Filmmaker Natalie Hunfalvay is making a short film, A Small Experiment, documenting life inside a 7.2-square-metre house. Due for release at the end of this year, her project will focus on designer Jono Fleming’s experiences living in the “tiny house” over two weeks.

In the mid-‘90s, the tiny-house concept gained popularity in the US as a response to economic and environmental issues. It also provided a strategic answer to homelessness. These small dwellings have since demonstrated their value, particularly after they accommodated people displaced after natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. In recent years there has been a growing interest in the benefits of the tiny-house movement, and what it can offer some of the world’s most densely populated cities.

Located in Hornsby, a sleepy suburb in Sydney’s north, Fleming’s tiny house is anchored in a flat, grassy front garden. It’s eye-catchingly cute, the exterior has beautiful blue wood panelling, white window frames, a red door and a steep, pointed roof. It resembles a Swedish fishing shack, but more compact and on wheels. The wood-panelled interior is a tussle between space and practicality: Fleming climbs up to his bed in the roof space, the shower and composting toilet come off the kitchen and the lounge/dining area has furniture that doubles as storage space.

Tiny houses are not restricted to one design. They can include or exclude features such as a larger kitchen or another bed. Fleming has been living alone and he observes that living here with a partner may need some getting used to, or a few extra square metres.

Hunfalvay emphasises that the tiny-house movement is a philosophy of living with less. The houses are designed to act like fixed houses, and are seen as harder to move than caravans despite being built on a trailer. Designers of such houses veer away from the blank metal box that is a caravan, usually settling for a tasteful wood decor. It’s light, sustainable and easy on the eyes. Fleming recalls his first impressions upon moving in. “It felt like a glorified caravan, but the way it’s been finished makes it feel more permanent, not like you’re about to pack up and leave. Everything has its place and there’s something about it that feels more warm and homey.”

The film will also focus on Fleming’s energy consumption during his time in the house; he has a dial in the kitchen proudly displaying these readings. The amount of energy required to heat and power such a small space is minimal. Hunfalvay will also explore the social aspects of the tiny-house movement, including the benefits and difficulties of the movement spreading around Australia. With virtually no inner-city space to legally put a tiny house, owners must rely on the gardens of people they know, and with an increasing number of people moving into gardenless houses or apartments, this becomes difficult. “If this is to work in an urban setting, policymakers would have to consider making changes to land use in the inner city,” Hunfalvay says. Right now we can only imagine a trailer-park-style set up with rows of tiny houses, minutes away from the city.

Despite Fleming traveling 1.5 hours to work every day, he has so far enjoyed his short stay. “When I get home from work it’s dark. But when I step inside I feel like I’m in a cabin in the woods. It takes you out of the city. It’s really peaceful to return to this little space,” he says.

Small Experiment will be released later this year. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for updates.

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