Monday, December 8, 2014

Tiny houses come to France

Good news for those thinking of acquiring a (first) property in France or simply interested in 'downsizing'. The tiny house movement, which originated in America, is starting to gain ground in France, according to an article in today's LeFigaro online edition (lefigaro.fr). They refer to a French website ( latinyhouse.com) which shows examples of tiny homes (on wheels to get round certain planning regulations) and the site is full of practical advice including an update on current French local planning laws.

If your French is not up to scratch, you could start by looking at a similar, very comprehensive, American website (thetinylife.com) which again shows numerous examples, including the interiors of some small apartments and studios (I particularly liked one shown in Paris).

Many of the earlier tiny houses in America tended to look like a garden shed on wheels (the wheels again essential due to planning laws) but the recession and a desire for an alternative lifestyle has encouraged architects, manufacturers and town planners to look at alternative ways of creating small homes. Many that were initially designated as 'emergency' or 'temporary' accommodation are being seen as having an important role in solving the country's perennial housing crisis.  All this is in marked contrast to the trend to build larger and larger homes - dubbed McMansions by their critics - averaging over 2000ft² (nearly 200m²), apart of course from city centres commanding high prices.

The first encouraging signs in France include the recent launch of the first site using recycled shipping containers (well known in the Netherlands and Britain) and an easing of local planning restrictions. What is surprising in the area where I live on the Mediteranian coast is that permanent mobile home parks are virtually non-existent, apart from those providing for 'travellers'.

I have just moved from the coast to my nearest large town and opted for a third floor/no lift town centre property, where small apartments are still cheap, as the current trend is to move to suburbia, close to the huge out-of-town shopping centres. All this is at the cost of buying up former aagricultural land, much of it previously used for wine growing, and resulting in a decline of the centre (closure of shops, caf├ęs, bars and restaurants). The Mairie has embarked on an ambitious programme of restoring many of the older buildings and historic sites, and creating an annexe to the local university (situated in the suburbs) which will bring some 500 students to follow their courses in the town centre. The site chosen is that of the original university which dates back several centuries.

All this is very encouraging.