments, with the assistance of his conservation-biologist brother in finding sustainable tropical hardwoods. 

This kind of living is obviously not for everyone, and not for me, but there is something admirable about the quest to live small, as I’ve written before. I found the gypsy waggon by following links in an interview of Deek Diedricksen, a "backyard architect" of artistically-conceived micro-houses with a new book about the phenomenon.  Diedrickson thinks that micro-homes are catching on in part because of the economy:

kitchen area (by: Sage Radachowsky)With the job situation the way it is, there are a lot of people looking for ways to cut costs, and wondering: ‘Why do I necessarily need this gigantic house I’m working 80 hours a week to pay for, to heat, to furnish, to maintain?’ Bigger houses require much more of all of that. And a lot of people think, ‘If I can build a smaller house (or even just find a smaller house) to live in, I’m saving myself a ton of money.’ I was talking recently to someone who brought up an interesting point — that if you have a smaller house, you’re more or less not allowed to spend more money on junk, because you just don’t have the room for it.

In the interview, published on Salon and authored by Emma Mustich, Diedrickson says he hopes that, even if his tiny concepts aren’t practical for many people, they offer ideas that can be scaled up for somewhat larger living. (See his website for more.)  Indeed, his own house is a bit larger, but he believes most Americans overdo it:

I live in a house in the 1,000-square-foot or so range, but there are four of us and a huge dog. A lot of people say I don’t live in a small house, but it’s about a third of the U.S. average, which is almost 2,500 square feet — and I have quite a bit of stuff. I feel we have quite a bit of space, considering.”

He’s got a point.  He also produced this very fun and interesting video of Radachowshy’s gypsy waggon:

All photos courtesy of Sage Radachowsky. This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog.

Kaid Benfield is special counsel for urban solutions at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Law, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and author of several books on cities, smart growth and sprawl. All posts »

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