As Petaluma’s real estate market continues to grow (and local housing prices along with it), an alternative trend to going big, as they say, is going small. Literally – in terms of square footage. The Tiny House Movement, as it’s generally known, is an architectural and social movement that advocates quality of life over quantity of square feet, with residences usually under 400 square feet. For Sonya Tafejian that’s twice what she and her small dog require – they live comfortably in a home of less than 200 square feet and in many ways represent a vanguard of local alternative housing.

A tiny house developer based in Sebastopol has been in discussion with Sonoma County’s zoning department about building a tiny house village, and separately, the county recently authorized $75,000 to study proposed tiny homes for area homeless last November. With the recent uptick in interest, Tafejian has been leading regular tiny house workshops in Petaluma. Here are three things she could teach you about tiny houses:

Less is More

The largest share of property values for owner-occupied housing units in Petaluma are falling within the $500,000 to $750,000 range, according to government information aggregator Data USA. The average cost of a tiny house is $30,000 says Tafejian (of course, purchasing or leasing the land beneath them is another matter). Given the upward trend of the local market it’s no wonder people are becoming interested in winnowing their earthly belongings to fit in a home that not only fits their means but perhaps an emerging philosophical shift away from materialism.

“It was a struggle to pare down my belongings and it took nine months to finally close down my storage space,” recalls Tafejian, who accomplished her goal to contain everything she owns within 200 square feet of space this March. “I have everything I need for my simple, and actually, delightful lifestyle.” The process of downsizing brought Tafejian back to basics. When space is a premium, a clunky sewing machine, for example, became a space-hog. “I have gone back to sewing by hand, which is much more relaxing and enjoyable, for me, than using a sewing machine,” says Tafejian, who passed her machine onto a daughter who owns a regular-sized home in Petaluma.

Tiny Houses Come in Many Forms

“As part of an international trend all types of people are building, buying and living in all sorts of Tiny Homes,” explains Tafejian. Structures include boats and quonset huts to tree houses and modified shipping containers, and even further flung concepts like the Belgian-designed “Blob VB3,” a futuristic-looking egg-shaped dwelling that boasts a bathroom, kitchen, a built-in bed and shelves for storage and the entire side opens to become a porch. Tiny houses have different requirements in terms of structural and legal considerations that are specific to the area and municipality within which the home will be situated. To wit, Tafejian’s workshop puts a premium on obtaining proper certification as regards fire, health and safety codes, zoning and permitting as regards “tiny homes on wheels” or trailers, which have their own requirements. As Tafejian says, “What could be more crucial than making sure your home is built safely and zoned properly?”

It Takes All Kinds

Tafejian begins her monthly workshop with participants sharing a little backstory on themselves and their “tiny house dreams.” In her observation, the workshops draw a diverse group of interested parties and have included, among others, teachers, nurses, artists, writers, musicians, contractors, farmers, retirees, and students. A workshop that Tafejian hosted last week included a young Air Force cargo pilot whose goal is to create affordable housing near Mather Air Force Base, east of Sacramento. “It would not be much of an adjustment for a pilot to go from virtually living on planes to living in other relatively small spaces,” Tafejian mused.

Tafejian’s next workshop is May 15 at Little House on A Trailer in Petaluma, 1840 Petaluma Blvd. North. For more information on the 5-hour workshop, including price and reservations, email, or visit her Facebook page.

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