(855) 321-7473

M-F 9am-4pm Eastern

biophilic tiny home

This Portland Tiny Home Goes Biophilic

By Maria Saxton Ph.D.
Nov 22, 2019

Biology—the study of life—encompasses a vast set of subjects. In recent years, it has led to a mixture of approaches that don’t exclusively focus on living systems, but also inform design decisions within the built environment. Multiple terms have developed to describe the relationship between biology and the built environment: Bioinspiration, biomimicry, biophilia, biointegration, and more. In one way or another, these concepts imitate the form, function, process, and systems of nature. These concepts can work together to provide long-term, sustainable solutions for the built environment.

In the tiny house world, we’ve witnessed the growth of innovative design solutions that pack the functions of a large home into 400 square feet or less. The design solutions are endless. There’s also lots of inspiration to draw from these projects.

One of the most unique and inspirational tiny home designs recently incorporates a high level of biophilic design. While tiny home living may not be for everyone, there’s much to learn from this home and the design solutions that the owners, Walker and Heather, incorporated.

tiny house with living roof
Photo Credit: Healthy Homes

What is Biophilia?

Biophilia is the process of integrating nature into the built environment. This concept is very humancentric. Recent studies have shown the relationship between the presence of biophilic design and significant impacts on human health and wellness. For instance, bringing “the outside in” through windows in a hospital room positively correlates with a patient’s recovery time.

In a nutshell, biophilia explores the benefits of nature in the built environment. Architects and designers have begun to realize the lessons found in nature and use these elements to inform design.

tiny house interior
Photo Credit: Healthy Homes

Downsizing the Biophilic Way

Walker and Heather’s piece of property is a reasonably typical 5,000-square-foot lot in the City of Portland. They currently live in a five-bedroom, two-bathroom house on the property. The couple’s goal is to move into their 250-square-foot tiny home and rent out the larger home.

The couple decided to incorporate biophilic elements into their tiny home. Their theme of biomimicry was inspired by Walker’s passion for exploring people’s innate connection to nature. Another source of influence for the home was the Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona, Spain. The couple’s realization that there are no straight lines in nature informed the curved roofline, which was also inspired by the Fibonacci spiral and includes a living roof.

The tiny home project is an aspirational build with the intent of living in accordance with the land. Walker and Heather worked with Tiny Healthy Homes to design and build the house. When asked to consider designing with a curved living roof, Ben Garratt of Tiny Healthy Homes was eager to tackle the project and wanted to learn more about biophilic design.  

Phase one of the project is complete. The exterior is blue standing seams (pro-lock) metal and “open-joint” barn-wood siding. The roof is a custom, low-weight living roof. The exterior’s curved façade is expressed, on the home’s interior, with a salvaged oak “open-joint” curved ceiling.

tiny house loft bedroom
Photo Credit: Healthy Homes

The lofted bedroom includes a set of honeycomb-shaped shelves. In the bathroom, the wall tiling conjures the sensation of walking through an Aspen grove. The river stones integrated into the bathroom’s floor mimic a Japanese Shiatsu massage.

Phase two will include integrating rainwater collection and filtering. The roof and downspouts, which catch rainwater, were inspired by the driplines in a leaf found by Walker. The home is currently tied to the grid. But with its rainwater collection system and propane, the owners’ long-term goal is to incorporate more systems that will make the tiny house off-grid.

tiny house with green roof
Photo Credit: Healthy Homes

Living with Nature

Perhaps the most exciting feature of this tiny home is the living roof. With past professional experience in the green roof industry, Walker was in a unique position to experiment with this type of roof.

For the majority of the year, the roof will be completely self-sufficient. In the summer months, when there is often a drought in the Portland area, the roof will need to be watered periodically. The living roof provides insulation to the house, which will be beneficial in the colder months of the year and will potentially reduce energy bills. 

tiny house live edge counter
Photo Credit: Healthy Homes

For the home itself, Walker and Heather focused on natural building materials, including the salvaged oak for the roof curved. The live-edge countertop was made from Beetle Kill Blue Pine that was donated by a local timber supplier.

The wood also tells a story about the impacts of climate change: with warmer winters, the mountain pine beetle has thrived and destroyed millions of acres of pine trees in the Western United States and Canada. Walker and Heather believed that incorporated beetle-kill pine in their tiny home provided an opportunity to tell the story of this tree and the negative impacts of warmer summer months.

tiny house skylight
Photo Credit: Healthy Homes

The entrance of the tiny home includes a large feature window and a skylight. Walker and Heather wanted to make sure the home included as many windows as possible to bring in the sun and natural light; Portland, on average, has 144 sunny days a year.

With a background in design, Heather was inspired by the Danish and Norwegian word “hygge.” There is no direct English translation for hygge, but the word, which now also represents a lifestyle trend, evokes a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cozy or charming.

At the same time, Heather wanted to bring nature— an essential element of biophilic design—into the tiny home’s interior space. She created a space that incorporates earth tones and natural materials, to create a hygge interior.

tiny house plants
Photo Credit: Healthy Homes

Many aspects of the home utilize recycled materials. The couple found the farmhouse sink through Facebook Marketplace and seamlessly incorporated it into the spacious kitchen. The oven set up in the kitchen allows the ability to go off-grid but also connect to the grid when necessary. 

Other home features include dimmable lights, an on-demand water heater, open-joint barn wood siding, a custom soaker tub/shower, and lots of storage space. The home also includes a compost toilet, which allows the owners to separate their liquid and solid waste. The compost toilet will help them avoid chemical treatment and keep all of the filtering processes on-site.

In short, every element of the home has been thought through. Many of the building materials are recycled in a conscious effort to reduce the resources required to build this home. 

The Bigger Picture

Designing and building (and eventually occupying) this tiny home was a conscious decision by Walker and Heather to change the way they live. As Walker shares in this video, he knew he could make a choice and live in a certain way, so he wanted to take the opportunity to pursue his passions.

The process included design principles from the Living Building Challenge, one of the most comprehensive and rigorous standards for buildings. The home itself is meant to function as a flower: rooted in place, able to collect and filter water, rely on sunlight, and create a healthy living ecosystem.

While Walker and Heather decided to live in a tiny home, the point of the project wasn’t about the small space. Instead, they wanted to face their consumption behaviors and ask themselves, “What really matters in life?” This led to their decision to put biophilic principles in practice and design a one-of-a-kind, socially-responsible home - that happens to be tiny!

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-06-04T13:20:24+0000
Maria Saxton

Article by:

Maria Saxton

Located in Roanoke, Virginia, Maria Saxton holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Design and Planning from Virginia Tech. She works as an Environmental Planner and Housing Researcher for a local firm specializing in Community Planning, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Historic Preservation. Her dissertation explored the environmental impacts of small-scale homes. She serves as a volunteer board member for the Tiny Home Industry Association.