A Pattern Language for Tiny Houses

One of my favorite design books is “A Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander.

It has so many useful suggestions for what makes design good – for what makes towns / buildings / spaces function well and be spaces that fit people’s needs and desires.  It is set up starting from macro (the distribution of towns) to micro (half inch trim), describing all the elements of towns, buildings, and construction.

I was reading it the other day and realized that a Tiny House is perfectly set up to meet many of the patterns.  Such as:

  • 79.   Your Own Home
  • 105.  South Facing Outdoors
  • 109.  Long Thin House
  • 117.  Sheltering Roof
  • 128.  Indoor Sunlight
  • 159.  Light on Two Sides of Every Room
  • 188.  Bed Alcove
  • 190.  Ceiling Height Variety
  • 222.  Low Sill

79.  Your Own Home.

The book says “People cannot be genuinely comfortable and healthy in a house which is not theirs.  All forms of rental–whether from private landlords or public housing agencies–work against the natural process which allow people to form stable, self-healing communities. … Keep the emphasis in the definition of ownership on control, not on financial ownership. …  give people the physical opportunity to modify and repair their own places.”

This pattern isn’t about the american dream, or commerce, or profit… it’s about responsibility and stewardship, which are healthy and necessary (in my opinion.)  Our tiny house is the first home I have ever owned.  I have been renting for about 14 years… living in about that many different apartments, houses, etc.  Well.  Just apartments and houses.  I never rented anything too unusual…  haha.  And I have been craving a home of my own… a place to nurture and create and carve around me and my family.  Hooray for tiny houses and for my husband, who has the skills and the persistence to build our house.

105.  South Facing Outdoors.

South Facing Outdoors

Because a Tiny House is mobile, it can be re-positioned seasonally.  We have two large windows designed for passive solar heating in the winter, but now, during the summer, we have those facing north, to limit any solar gain.

109.  Long Thin House.

Long Thin House

This pattern is so different from how homes are currently built.  but it makes so much sense.  Gets daylight and natural ventilation into all the rooms.  No dark spaces inside.  And, smaller structural members can be used to build it, saving resources and costs and labor.

117.  Sheltering Roof.

Sheltering Roof sketches

I love the way Tiny Houses accomplish this Pattern.  No wasted attic space.  And a beautiful spacious vault inside.  Which, when you read the pattern, it explains that dwelling in the roof space actually causes the building to envelop the inhabitants, making it personal and cozy.

128.  Indoor Sunlight.

Indoor Sunlight

this Pattern says  “If the right rooms are facing south, a house is bright and sunny and cheerful; if the wrong rooms are facing south, the house is dark and gloomy.”  A tiny house can easily achieve this because every room can face south… and it can be repositioned seasonally to face the largest windows toward the south in the winter.

159.  Light on Two Sides of Every Room.

Light on Two Sides.

This one is obvious and easy for the Tiny House to achieve.  I love all the daylight inside our Tiny House.  I think the white painted finish inside helps amplify the light, but I also think the house’s small size lends toward generous daylight.  We never need to use electric lights during the day.  It is such a happy, bright, sunny space.

188.  Bed Alcove.

Bed Alcove.

I was surprised when I first read this Pattern – “you mean we don’t need entire rooms to sleep in?”  No way!   People feel safer (and thus sleep better) when they’re enclosed on three sides, without a lot of space floating around them in their sleep.  And, if you’ve done any research on curing insomnia, they suggest to reserve your bedroom for sleeping, and this will help preserve it as a place of calm relaxation.  So, if we’re just sleeping in there, why not a bed alcove?  And then another space for clothes and dressing.  Our bed alcove is wonderful!  So cozy.  I love how the bed is slightly elevated and has small windows for views outside, as well as a view into the main part of the house.

190.  Ceiling Height Variety.

Ceiling Height Variety achieved by an elevated floor.

Ceiling Height Variety achieved with a loft.

the Pattern says “A building in which the ceiling heights are all the same is virtually incapable of making people comfortable.”

Ceiling height variety is one of those things that I don’t really notice, except when it’s not there…  I’ve lived in so many rental houses that had 8′-0 ceilings throughout.  They felt so… flat.  And squatty.  And, I don’t know how to describe it.  But the design idea is to allow higher ceilings for those rooms with more occupants and more boisterous activities – like living rooms and kitchens maybe, but spaces that are meant for quiet, seated activities, or for sleeping, should have lower ceilings – providing the intimacy required.  Tiny Houses are perfectly set up to achieve this pattern.  The second photo looks almost exactly like the Tumbleweed style of Tiny House.  The first photo is more like our Tiny House, except we have a closet (and a gooseneck hitch) under our bed platform.


We’re doing well living in our tiny house!  the toilet is still a work in progress.  Incinolet claims it should be odor free.  It’s not – there is a horrible odor outside.  It makes me not want to use the toilet, which isn’t a very homey feeling!  We’re going to try a new heating element.  And in the meantime, I’m reading the Humanure Handbook by Jenkins.  I wish we had a place to start a humanure compost pile, then I would definitely go that route, but we don’t right now, as we’re renting land to park our house on.

Shane has been working on editing video footage that we took the last time we took the house out for a drive and we’ll post that awesome video soon!

hope everyone is well.  we love hearing all your thoughts and comments on tiny living, etc.

– Carrie

Categories: Tiny House Design | Tags: | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “A Pattern Language for Tiny Houses

  1. Excellent post! I love this book too! It’s a must have for designers! :)

  2. costahomestead

    This looks like a fabulous book, I’ve definitely got to see if I can get a copy.

  3. anotherkindofdrew

    BRILLIANT post! I do not know this book and I am not sure I will actually buy it (at this time….just being honest). But I appreciate the points you brought out and it makes me admire you architectural designer types even more! I am recommending this post to EVERY tiny house person I can think of as well as making a note to mention it on Thursday’s podcast. Watch Oprah…it’s time for Drew’s Book Club!

    • thanks Drew! I actually re-posted it… for some reason it got released without being completed earlier this am. some sort of internet connection issure…. you should read it again! even better now. :)
      – Carrie

  4. I think my late husband had this book, which means it’s somewhere in my bookcases! I think I need to try to find it.

  5. ha! carrie, you are so funny! I love the apartment, house, etc…
    also, is “humanure” a recognized word? i love it!

    • human + manure = humanure!!! it involves composting human … output to render it a useful soil additive – humus.
      – Carrie

  6. Pingback: Tiny House Inspiration – A Small Modern Dwelling on the Navajo Rez « Clothesline Tiny Homes

  7. Pingback: A Pattern Language for Tiny Houses | {clearly} not astute

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