Brooklyn resident Miko Mercer, 30, joined the Tiny House Movement, and she’s done more than just take a passing interest. The New York Times recently visited Ms. Mercer and the 160-square-foot DIY dwelling she’s constructing, not on a homesteader’s plot, but inside a big Crown Heights warehouse. Mercer, who runs the skin care division at popular beauty subscription service Birchbox and draws a six-figure income, still found that, as a single person, she couldn’t afford to buy a home in a city where the average price of an apartment is $1.7 million.
She ordered a trailer bed, leased the warehouse space and got to work, designing the house herself using a 3-D modeling application called Sketchup, meticulously managing the budget using a spreadsheet. She puts the estimated cost of her tiny house at about $30,000.
Unlike on the tiny house TV shows that are becoming popular, it can be slow going: “I’m like here nailing the shingles on my house, by myself, by hand, taking months.” Ms. Mercer lives in Bushwick with three roommates while constructing the home, riding her bike to the warehouse tucked between an auto body shop and a wood shop on Bergen Street. The daughter of a Japanese artist and an American who worked in hotels, Ms. Mercer grew up traveling and making a home for herself in small spaces. She had no carpentry or building experience, though she got some initial help from a former boyfriend who was a furniture-maker. Along the way she sourced creative solutions like recycled denim insulation and windows from an old farmhouse.
Tiny houses–a term generally applied to dwellings under 400 square feet–first started popping up in the news in the early 2000s, sometimes offering a creative medium for architects and urban housing scholars, other times offering homeownership without the burden of a mortgage. As cities like NYC continue to investigate the potential of small-space living as a housing alternative, concerned voices warn of the flip side of “small space living:” low-income people forced to live in tiny SROs and tenements, trailer parks and efficiency studios, not by choice. Proponents strive to emphasize higher, not reduced quality of life that comes with making one’s home a well-designed machine for living.
Rafters marked for birdsmouth cuts #atinyhouseinbrooklyn A photo posted by Miko Mercer (@mikomercer) on
The Tiny House Movement continues to attract interest from TV, blogs, books and podcasts: “People post and share tiny house photos with the same passion they have for cat videos; there is a photo blog called Cabin Porn.” There is at least one group of enthusiasts on Meetup.com. Tiny homes are bought, sold, and taken on the road, but they don’t have the option of putting down roots in the city; there just isn’t room. Tiny houses are often built on wheels, classified as recreational vehicles so they can slip by minimum-square-footage requirements (though in many places it’s not legal to live in an R.V., so more remote locations work best).
Upstate, like-minded techie types have a tiny house colony, and there’s at least one other tiny house collective. That’s just the sort of thing that Ms. Mercer has in mind. She’s thinking of Far Rockaway, Montauk or points north, though her diminutive dwelling might end up being used as a weekend retreat. But first, she says, “I want to live in it.” And she’s definitely looking forward to moving it out of the warehouse.
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All photos courtesy of Miko Mercer/Instagram
Neighborhoods : Crown Heights