Tiny Homes


By Diane Saatchi

The Hamptons are still waiting for the tiny house trend to hit. So far, we don’t have the 400-square-foot, constructed-in-a-friend’s-backyard tiny homes that are popping up elsewhere in the US. But, although most people think the Hamptons are reserved strictly for mega-mansions, we do have our fair share of modestly sized homes.

In recent seasons, I’ve heard a wish among more buyers for a “cottage by the beach” — and they mean it. Already caring for their primary home, they want a getaway that’s a respite from their to-do list, not another item on it.

Many of these buyers are the same people who know KonMari and Swedish Death Cleaning are decluttering and minimizing strategies, not martial arts or indie bands. They want to be unencumbered by a basement full of Grandma’s furniture and an attic stuffed with Legos and ice skates the children “might need again someday.” They don’t want the stuff, and they don’t need the space for that stuff.

And it’s not just Baby Boomers who are clearing out the storage space — The New York Times reported that Goodwill is “overrun” by donations from millennials who just aren’t interested in their parents’ bedroom sets and china patterns. The next generation of homebuyers wants less.

A small home anywhere lacks nooks and crevices to cram full of stuff, but in the Hamptons, a small home lacks something else specific: guest rooms. I’ve found some customers are happy not to have multiple guest rooms and all that comes with hosting houseguests all summer long.

For the record, a smaller house doesn’t always mean a smaller price tag — and for many buyers, it’s not about the price at all. Even billionaires are buying tiny Hamptons homes in the form of trailers in Montauk Shores, a waterfront community all the way east. Architectural Digest [https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/why-are-billionaires-flocking-to-this-trailer-park] reported some of these tiny homes are used as beach cabanas, or getaways-from-getaways, and some buyers sink another million into a renovation.

Amagansett/Wainscott, small wood shake house, late 19th or early 20th century. 

I spoke with architect Thomas Morbitzer of Am/Mor Architecture, who is designing a small addition to an also small and historic property in East Hampton. Our conversation was an eye opener for me. He pointed out that small houses are not new; note the many original homes in our villages and along the coasts. Just like those antique jewels, the current tiny ones are built with the most efficient technology of the day. With this motive and scale in common, old and new design can blend seamlessly into the Hamptons landscape.

Frankly, I think small — even tiny — homes will be part of the future of housing in the Hamptons. For one thing, they’ll fill this need for simple getaways, but they’ll also fill many of the needs of the local population: housing for the elderly, housing for local kids who currently can’t afford to stay, housing for workers who are currently driving two hours east every morning, sitting in the trade parade on Montauk Highway. Plus, we’re all going to start needing to think more sustainably in the future, to protect the beauty and the lifespan of the East End.

No doubt, everyone is aware of the limits the various municipalities impose on the maximum size of home. But many don’t know there are also limitations on the other end, and they differ depending upon towns/villages and residence districts. The smallest minimum is 600 square feet, and the largest is 1,300 square feet. If you are thinking small, please check your local code.

If a life without your multi-generation collection of hardcover books appeals to you, I’ll give you the same advice I always give clients who are looking to scale down


Your physical house isn’t the only thing that will shrink. You’ll need to reduce your lifestyle along with your living space. Where will you put four cars when you have a two-car garage? Where will you put eight closets’ worth of clothes and linens when you have a fraction of that space?

You shouldn’t expect to eliminate expenses completely. If you still have a home, you still have the costs of a home. They’ll be less, yes — but not gone.

You’ll want to look at the property, not just the house. A smaller house usually comes with smaller property, which means your neighbors may be a good deal closer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re used to your acres, it will be an adjustment.

It probably goes without saying that there’s still interest in larger homes, with plenty of bedrooms for children and guests, staff quarters, and an assortment of media rooms, workout studios, and wine cellars. But interest is rising in smaller spaces, and I wouldn’t be surprised if soon, the Hamptons adopted its own version of the tiny home.

© 2018 Diane Saatchi