Disillusioned by Australia’s continually rising house prices, Melbourne filmmaker Jeremy Beasley found interest in the emerging Tiny House movement in the United States – the often self-built dwellings designed by those who’ve made a conscious decision to live smaller, simpler, debt free lives. Hannah Bambra talks to Beasey about Small is Beautiful, his new documentary exploring the phenomena of what is perhaps an extreme response to what many consider an extreme situation.
The cheap, mass construction of replica family homes appears to be a worldwide phenomena. For members of the Tiny House movement, society’s intense focus on house ownership as a badge of achievement is concerning.
With the aim to break the traditional bonds of a mortgage and fixed address, the tiny house movement is the simple practice of downsizing. Commonly a mere ten square metres in size and often placed on portable trailers to avoid being classed as permanent structures, the designs feature ingenious chameleon furniture and storage units that squeeze maximum functionality out of their undeniably micro proportions.
First gaining traction in the U.S, the movement is also earning attention in Australia, as property prices continue to increase and young renters seek out alternatives to a lifetime of debt. Based on his own search for answers, Melbourne-based creative Jeremy Beasley has directed feature-length film Small is Beautiful to quell misconceptions about the Tiny House movement and gain real-life insights from those who are thinking small and dreaming big.
Exploring issues of rapid commercialisation, connectedness with community and the re-evaluation of personal priorities, Small is Beautiful focuses on the personal stories of Portland’s tiny house builders. Open Journal caught up with Beasley to discuss his documentary, which is currently touring the US after a warm reception from the Australian public and green housing sector over the last month.
Jeremy Beasley filming a scene of ‘Small is Beautiful’, a documentary exploring the Tiny House movement around Portland, Oregon.
Hannah Bambra: One of the wonderful aspects of Small is Beautiful is its preference of the realistic over the romantic. While each builder’s story was enchanting, their hardships were real and not glazed over. Did you always want to document their journey in that way?
Jeremy Beasley: Absolutely. From the very first interview, I wanted to go a little deeper with the human side of the story. I think tiny houses are incredible and a fantastic housing solution and the internet romanticises a lot of the tiny house world, however I really wanted to show that life is still life, whether in a tiny house or not.
What got you started on the project?
The idea of having a 30 year mortgage is not something I’m comfortable with, and once I realised I’d probably never be able to buy a house in Melbourne (where I live) I started researching alternative ways to live.
How could I live with less material possessions, in a smaller space? My thinking was, what better way to learn about it than to interview the people in the process or already doing it.
How did you get to know the key characters in Small is Beautiful and what was your key criteria for focusing on their tiny house construction?
Research, research and more research. I met loads of people and followed what felt like the most honest stories I could find.
Some driving factors for tiny house living, such as distaste for mass consumerism and debt, desire to travel and not be tied down and minimisation of consumption are worldwide concerns. In light of this, why do you think the movement has been so strong in Portland?
Portland is one of the prime areas because it’s a really tight nit community, with loads of strong sub communities. It’s of course very alternative and progressive, and the backyard sizes, particularly in the city’s Northeast district, are massive and lend themselves to this sort of thing well. It happens to also have great resources such as tool libraries and even tiny house workshops. It is the perfect recipe.
Experts have touched on the idea that architects need to be leaders and formalise the Tiny House movement. We see this happening in Japan and Germany in particular, do you think Australia is change resistant or slow to catch on?
Australia is doing it differently to the USA. In the US, culturally people love cottages, the idea of the escaping “into the wild”, Henry Thoreau etc.
In Australia our design is more European influenced. We’re seeing a lot of pre-fab, minimalist style houses popping up.
What do you hope this film will achieve and what would you like audiences to take away from it?
I hope people discover that living tiny and the tiny house movement is about so much more than just the house.
Would you ever build a tiny house?
Of course – that’s the first reason I was interested in making this film!
Small is Beautiful is screening in Australia until the 4th May.
Small is Beautiful
Design ideas for Jeremy’s own tiny house.
By Hannah Bambra