Director Q&A: TINY Tells a Big Story

In TINY: A Story About Living Small, we follow the journey of film directors Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith as they set out to build their own tiny home, and in the process dive into the world of micro houses and the question of what truly makes a home. As part of our Emerging Professionals program, we screened the film for a packed audience (including more than a few individuals interested in building micro houses themselves) at Langan Engineering & Environmental Services. In addition to fresh popcorn, cold beer, and a look at how to build—and live in—a house “smaller than the average parking space,” we spoke with Mueller about the process of making the film and some of the lessons she drew from the experience.

Urban Green Council: You recently moved to New York to explore your concept of home. Has the move changed your thoughts on what a home is, or what it should be?

Merete Mueller: With TINY, Christopher and I asked each other a lot of questions about our particular ideals of “home” and what felt good to us as individuals, and New York has been a good reminder that those types of personal questions are only one piece of that. Community is also a huge component. Both the experiences we documented in the movie and the ones I’ve had here in New York have taught me a lot about the importance of flexibility and having a sense of humor. The idea of home is made up of experiences, of trial and error—it’s built as much of the things that go wrong as the things that go right.

During the building process, for instance, it was the hard stuff that ended up making the best story in the end! Maintaining some flexibility allows us to make room for that, and to appreciate it.

UGC: As the average NYC resident is no stranger to living small (goodbye closets, hello storage spaces), how would you compare the micro-house experience to, say, renting a one-room studio?

MM: Living in a tiny house is very similar to living in a small NYC apartment! In cities like New York, we're used to externalizing the features of home—we meet friends in cafes and restaurants, we use public parks instead of private backyards, we use libraries and Laundromats.

Living in a tiny house is very similar: the small space encourages you to get outside and into the community or your natural surroundings. Spending large amounts of time in your room with the door closed is very much a suburban phenomenon. I'm quite a homebody myself, and I love being reminded that there's a big world out there outside of my front door! The city draws me out and invites me into it.

UGC: How do you see the tiny house movement fitting into the green building/environmental movement?

MM: The idea of simplicity and 'quality over quantity' are key tenets of both movements I think. Not every tiny house is sustainably built, of course, though the “DIY” nature of the movement tends to encourage people to really research the impact of the materials they're using in their building, the efficiency of their utilities, and the use of reclaimed materials.

But I think both movements are based in the knowledge that simplicity and conscientiousness contribute to a higher quality of life. “Home” is about creating the building that houses our work or personal lives, but it's also about how that connects to and impacts the environment and world around us. Ultimately, it's about having a broader, more long-term view.

To view or learn more about the film, visit the TINY website.