The world has embraced the tiny home movement in recent years, but the trend is not new in Santa Fe, where people have long lived in small houses — adobe dwellings built snugly into the earth from whence they came. Built for centuries with sun-dried earthen bricks that provide natural heating and cooling, our adobes reflect the core of this architectural and social movement, which seeks to create a better world by living as simply as possible.
“People in New Mexico have been very open to the idea of starting small, even going back to the pueblos, which are also the first multi-story, multi-family developments,” says Zane Fischer, CEO of Extraordinary Structures, a Santa Fe-based design/build manufacturing company established in 2016 to create tiny houses and other small structures. “Those communities have small personal spaces but hinge a lot on public space.”
The International Residential Code officially limits tiny homes to 400 square feet. That’s actually pretty large when you consider that Henry David Thoreau, an early inspiration for the tiny home movement, lived by Walden Pond in a ten-by-fifteen-foot cabin. Thoreau’s nineteenth-century intention was to live simply and deliberately, a credo for today’s tiny home enthusiasts. The decision to downsize is also often motivated by environmental, financial or other concerns.
Tiny homes come in all shapes, from cabins and farmhouses to dwellings inspired by Colonial, Japanese, Scandinavian and other architectural styles. Freedom awaits the owner of a tiny house on wheels, perfect for roaming the country and staying in RV parks or settling in a tiny-home community. On the other hand, an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) — such as an office or mother-in-law flat — is located on the same property as your home and is stationary. It’s the tiny home model of the moment. “The majority of people are looking for a way to create an accessory dwelling,” Fischer says. “That’s the most common scenario.”
Unlike many states, New Mexico allows tiny houses on wheels to be legal dwellings. “The state’s building code means that you could buy a piece of land, and your tiny house could be connected to the land, which is great,” Fischer says. “It’s progressive for the state.”
Tiny homes in the area include The Abbot’s Cabin, a 240-square-foot house in the mountains of New Mexico. Created by Extraordinary Structures, it features Japanese-inspired styling inside and out. A deck with majestic views provides an expansive feeling if the tiny house starts to feel too small, while big windows bring the outdoors in. The company also has created a hip version of a New England saltbox, “an extra-wide tiny house on wheels that balances the small space with interior height and a wall bed,” Fischer says.
In addition to a simpler life, tiny homes can lead to tidy lives. “I like the orderliness of the tiny house, everything sort of in its place,” Fischer says. “It kind of has to be: if you have a tendency to sprawl out a little bit, like I do, it can force you to behave. Personally, I like that small spaces rely on craft, because all of the little details of construction and design become important. You notice everything. Everything has to work well, everything has to look good, everything has to be made properly.” He adds, “And of course, it’s looking at what you really need, which is less about the person and financial conditions and more about space and use of materials, in terms of impact and environment.”
While you may be giving up space and possessions, you may find that life in a tiny house can not only change the way you live but also how you live in the world.
Lynn Cline is the author of The Maverick Cookbook: Iconic Recipes & Tales from New Mexico. She has written for The New York Times, Bon Appétít and numerous other publications. She also hosts Cline’s Corner, a weekly radio show on KSFR 101.1 FM.