NEW YORK CITY: There’s nothing trashy about Gregory Kloehn’s Brooklyn pied-a-terre: a live-in dumpster that sleeps two with ease, hosts impromptu barbecue parties and sports its own sundeck.
It’s the California artist’s tin-can contribution to the tiny-house movement that’s prompting many Americans to ask if bigger really is better when it comes to having a roof over your head.
“On the street, when it’s all closed up, if you don’t know about it, you think it’s a garbage can,” said Kloehn, 42.
“They don’t know I’m in here sleeping... Even with the barbecue going outside, chicken wings grilling, people just walk by. They don’t see it as a home.”
Kloehn had already turned 20-foot shipping containers into housing units when he thought up the idea of doing likewise with the steel garbage receptacle known to Britons as a skip.
“What I did is that I bought a brand new dumpster and just started going to town,” he said.
“I was going to make it a little rougher at first, but then I started and I thought, ‘Let’s put in some granite counter tops. Let’s put in some hardwood floors. Let’s really make it luxurious and liveable -- really take everything a regular home has and throw it into this small a space.”
You enter Kloehn’s dark-green crash pad — his home back in Oakland is rather more conventional — through a Dutch door with an affixed minibar that is well-stocked with whiskey and vodka.
To the right is the galley-style kitchen with smooth granite countertop, sink, single-burner gas stove, concealed icebox and a hood fashioned out of an old wok.
Running around the edge is a cushioned sofa, upholstered in black vinyl, with backs and seats that lift off to reveal storage space and a marine toilet connectable to a city sewage system.
Twist a crank and up goes the ceiling to reveal a pair of eyebrow windows to provide natural light and some welcome headroom.
Welded onto the exterior is a shower and the gas barbecue. Electricity comes from whatever socket happens to be nearby — what Kloehn calls “living off somebody else’s grid.”
A descendant of Civil War president Abraham Lincoln who, according to legend, grew up in a log cabin, Kloehn paid about $1,000 for the dumpster, known in the trash business as a six-yard humpback.
He spent a couple of thousand on fittings and insulation — about as much as one month’s rent for a cramped Manhattan studio.
In a nation where the average home is 2,600 square feet, tiny houses — typically 186 square feet, but going up to 400 square feet — are fetching more attention, not least from aging baby boomers looking to downsize in their retirement years.
In a back alley in Washington, a four-unit tiny-house community has taken root at Boneyard Studios (www.boneyardstudios.com), showcasing the possibilities of small-is-beautiful housing in the heart of the nation’s capital.
“It’s not for everyone by any means,” said Jay Austin, whose 140-square foot home at Boneyard Studios, the Matchbox, is totally off-grid, self-sustaining and carbon-neutral.
In New York, the city’s museum is showing off a 325 square foot micro-apartment boasting all the features of a unit twice its size — and it’s invited a lucky few to try it out for size by spending the night in it.
Not content with making a dumpster just for himself, Kloehn has used found materials — a fridge door here, some castaway lumber there, topped with a fibreglass hood from a pickup truck — to create a “debris home” on wheels for the homeless.
“The bigger the home, the bigger the problems,” Kloehn mused.
“There’s more overhead, more things to go wrong, more yard to take care of.” And, he shrugged, “you’re going to fill it up eventually with junk.”