“Black Vernacular: Architecture as Cultural Practice” by bell hooks reveals the complicated history of African-American architecture in the United States and the restrictions placed on it by the “politics of race, class, and gender” (148). The socioeconomic expectations of homes then, and now, continues to revolve around square footage as an indicator of class. In 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report that announced the average new construction home was 1,000 square feet larger than in 1973. The display of class by house size and materials used in building represents a socioeconomic crisis for the lower class as demand for these homes increases.
I wanted to bring an image into my blog this week of a tiny house with its design and cultural aesthetic created by an African-American woman to complicate the desire for a cultural aesthetic that defies the restrictive boundaries of economic expectations of home design and ownership, but that also meets the “expected” aesthetics of middle- and upper-class housing. Jewel, aka Ms. Gypsy Soul, of North Carolina, designed her own tiny house and planned the interior design herself.
The tiny house movement has called into question the need for large physical space and the economic and environmental cost of appearing middle class. Tiny houses are typically under 500 square feet and some are even as small as 200 square feet. These houses are economical but also incorporate middle class (and upper class) design elements that showcase the owner in a more positive materialistic light. Granted, not all tiny homes are inexpensive (some do carry a heavier price of over $100k), but generally one can be acquired a tiny home for $30k.
They may not solve the issues of poverty, race, class, and gender, but they do at least begin to address class and poverty. Some tiny homes are built as temporary shelters for veterans and the homeless, others are used for years. While they can be built on physical land, those without land ownership can build/buy theirs on wheels.
A tiny house is typically showcased as having middle-class features of aesthetics: expensive granite (or quartz) countertops are smaller, making them more affordable, and flooring can be an expensive wood, laminate, or tile because the square footage needed is minimal. Custom ceramic farmhouse or deep stainless-steel sinks in the kitchen signal higher economic standing than the basic offerings most homes have. Small stainless-steel appliances (fridge and stove) are more affordable because of their smaller size. Large windows through the tiny house bring more light into the home at a fraction of the cost, but make the space look more upper class.
In addition to these aesthetics of interior design, the decorative pieces that can be included within a tiny house can reflect more expensive taste at a lower price tag because the quantity and size will be reduced. A large sofa set that would fit in a typical living room (approx. $3,000) would not fit into a tiny house, but a smaller leather couch (approx. $1,000) could fit and would save the owner on other furniture costs (armchairs, etc.) while retaining the aesthetics of upper class.
Tiny houses may be readily available, economic, and aesthetically pleasing, but they are not legal in most places and require a special ordinance to be recognized. This issue is particularly important to examine the connection with the expression of architecture by a culture of the population who needs more affordable housing.