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Despite pandemic and close quarters, tiny homes are more popular than ever

Buying Style
Chloe Barcelou of New Hampshire and her fiance, Brandon Batchelder, are set and costume designers and builders and have lived in their tiny home since 2016. Their house has expandable sides to provide more living space, and the couple may add a four-season porch. Photos by Chloe Barcelou

It’s reasonable to think the demand for tiny-house living would have done a 180 during the pandemic. Tiny homes previously had soared in popularity, as people looked to shed many of their belongings and move into one of these dens of minimalism fit for Instagram. But they also typically max out at 400 square feet, meaning the stockpile of Costco-sized containers of toilet paper associated with the first few months of the lockdown could eclipse the size of these residences.

But tiny-home living is more popular than ever, according to advocates of the lifestyle and New Englanders who have spent the past year in these diminutive dwellings.

More than half of Americans said they would consider living in a tiny home, according to a 2018 survey from the National Association of Home Builders, and the trend still holds true two years later during the pandemic: 56 percent of Americans in a late 2020 poll conducted by a Fidelity National Financial subsidiary said they would consider living in one.

That doesn’t mean, however, that life is always perfect in a tiny abode, especially during lockdowns.

“There’s only so much storage you can or would want to put in a tiny house; otherwise, you’re living in a cloying labyrinth of a house where there’s no room to look or exist, and everything is crushing down on you,’’ said Derek “Deek’’ Diedricksen, a Boston-based tiny-house builder, designer, and author. “If people want to build storage space for all their toilet paper or canned goods, they can, but the house isn’t going to feel right.’’

Those who made the move or are in the process of moving into a tiny home say some degree of embracing minimalism is a must — even in a global pandemic that spurred so many people to hoard.

“When you live in a tiny house, you’ve already accepted you don’t need more. That’s a transition I had to go through myself. I was used to shopping at Costco and all the big-box stores for volume shopping to achieve cost savings,’’ said Stephanie Burrows, who runs the Tiny Homes of New England Meetup group online. “When you’re living in a tiny house, you have to be creative about every inch of space and make it convertible.’’

Burrows, who is a kitchen and bath designer and project manager for residential construction projects, lives in New Hampshire and is building her own tiny home. You can’t go into a tiny-house situation expecting to fit everything you had in a full-sized home, she said, but “I’ve yet to hear anyone say they wish they could go back to having more stuff.’’

Others noted that tiny-home living doesn’t necessarily have to mean doing away with every earthly possession.

“While I had this vision of the tiny houses you see on Instagram with the perfectly clean everything and spacious, open living areas, you know that wasn’t the reality,’’ said Jackie Walker, a Dover, N.H.-based director of operations for a children’s cancer charity. “You’ll find boxes of pasta and stuff like that on our counters, so it’s a mix of using every inch of space or even using the car for some storage.’’

Walker moved into her tiny home with her husband in February 2020. They haven’t had issues with storage, she said, but the pandemic did alter their development plans. The original idea was to take showers at their gym while they completed the interior. March lockdowns put an end to those plans, speeding up their timetable.

The prolonged work-from-home timeline was another surprise.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important noise-canceling headphones are,’’ Walker said jokingly, pointing out her home’s loft — and so is “providing that sort of space to not always see or hear someone even though they are there at all times, you know, feet away from you.’’

Chloe Barcelou of New Hampshire and her fiancé, Brandon Batchelder, are set and costume designers and builders. The two have lived in their tiny home since 2016, and while they were well-accustomed to small-scale living heading into the pandemic, they are continuing to explore ways to create more independent space.

“It’s almost like an art project,’’ Barcelou said. “If we were going to build a set of our life, this is what it would be.’’

Chloe-Barcelou-Tiny-Home-Bedroom
. —Chloe Barcelou
Chloe-Barcelou-Tiny-Home-Stove
. —Chloe Barcelou
Chloe-Barcelou-Tiny-Home-Kitchen
. —Chloe Barcelou

Along with individualized workspaces, the Barcelou-Batchelder tiny home includes vintage décor and expandable sides to provide more living space.

The couple may add a four-season porch because, no matter how great things are between the two, separate spaces are still a healthy part of a relationship, Batchelder said.

“… which can be a challenge in a tiny home,’’ Barcelou added with a laugh.

There may have been minor challenges with tiny-home living during the pandemic, but they aren’t turning people away from the lifestyle. Eighty-six percent of the respondents in the Fidelity National Financial subsidiary’s poll who have never owned a home said they would consider buying a tiny home.

“The interest in tiny homes is skyrocketing,’’ Burrows said. “The need for reevaluating everybody’s lifestyle and what they think is important for square footage and so forth when situations like the pandemic come along — you have to step back and take a look at your life and figure out what’s important and what isn’t.’’

That popularity, however, doesn’t always extend to town zoning boards, which often view tiny homes as existing in a type of purgatory among recreational vehicles and mobile homes. The zoning and approval process can be confusing and even hostile.

Many tiny-home owners struggle to get approval from their municipalities to establish a permanent residence in one of these homes, leaving owners to live under the radar. Barcelou and Batchelder declined to provide specifics on their location for this very reason.

“There are two schools of thought,’’ Diedricksen said. “One is to find a farmer or someone with land and pay rent and generally live with a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ mind-set. There’s the legal process, too, but you’re jumping through so many hurdles.’’

Even with the hurdles and occasional storage headaches, tiny homes don’t appear to be a fad. Diedricksen said his tiny-home kit sales numbers are “through the roof,’’ and Burrows noted increasing activity on her online network.

“When we’re faced with challenges, it really pulls the covers back on things we haven’t been forced to look at or think about,’’ she said. “Through this experience over the past year, I’m hearing a lot of reevaluating, and I think, post-pandemic, there’s going to be even more of a surge of interest in tiny homes.’’

Cameron Sperance can be reached at [email protected]. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @globehomes.