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Light Housekeeping

I.C. Advocate for Minimalism Thrives in His 10-by-7 Home

Zack Kucharski

The Gazette

April 28, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

    IOWA CITY — You’ll never hear Gregory Johnson complain about his tight living quarters that make even the tiniest of college dorm rooms look spacious.

    Johnson, 42, has spent three years living in a house just 7 feet wide and 10 feet long.

    He says he wouldn’t want to live any other way.

    ‘‘It’s the same experience of going on vacation and staying a motel. Your junk is all behind and you’re able to enjoy the moment,’’ said Johnson, who built his tiny home at 508 Melrose Ct. near the University of Iowa campus in 2003.

    ‘‘There is something about the minimalism that is so relaxing and freeing.’’

    The interest Johnson and others in a small but growing group of homeowners in the United States have in tiny homes flies in the face of a decades-long trend of building bigger. It is nowhere near enough to reverse that trend.

    The average size of a single-family home has been growing since the 1950s, with the current average at 2,350 square feet, March 2006 National Homebuilders Association statistics show.

    Johnson, a technology consultant at the UI, said he likes having everything he needs within an arm’s reach. Living in the tiny house has made him more social and has helped him save money, he said.

    And, he added, it helps preserve the environment at a time when the size of most homes continues to grow.

    Johnson founded the Small House Society, a group that promotes small homes and minimalist living. The growing group has 250 members, including architects and urban planners from across the country and Canada.

    Johnson started the group before he moved into his own house.

    His house has a front porch, a queen-sized bed in the sleeping loft, pine flooring, closet space, a boat cabin heater, a table and a sink. Though the house is wired for electricity, Johnson instead uses two LED bicycle lights at night.

    Jay Shafer, a former UI art professor who helped Johnson design and build the home and who lives in a home 8 feet wide by 12 feet long, said demand for tiny homes he designs has grown significantly in the past three years. He moved to California and started the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co.

    The small homes figure to be a tough sell.

    Tim Lehman, president of the Iowa City Area Association of Realtors, said size isn’t the biggest concern he hears from homebuyers these days. ‘‘It’s more about price range than about size. It’s about what they can afford,’’ Lehman said.

    Johnson said he knows it’s unlikely most people could live in such a small space, but he believes tiny houses could be great for the Peace Corps or other uses. He said he hoped others see his experience and opt away from the increasingly large homes being built.

    ‘‘I’m not so interested in seeing people live exactly like I do, but I’d like to encourage people to think about something that’s a little simpler,’’ said Johnson.

Johnson moved from a 2,000-square-foot home following a divorce into a 120-squarefoot apartment before moving into this house.

His house, which is in the side yard of his parents’ house, has been great for his bottom line.

‘‘You look at your house payment and your car payment and those two things could be like $1,000. If you take those out of the equation, it really saves a person a lot of money.’’

Jim Slosiarek photos/The Gazette Gregory Johnson, 42, shakes rugs from the porch of his 10-by-7-foot home Wednesday in Iowa City. The rugs cover pine flooring. The home has a sleeping loft with a queen-sized mattress. Johnson is trying to promote a minimalist lifestyle.

Gregory Johnson shows off storage space in his 10-by-7-foot home. The metal surface at lower left is designed to direct window light into the rest of the home.

Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette Gregory Johnson lights his propane heater Wednesday in his Iowa City home, which is 7 feet wide and 10 feet long. Johnson Founded Small House Society.