Review: Small House Living Australia

‘You need a small house, not a tiny house’ is how my friend succinctly summed up my years-long, hard-to-articulate disquiet with the whole tiny house movement. And that: ‘Often, tiny houses are tiny for the sake of being tiny’. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

I am obsessed with having a small, well-designed, minimalist space, but while I like the idea of tiny houses, I’ve yet to be won over by their reality. Compact is good, but tiny houses often take compact to the point of impracticality.

Sure, tiny houses work for some people. And hats off to those people. But something as simple as storing the mandatory seven years of tax receipts or even having the space to spread them out and properly look at them would pose at best an annoyance and at worst a problem. And having to completely pack up one thing before you could use another thing would be next-level annoying.

So when I heard Catherine Foster was releasing Small House Living Australia: Smart design in homes of 90m2 or less (what appears to be a follow-up to her New Zealand equivalent), I basically did a real-life enactment of the hands-up-in-praise emoji. A book about small rather than tiny houses in Australia was, I thought, exactly what I needed.

Like most architectural books. Small House Living Australia is basically pinterest-worthy porn. Containing a bunch of professional images that show off the architecture at its best angles, accompanied by text and basic plans, it’s inspiration for people who are—or who dream of one day—building a small but well-designed space. And as a flick-through, aesthetically appealing dream-fest, Small House Living Australia doesn’t disappoint. It makes you itch to have a plot of land on which to commission such a clever space.

However, I will confess I have two concerns about the book that left me a little disappointed. The first is that many of the small houses—such as The Copper House, The Doll’s House, The Barn TAS, and The Sawmill House— have already appeared on blogs such as The Design Files. Had I known the book was featuring houses I’d already seen (in fact, I think some of the photos are identical), I’d have been a lot less likely to buy it.

The second is that I have some concerns about the quality of the editing—issues that cannot be attributed to style decisions and that so frustrated me I fair nearly emailed the publisher. That said, they’re errors that probably only an editor would notice and the book’s text is really only playing second fiddle to the images and designs. I enjoyed it a lot more when I stopped reading the text altogether and just pored over the pictures.

That’s not to say the book isn’t worth reading—in fact, I’d like to see it succeed to show publishers, developers, architects, and the general public alike that small (as opposed to tiny, which arguably requires decent amounts of compromise) is a viable, sustainable, largely compromise-free option. I’d just approach it with more information than I had, and with a view to concentrate on the images rather than the writing.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.