Do cookie-cutter suburban homes make you feel dead inside? Do you need to feel inspired by your living space? Are you looking for a dwelling that's more than just a place to live, but a reflection of your values? These three unusual living options allow their residents to do just that. One house nests inside a truck bed (though it doesn't have a kitchen or bathroom).
Over the last decade, there has been a flurry of school conversion activity. Closed schools have been adapted to regular condos and luxury condos; ordinary apartments, senior apartments, low-income apartments, disabled apartments, bed-and-breakfasts and artist residences. These buildings' solid construction, desirable materials (like brick and hardwood floors) and oversized windows make old schools attractive as potential residences.
In Ashland, Wisc., sisters Luci and Lydia Daum and their parents purchased the Wilmarth School from the Ashland school district in 1991, when the district permanently closed the school. They planned to use the school as a space to create art, but when they learned about the vandalism occurring at the other two recently vacated school buildings in town, they decided that living in Wilmarth school, in addition to using it as their studio, was a better idea. The sisters also run a business out of the school.
In Washington, D.C., developer Jim Abdo turned a 1909-built, 40,000-square-foot, red-brick building formerly known as the Bryan School into 20 lofts in 2004 after the building had been vacant for several years. Bryan School Loft units have 19-foot ceilings, Brazilian cherry hardwood floors and new soundproof windows. Kitchens contain luxury Viking appliances and granite countertops, and bathrooms boast antique bathtubs and separate glass showers. The school building, located on Capitol Hill, has views of the Capitol building and the Washington Monument.
Box Bungalows and Houses To Go
Looking to downsize? Jay Shafer, owner of Tumbleweed, the Tiny House Company, sells box bungalows and houses to go. These compact residences range from 65 to 172 square feet. Imagine owning a home that weighs less than your car, or that will actually attach to your car. Many of the homes can be built on top of a flatbed trailer and hauled by your vehicle.
The 14 models, like Ikea furniture, each have a name like Epu, Weebee or Tarleton. You can buy the plans for as little as $49 and build the home yourself for an estimated materials cost of $12,000 to $20,000 and an estimated time investment of 550 to 850 hours. You can also buy a prebuilt home for $13,999 to $50,000. That's right; an entire home for the cost of a down payment.
Shafer doesn't just sell the homes, either. He lives in an 89-square-foot model out of a desire to minimize his environmental impact and live a simple lifestyle. He says he doesn't want to own too much stuff or maintain too much space.
For many people, the option to have privacy, and be left alone, is a major draw of home ownership. For people who prefer frequent interaction with their neighbors and a strong sense of community, cohousing is an option. The idea comes from Denmark, but there are cohousing communities in a number of western European countries and in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In such a community, it's extremely likely that you'll know your neighbors well, borrow their tools, carpool with them and babysit their kids.
Cohousing is a type of community where residents actively participate in the community's design and development, and make decisions by consensus. While each residence is self-contained and has most or all of the features of a typical home, dwellings are typically close together and connected by sidewalks, with streets and cars hidden from view. To compensate for small lot sizes and encourage interaction, cohousing communities have common spaces for playing, exercising, hosting events and more. There might be a communal swimming pool, library, laundry room or craft room. There is typically a kitchen and dining area, and a community room. In a cohousing community, you might walk over to the community building several times a week to cook and eat dinner with your neighbors. Cohousing residents share in the work of maintaining these community facilities.
A cohousing community has many of the amenities you might find in your municipality, but just 20 to 40 households living in a small overall area, cohousing tries to foster a greater sense of community. Cohousing residences can be rented or purchased.
The Bottom Line
Converted schoolhouses, box bungalows and cohousing are just three places you can reside other than a typical house, condo or apartment. If you're looking for a unique living experience, there are plenty of options out there. If none of them appeals to you, you can follow Shafer's example and dream up your own.
One house nests inside a truck bed (though it doesn't have a kitchen or bathroom).