Jan 11, 2012
Nate here, writing in the midst of the construction of my bike house – a 10 x 12 structure in my backyard that will, among other things, be home to my many bikes.
When I was 16, I was given a copy of Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher, and it changed my life. Someone had put to words my own inkling sensibility that less is more. And now 33, with two kids, I find that every time I get more stuff, I feel no corresponding increase in happiness. In fact, lately I have been selling off stuff – bikes, tools, furniture, kid stuff. With each good in the hand of a happy customer, I am less and less burdened by my own crap.
From Small is Beautiful
A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption…. The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity. Modern economics, on the other hand, considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of all economic activity.
I live West Berkeley, in a fairly dense urban area – not New York or SF by any stretch, but not the suburbs either. I have learned over the years that having bikes but no safe, dry place to store them is a recipe for riding less.
If it is true that what you appreciate, appreciates, the investment in my bike house will pay dividends in more riding, less servicing, more sense of security around my bikes.
As I researched small structures – I was drawn to the Modern Shed aesthetic – a simple box shape – with a sloped roof (no peak) – a structure referred to in architecture as the ‘lean-to.’ Peaked roof structures all looked a little too charming to me (a la ubiquitous Tuff Shed), and they seemed a lot less space efficient. You can pay a ton for a true ‘Modern-Shed’ with it’s concrete-board siding and aluminum windows. I searched around and found a small local building outfit that would do it for a lot less, working with more easily sourced and mass produced materials. I am a sucker for a good deal, no matter how much my eye is drawn to the high-end.
Above is a Modern-esque (post-modern?) shed that costs 1/10 what a true “modern shed” sells for, using simple and readily available materials.
In Berkeley, you can put up an un-permited structure (that is not plumbed or wired for electricity) up to 120 sq ft in footprint – if the structure is set off from the property line 4′ or more, you can have the structure go 12′ high. I opted for 10′ high, and the thing is still incredibly tall – a bit dominating, but so much capacity – more than double my 9′ x 7′ tin shed shown in the picture.
Of course, looking at such a large structure, my mind wanders to all kinds of man-cave territories: workshop, studio, office, band practice space… And then, my obsession with squeezing out economic value takes me far afield of the coveted man space to the distant realms of guest house, in-law unit, au-pair cottage, etc.
But no! My bikes groan as they fear being displaced again to the dewy purgatory of our backyard. There will always be a place for you here bikes. Au-pairs, you are forewarned.
Listen – I’m pretty excited, and I appreciate you reading this self-indulgent post – the cost per square foot of this structure with a window, door, and skylight, is about 1/10th that of my overpriced 100 year old house.
My own “little” modern shed (i.e. bike house) under construction.
Below are some great links to amazing small structures. As riding our Xtracycles enable us to enjoy the incredibly benefits a smaller transportation footprint, it’s only natural that we begin to look at other ways to scale back, scale down, enjoy life more, spend less time cleaning house, buying furniture, throwing stuff away, heating unused space, cooling unused space, lighting unused space, etc.
This little structure in my backyard is quickly becoming an potential experiment in smaller living – could I make it both a bike shed and a living space? Off the grid? Composting toilet? I’m positive that the city of Berkeley would want to get in on the mix, exacting some exorbitant permit fee – but perhaps that’s the price of making sure that the firefighters come when called. I’m not sure – permits are so abhorrent to the average Do It Yourselfer, and yet, I do appreciate that my neighbor can’t do something with their house that jeopardizes the safety of my kids. Alas, I digress, no permit is needed to house bikes and tools, which will be the fate of this structure at least for the short term.
Maybe when my kids are grown, I’ll convert it to a micro-cottage, rent out my house, and spend more time reading, and less time chasing the American Dream.
Hope you enjoyed the links above, they really get the imagination going…