Small but mighty

Over the past 20 years, a movement has been brewing in the construction and design world. In stark contrast to many larger-than-life mansions, tiny houses of all shapes and sizes are on the rise, and Cayman is not immune to their charms.

At 575 square feet, the Kosa’s home conveys majesty with a vaulted roof inspired by Pete Kosa’s passion for sailing.
At 575 square feet, the Kosa’s home conveys majesty with a vaulted roof inspired by Pete Kosa’s passion for sailing.
Built-ins like open shelving lend function and also act as décor in the compact kitchen.
Built-ins like open shelving lend function and also act as décor in the compact kitchen.

Small abodes are no longer restricted to enforced necessity, but also to desire. No longer confined to smaller budgets, but to simplified attitudes on what is important in life.

It seems some homeowners are growing weary of closets full of unused possessions, dusting rooms that are rarely used, being house-rich but money-poor, and creating high carbon footprints through their energy use. Instead, some are choosing to downsize dramatically. Living in houses which have just what they need – and only that.

The Kosas

Pete and Mary Anne Kosa own a compact house in North Sound Estates. The two-bedroom one-bathroom property is a tiny slice of heaven, sitting on a peaceful plot overlooking the juncture of two canals.

The 575-square-foot indoor space, teetering between the loose and subjective definitions of ‘tiny’ and ‘small’ houses, is made up of a main downstairs living area, with living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, and a loft guest bedroom above. An outdoor dining area sits on 125-square-feet of covered deck space.

In keeping with the waterside location, the home employs a hint of nautical design in the structure’s boat-like curves and round porthole-like windows. Salvaged boat parts were also used for the interior staircase bannister and rails.

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A comfortable couch for Sunday naps was a must for the Kosas in their living room.

The Kosas were not actively following an architectural trend when they built, however their intentions mirror those of many other tiny house fans. Pete explains, “our motivations were practicality, environmental sensitivity and cost, while providing all the comforts that we expect in a modern lifestyle.” Extensive cruising on their sailboat had also made them accustomed to living in confined spaces.

Not so tiny challenges

The tiny house movement does not come without its challenges. It takes a certain person to shed worldly possessions, to live in such close quarters to family members, and to sustain the move permanently after the romantic ideals of small house living dissipate.

Building also presents some difficulties, and the design of a tiny house takes skill on both the part of architect and homeowner. Utilizing space in different ways to conventional house planning by incorporating storage, installing dual-function features, and making use of high ceilings by building platform rooms, as with the Kosa’s loft guest room, are all useful methods in this type of building.

Pete acknowledges the difficulty of finding an architect who welcomes the challenges, custom design, and low cost of a tiny house project, especially in Cayman where the movement is not as well-known.

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Natural light and exposed beams open up the house’s downstairs bedroom.

“We found a local architect, Louis Mussington, who did a great job of putting our dreams on paper and following the myriad of local regulations,” says Pete, who acted as general contractor on the nine-month project in 2010.

“The relationship you have with your architect in a project like this is critically important as there will be many occasions when the priorities conflict with structural regulatory or aesthetic considerations. Louis did a great job.”

Benefits of going smaller

For many tiny housers, the benefits outweigh the challenges. With downsizing comes less maintenance (and therefore more free time); a lower environmental impact due to less water, AC and electricity used; better organization due to a shedding of possessions; lower mortgages due to the reduced cost of building; and a healthier bank balance with lower bills, allowing surplus funds to be saved or spent at will.

The Kosas have reduced their energy costs by 50 percent from their previous two-bedroom condo, and Pete enjoys the fact that “the maintenance issues are a small as the house, with just enough projects to keep the mind alive.” When the couple is away, or their three grown children aren’t visiting, the home can also bring in extra money as a vacation rental.

As the Kosas have proved, smaller doesn’t have to mean plainer. Careful planning for houses below 1,000-square-feet can create small but mighty structures, both aesthetically pleasing and perfect for those who no longer desire the excesses, responsibilities, and adverse environmental effects of larger residences.

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