As 2014 comes to a close, it's safe to say that this year was another gigantic one for homes of extremely limited square footage — a year in which an impossibly petite abode was imagined on the moon, the tiny house movement got its very own reality show and a walk-in closet-sized residence hit the market in London for just under half a million dollars ($2,400 per square foot, in case you were wondering). It was also a year when the humanitarian side of micro-housing shone bright, as evidence by a growing number of tiny house villages catering to the chronically homeless and those struggling to get back on their feet.

Below, we've wrangled up 14 small-minded housing projects, none short on big ideas, that intrigued and inspired us in 2014. Here's hoping that you'll love them as much as we did.

1. The trailer-bound conversation starter

Alek Lifeski's Tiny Project

Photo: Alek Lisefski

Hand-built in Iowa but currently stationed in micro-home-heavy Sonoma County, California, the centerpiece of Alek Lifeski's Tiny Project is a 240-square-foot dwelling described as an “attempt to live a simpler, more conscious, debt-free life, and in doing so helping to set and example and educate the community about alternative, affordable, more sustainable ways of living.”

2. The tricked-out mobile home for nomadic millennials

Green Mountain College OTIS home

Photo: Green Mountain College

Conceived by students at Green Mountain College in Vermont, OTIS (Optimal Traveling Independent Space) is an incredibly small (70 square feet) and completely self-sufficient next-gen caravan (composting toilet, rooftop PV panels and the like) that, in the words of student designer Mike Magnotta, allows its residents to "go anywhere and do anything." He explains: “At the end of the day, you just need the environment to sustain yourself. You’re not tied down to a piece of land and be stuck somewhere.”

3. The anti-clutter tool shed conversion project

Says wood kayak builder and anti-clutter proselytizer Brian Shultz of the dearth of closets in his petite crash pad on the Oregon coast: "... closets are inevitably filled with crap that you don't need and will never see again. And so when you build things with open shelves you have to look at it, and it makes you think about what you have and it also tends to keep the space tidier."

4. The adaptive reuse project tucked away in a parking garage 


Photo: Matt Hickman

Composed of a trio of tricked-out tiny dwellings (works of art, really), SCADpad was an experimental micro-housing community installed in a parking structure on the Atlanta campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design this past spring. A collaborative effort between SCAD students, faculty and alumni, SCAD president Paula Wallace called the undertaking a "sustainable urban micro-housing community that projects relevance far beyond form and function to the Vitruvian Principles of utility, strength, and delight. SCADpad creates an environment for inventive and artful living.” 

5. The off-grid tent alternative

In Tenta prefabricated micro cabin

Rendering: In-Tenta

From Barcelona-headquartered sustainable design firm In-tenta, DROP XL is a prefabricated micro-cabin concept that boasts the sleek appearance of a spaceship escape pod and a design that treads lightly wherever you ultimately decide to plop it down. Explain the designers of the leave-no-trace architecture concept: "The DROP modules are part of the large emerging trend in the field of modular microarchitecture, suitable for being placed wherever the heart desires and the land permits."

6. The Lilliputian home that's fit for a giant

In Sonoma County (natch), big 'n' tall  law student Joel Fleck proves that you needn't be of dainty stature to live comfortably in a dainty home. "I definitely relate to the idea that you work better in a place that you're comfortable with and so Thoreau per se was very comfortable at Walden Pond because that was a little place and that’s really what he was into and he was very comfortable there. So I’m very comfortable at my desk because I built this, I know every little inch of it, so working here just feels right."

7. The shipping container hermitage

Shipping container home by Dachi Papuashvili

Rendering: Dachi Papuashvili/Behance

Although Georgian designer Dachi Papuashvili claims that his "energetically independent" shipping container dwelling is "not linked with religious symbols,” it would seem that the conceptual structure’s distinctly rood-ish profile is a shoo-in for meditative, perhaps devotional, activities. The ideal resident for this cross-shaped abode? We're thinking a monk, a yogi, a naturalist, an artist or a generalized loner who doesn't mind daily ladder climbing and composting toilets.

8. The school bus-turned-mobile microhome as an on-campus housing alternative

Says dorm-eschewing Bard College student Jonathan Von Reusner of his decision to transform an old school bus snagged on Craigslist for $2,500 into a comfortable, functional off-campus crash pad (as an alternative to living with his parents) with no previous building or remodeling experience: "For me, this was the cheapest and kind of coolest way for me to finally get out of my house and have my own place."

9. The roadside shelter subsidized by its billboard facade

Gregory Project roadside project

Rendering: DesignDevelop/Gregory Project

With the do-gooding goal to "to find optimal alternatives for existential questions of people without a home through the use of billboard objects and their advertisement spaces," the open-source housing initiative known as the Gregory Project envisions a series a spiffy stilted huts scattered along a Slovakian highway. While nothing fancy, the dainty dwellings — complete with lofted sleeping areas, kitchenettes, and separate bathrooms — would shelter those who have nowhere else to turn.

10. The Swiss Army-Knife inspired Parisian cubbyhole

At 86 square feet, this is truly one tiny living space — a cramped garret in a Haussmann-period Paris apartment block made habitable thanks to a paneled wall unit equipped with a variety of sliding, folding and multi-tasking parts. Basically, it's an oversized piece of furniture that allows for all basic domestic functions: sleeping, eating, bathing and storing stuff. "The requirement of a unique multifunctional space has first been seen as a fairly complex constraint and, in the end, it became the real strength of the project," explains Kitoko Studio.

11. The low-cost finish-it-yourself prefab hybrid

low cost part prefab Vietnamese abode

Photo: Vo Trong Nghia Architects/Hiroyuki Oki

A prototype home designed specifically for low-income residents of the Mekong Delta whose existing — and largely temporary — dwellings have seen better days, S-House 2 from Vietnam's Vo Tong Nghia Architects offers comfortable, secure, resilient, affordable and most importantly, permanent housing. While the home’s precast concrete frame is mass produced in the Long An Province, the lightweight rectangular structure truly starts to take form once it is delivered — possibly by long-boat — to its install site.

12. The cozy Arctic micro-shelter that can be towed by snowmobile (or dog)

Arctic microshelter

Photo: Rob Sweere

With their odd shapes and portholes, Dutch artist Rob Sweere’s Greenlandic “sled habitats” kind of look like petite alien pods deposited at the foot of a massive iceberg. Built to accommodate six, the interior of each mobile hut includes benches and tabletops for “sitting, cooking, and sleeping” but not much else aside from some “bespoke design details” and an emphasis on “functionally and aesthetic beauty.”

13. The super-petite Portland rental property

super petitie Portland rental property Salsabox

Photo: Shelter Wise

While the 97-square-foot Salsabox may not be the wee-ist structure at Caravan — Portland's tiny house-filled "urban campground" par excellence — it is the spiciest. And the dainty digs, equipped with all the trappings (coffee maker, alarm clock, mini fridge, fresh towels, flush toilet, etc.) you’d expect to find at a Holiday Inn Express or other decidedly more conventional/less adventurous lodging establishments, can be all yours for $125 per night.

14. The dance party-ready micro-funhouse

Hammocks! Swings! Disco balls! Trapdoors! Moveable walls! Floating picnic tables! Secret tea rooms! But seriously, what more could you ask for in a 620-square-foot living space?

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.