Every inch of Jonathan Avery’s self-designed home is put to good use – and it could be the blueprint for lots of us in the future
When Jonathan Avery and his wife Jo started winding down their bespoke furniture design studio and showroom in 2010, they also made a life-changing decision to relocate from central Edinburgh to a smallholding in rural West Lothian. They were both tired, frustrated by the economic circumstances that had forced the closure of their workshop, and ready for the next adventure that would whet their creative appetite. After careers spent working in design, in London and Edinburgh, both craved not merely a change of job but a change of lifestyle. “We gradually closed the whole operation down,” recalls Jonathan, “then went in search of a more sustainable, less stressful existence.”
He came across the land that would become their home almost by chance. A self-taught photographer (as well as a graphic designer and furniture-maker), he would often escape the city and venture into the surrounding countryside in search of landscapes to photograph. Out in West Lothian one day, he spotted a ‘for sale’ sign. Investigating further, he discovered it referred to seven acres of beautiful mature woodland, streams and wildlife. It immediately won him over. Despite being a self-confessed city-dweller, Jo too fell in love with the place and was ready for change.
It took them just two months from seeing the smallholding (which they now refer to as Shangri-La Farm) to packing up and moving to the countryside. “I didn’t realise it at the time, but a TV show I’d been watching about relocating and changing your life in a bid for modern self-sufficiency was really instrumental in what happened next,” remembers Jonathan.
The couple had seven acres on which to create something new, and everything from a lavender farm to a tree nursery was considered. Eventually, Jonathan’s background as a furniture designer and maker, his 20 years’ experience and his passion for the craft guided him towards the idea that became Tiny House Scotland.
“I have always loved timber-framed New England-style houses,” he says, citing Tedd Benson (founder of Bensonwood, the New Hampshire-based maker of wooden homes) as one of his heroes. He had also followed America’s social and architectural Tiny House movement that promotes living simply in small homes, recognising that the principles of this way of life really chimed with him and his own quest for simplicity. “It brought everything together for me; the potential to live in a more ecological, self-sustaining way within a smaller structure. I began to wonder if I could build something that would be small but affordable, with the potential to solve lots of different housing needs.”
Jonathan’s fascination with small spaces had begun when he was a student, studying botany and ecology at St Andrews University back in the early 1980s. The meticulously planned self-sufficient halls of residence intrigued him at a time when he was also reading about ultra-compact Japanese architecture. “Growing up with a very practical father, who built whatever we needed, whether that was a garage or a new kitchen, was part of my upbringing and I have been designing, making, plumbing and wiring since I was ten years old,” he says. “If you have a logical mind, you really can do anything.”
All of this came together when he decided he would try to build a small wooden home to high specifications, similar to Passivhaus standards; it would be constructed on wheels, thus classified as a caravan, within the size limitations of UK householder permitted development regulations; it would be able to operate on or off-grid; and, where possible, it would be made of robust, sustainable, low-maintenance materials.
This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 140-145, issue 111.