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Big ideas in a tiny Adelaide house

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John Baxter is building a tiny house in an Adelaide backyard, with hopes it might eventually lead to a bigger project creating alternative housing options for those who are unemployed or homeless.

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There are plenty of big reasons to live in a small house. It’s cheap and affordable, the lifestyle is simple and it’s environmentally friendly – all of which explains why the “tiny house” phenomenon is spreading across the world.

Adelaide resident John Baxter has long been fascinated by this downsized living idea and decided to make his dream a reality by building his own tiny house.

The 30-year-old, who used to have a nine-to-five professional role with the government but has more recently been working on community projects, events and construction, says he began the build with his mates. Along the way it has evolved into a community undertaking, with around 20 people helping out at various times.

“I guess I got hooked by the need to do something about housing, the need for more sustainable housing, and particularly the need for more affordable housing,” Baxter tells InDaily.

“It’s about how inequality feeds into the inequitable access of housing, and how so many don’t have access to housing that meets their needs.”

The single room transportable house he is building is 2.4m wide, 6m long and 3m high, with a single room like a studio apartment – loft bed at one end, bathroom at the other.

It has been under construction since April – initially in the backyard of the Unitarian Church of SA in Norwood and now at a friend’s house – and is expected to be finished by the end of August.

Friends and community members help out with the project. Photo: Jenny Warner

Friends and community members help out with the project. Photo: Michelle Wigg

Baxter says farm sheds provided design inspiration for the exterior. He has used salvaged material found around Adelaide, including offcuts and material from demolished buildings.

But he has faced many challenges along the way. Heavy rain and winds have caused building delays, and plumbing is problematic for a transportable house.

“Many tiny houses face the same issues,” Baxter says.

As well as helping with the build, community members – including neighbours, family and members of the Unitarian Church – have contributed their own ideas on the house’s look.

“They [the church] have been massive,” Baxter says. “It is a big thing to give someone permission to build a building in their backyard.

“There aren’t a lot of churches that would let someone do that, and I’m relatively new to the community here as well.”

The project has also became a workshop for people wanting learn about house building and carpentry, with a leading tiny house builder from Victoria, Nick Matyevich, among those offering tips on construction.

The tiny house movement advocates simple living in small, simple homes. It began in the United States, when huge expenses attracted people to cheaper ways of living, and has since become popular in other parts of the world.

John Baxter inside his tiny house.

John Baxter inside the tiny house.

Baxter says while average house sizes in Australia are around 250sqm, tiny houses can range from just 10sqm to 20sqm.

Because of their affordability, they are an attractive option for housing people who can’t afford standard rental rates.

Baxter likes the idea of building places for those who are unemployed and homeless, and says any future tiny house project he undertakes will involve supporting these groups.

“It’s not permanent housing options, but a transition for people on the streets.

“It’s something you see a lot of in America, and I want to see if there’s any merit in it here in Adelaide.”

But he adds that small homes are an attractive option for a wide range of people.

“I’ve found that a lot of old people are interested, and younger couples look at them to settle down that aren’t in a position to afford property.

“Everyone you speak to sees the merit in building a tiny house for a different reason: Some people see how their kids struggle to afford to buy a house, some people know that as they get older they don’t need as much space.

“There are a lot of different reasons why you would buy a tiny house.”

Baxter and his partner plan to eventually move the finished tiny house to a new site and live in it themselves.

He is sharing his experiences on a website called Own Home, and hopes to use the skills he is gaining to pursue a career as a builder.

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