Sleep tight: can the ‘tiny homes’ movement redefine holidays?
It seems appropriate somehow that we miss the turn-off for Tiny Homes Holidays. The sign is so small that we drive straight past the entrance. But then, being small and unobtrusive is exactly what this new tourism venture on the Isle of Wight is all about. In a field a couple of miles outside the island capital Newport, on the edge of the Parkhurst forest, sit three compact wooden cabins. If you didn’t know better, you might mistake them for posh garden sheds, but in fact they are at the cutting edge of a new lifestyle movement that could radically change the way we think about holidays. “It’s quite . . . small, isn’t it?” observes my mum as I open the front door to “Silva”, a pointy A-framed structure that is to be our home for the next two nights. The clue is in the name, I suppose, but the compact size does come as something of a surprise. My eight-year-old daughter is delighted with the Wendy-house proportions and wastes no time in clambering up to the mezzanine sleeping area. “It’s just like being in a nest,” she shouts down, happily. Cynics might sniffily write the whole thing off as a middle-class version of caravanning, but once we’ve got our heads around the diminutive dimensions (Silva’s footprint is about 6 metres by 3.25 metres), we can start to appreciate the charm and ingenuity of the design. Each of the three cabins has its own style; ours is best described as Scandi-meets-psychedelic, with larch-clad walls enlivened with bold 1970s-inspired prints and fabrics in shades of brown, orange and green. Every inch of space has been utilised. The ladder to the mezzanine doubles as shelving space and the two armchairs in the lounge unfold to create a double sofa-bed (each cabin sleeps up to four). Even the coffee table doubles as storage for bedding. Pared back it may be, but nothing has been skimped on when it comes to quality — from the fine cotton bed linen and comfy mattresses to the high-spec wood-burning stove. “It’s back-to-basics, but it’s not roughing it,” says Helen Cunningham, who launched Tiny Homes Holidays with her husband Frazer in October. “The cabins are all architect-designed and have been considered very deeply; we wanted them to feel stylish, streamlined and uncluttered.” Tiny Homes Holidays’ Silva cabin in the Isle of Wight The couple have form when it comes to offering quirky holiday accommodation. The word “glamping” hadn’t even been invented when they launched their first tourism venture, Vintage Vacations, 15 years ago, renting out a handful of restored American Airstream trailers as retro-styled holiday homes. Having decided to put that business up for sale last year, they were looking for a new challenge when they came across the “tiny house” movement. With its origins in America in the 1980s, the movement began as a backlash against consumerism, with proponents advocating a simpler, less materialistic and more environmentally friendly way of living. Pioneers designed prototype homes, often on wheels to subvert planning rules. “Tiny living” was quickly championed as a solution to the problem of rising house prices and lack of available land for new building. The movement has since spread as far afield as the UK, Japan and Australia. The Cunninghams were no strangers to the concept of downsizing, having swapped a four-storey townhouse in London for a two-bedroom bungalow when they moved to the Isle of Wight. Helen says they found the experience “liberating”, so set about applying the principles to designing a holiday home. The result is this trio of off-grid cabins, which run entirely on solar power and have their own waste-water filtration system and composting toilets. Tiny Homes Holidays’ Silva cabin bedroom One of the first to spot the potential crossover between tiny houses and tourism was builder Mark Burton, who has been running a successful business, Tiny House UK, hand-crafting beautiful timber houses, for just over six years. He estimates about half of his clients are people wanting to offer holiday accommodation, whether it be farmers wanting to diversify or homeowners looking to make a bit of extra income from renting out a garden room on Airbnb. But perhaps the sign that this counter-cultural movement has truly entered the mainstream is that Japanese brand Muji recently launched its own version of the “tiny house”, a slick, prefabricated nine-square-metre hut clad in charred black wood, which is currently on sale in Japan for ¥3,000,000 (£20,989).