Apair of retirees walk gingerly up a flight of wooden stairs to inspect a loft bed; a young family with their newborn enter a tiny cylindrical house adorned with hand-painted flowers; a 10-year-old boy runs around a cabin, eagerly opening and closing cupboards to discover nothing but air.
Over the weekend, more than 8,000 people visited St Ives Showground to take part in Sydney’s inaugural Tiny Homes Carnival. On Saturday morning, as the mud started to dry from the past week’s downpour, herds of punters queued eagerly to explore one of 15 tiny homes lining the showground’s perimeter.
Tiny homes, as it turns out, are extremely popular. The models on display were as diverse as the people waiting to go inside them. There were tiny houses with multiple storeys (“very impractical for oldies!”); tiny homes equipped with three bedrooms (“that’s not really a tiny home, is it!”) and tiny homes that seemed to be plain old caravans, glorified by sleek design.
For most attendees, the carnival is merely a voyeuristic window-gazing. It’s a chance to witness the structures that have become the focus of American TV shows like Tiny House Nation and Tiny House, Big Living. And while most punters have an undeniable appreciation for all things tiny, when asked if they would actually buy and live in one, the answer is more often than not a sheepish “no, I don’t think so”.
However, even for those more serious about the idea of buying tiny, the practicality of urban living fuels doubts.
“People get sold the idea of tiny houses as being able to park in the bush and go travelling and take your tiny home with you,” explained tiny house appreciator and festival attendee, Diane Wanasawage, “but in reality, if you’re in Sydney, you’re most likely going to be looking at a fence and a little patch of grass.”
“Even those people who might be looking at a tiny home as an alternative to a ‘regular home’ to manage their finances, might stumble across the fact that a block of land might cost more than the ‘tiny’ itself.”
As the day drew on and the lines to enter the tiny homes grew longer and longer, it became apparent that these tiny houses on wheels are no real substitute for the Australian dream – they’re merely a shiny, fun-sized addition for those already living it.
The general sentiment of the crowd, including Blue Mountains resident and mother, Katie Gerber, is that “tiny houses are an affordable option to put on land that you’ve already got”.
“For me, it could be a great option for our kids as it’s harder for them to get into the housing market,” Gerber says. “Tiny houses are great because they’re entirely self-sufficient so we’d be able to give them their own space without them having to pay rent.”
For others looking to buy, like current homeowner Debbie Jardine, tiny homes are a means of retreating to a nomadic country lifestyle. Jardine, a Sydney-based professional in her early 40s, speaks of buying a “tiny” as her “final plan” of selling her Surry Hills house, becoming “mortgage-free and mobile” and setting up life in rural Australia.
However, for many young people looking to enter the housing market, saying goodbye to city life or crashing in their parents’ backyard is not a realistic option. What’s often pitched as an alternative path towards first home ownership seems to be, in reality, a way for the existing players in the housing market to continue dominating the game. Tiny homes are fun to explore – but they’re not a big solution.