Latest in 'tiny house' trend sees artist turn dumpster into home

Tiny houses are getting the attention of baby boomers wanting to downsize in retirement

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 1:06pm


There's nothing trashy about Gregory Kloehn's Brooklyn pied-a-terre: a live-in dumpster that sleeps two with ease, hosts impromptu barbecue parties and sports its own sundeck.

It's the California artist's tin-can contribution to the tiny-house movement that's prompting many Americans to ask if bigger really is better when it comes to having a roof over your head.

"On the street, when it's all closed up, if you don't know about it, you think it's a garbage can," said Kloehn, 42.

"They don't know I'm in here sleeping. Even with the barbecue going outside, chicken wings grilling, people just walk by. They don't see it as a home."

Kloehn had already turned six-metre shipping containers into housing units when he thought up the idea of doing likewise with the steel garbage receptacle often known as a skip.

You enter Kloehn's dark-green crash pad - his home back in Oakland is rather more conventional - through a Dutch door with an affixed minibar that is well-stocked with whiskey and vodka.

To the right is the galley-style kitchen with smooth granite countertop, sink, single-burner gas stove, concealed icebox and a hood fashioned out of an old cooking wok.

Running around the edge is a cushioned sofa, upholstered in black vinyl, with backs and seats that lift off to reveal storage space and a marine toilet connectable to a city sewage system.

Welded onto the exterior is a shower and the gas barbecue. Electricity comes from whatever socket happens to be nearby - what Kloehn calls "living off somebody else's grid."

A descendant of Civil War president Abraham Lincoln who, according to legend, grew up in a log cabin, Kloehn paid about US$1,000 for the dumpster, known in the trash business as a "six-yard humpback".

He spent another couple of thousand on fittings and insulation - about as much as one month's rent for a cramped Manhattan studio.

"It's actually kind of neat, considering what he built it out of," said Ryan Mitchell, who blogs about tiny-house design and construction at the website www.thetinylife.com

In a nation where the average home is a spacious 2,600 sq ft, tiny houses - typically 186 sq ft, but going up to 400 sq ft - are fetching more attention, not least from ageing baby boomers looking to downsize in their retirement years.

In New York, the city's museum is showing off a 325 sq ft micro-apartment boasting all the features of a unit twice its size - and it has invited a lucky few to try it out for size by spending the night in it.