Home Tours

Inside a box-shaped Otago home big enough to fit on the back of a truck

Big enough for a family but small enough to put on the back of a truck, this box-shaped 90-square-metre home in Otago has given its creators the simple life they’d longed for

When kids come along couples usually start looking around for a bigger home to cope with all the toys, books and bikes, not to mention the need for more bedrooms. But Sophie and Callan Brash decided to go in the opposite direction.

Home for this Otago couple and their daughters India, 4, and Marley, 1, was formerly a four-bedroomed house in Oamaru. However, it never felt quite right for them. “There was too much space and we just never had enough furniture to fill it. It was just too big for us,” says Sophie.

They decided that the obvious move was to downsize, a concept which held massive appeal for both of them. “It suits our ethos,” says Callan. “We like the sustainability aspect to it – the difference in heating costs alone is huge.” It also offered them the chance to declutter and live with less, which is something they’d both been longing to do.

The other major benefit to going smaller was that it would allow them to shrink their mortgage so they could live on one income while the children were little.

Getting started

In 2017, when Sophie was pregnant with Marley, the pair started researching the best way to put their plan into action.

The first question was: how small should they go? Callan checked out books on tiny houses and green homes, while Sophie went to stay in an 84-square-metre house to gain a feel for what would make a practical layout. They concurred: their home needed to be around 90 square metres and feel light and open.

A transportable home – which can fit on a house-moving truck in one piece – seemed to be a good option too, just in case they ever wanted to move it (or keep their land and sell the house). They looked at kitset homes but in the end decided to design their own and build it on-site, on piles.

A lot of people, when they visit, can’t believe how spacious our home is.

They expect it to look cramped. Yet we have had dinner parties and it feels fine

They found an ideal piece of land with sea views in Kakanui, down the coast from Oamaru, and gave their plans (for a simple square house with a low monopitch roof) to an architectural draughtsman. By late 2017, the build had begun, in the safe hands of local builder Mark Velenski.

Back in Oamaru, a major declutter was under way. It was a case of ‘keeping only what you need or absolutely love’. “It had to be useful or beautiful, or both,” Callan says.

It was farewell to bedroom furniture, side tables, big mirrors, kids’ drawers and a lot of knick-knacks. Much of it had been bought for the old house, simply to fill the spare rooms. “We also thinned out toys. Family and friends now give the girls gifts like wetsuits – things with an outdoor focus. And they don’t give us big items for birthdays as they know we won’t be able to fit them in our home,” says Sophie.

The design

An open-plan living room made sense and the three bedrooms and bathroom-come-laundry all lead off it, obviating the need for a hallway. The back door opens into the kitchen and the main entry is via glass sliding doors from the deck into the lounge, so foyers were also not required.

With every inch of space working hard, there’s no sense of being cramped. The bedrooms are all double-sized with ample wardrobes, and come summer the four-by-six-metre deck functions as another room.

Decor details

Sophie and Callan were keen to include raw elements in the interior. Plywood on all the walls – except the bathroom – has been married with white ceilings, resulting in a Scandinavian feel the pair love. Your Home and Garden provided the inspiration for the black light switches and sockets which offer a dramatic contrast.

Ply was also used for the built-in shelving which houses the TV, books, knick-knacks and plants, plus toys stored in baskets on the bottom shelves. It’s a “cool feature”, Callan says, and makes a nice home for the bits and pieces that survived the decluttering.

As many of the family’s old possessions fitted neatly into the new space, only two items needed to be purchased: a couch and a mat for the living room. The decor touches are effective in their simplicity; favourite framed art lines the walls, and there’s no confusion over which little girl sleeps in which room, thanks to custom name stickers from Tinch Design in Oamaru.

The family, who moved into their new abode in early 2018, report that the home has achieved everything that they set out to accomplish. “It’s simple and open with good storage and no wasted space,” says Callan.

“We don’t think we’re missing anything. You don’t need a lot,” adds Sophie. In fact, it’s been such a successful transition she could imagine living in something even smaller. “Not that we’d necessarily do that!” she laughs.

Words by: Monique Balvert-O’Connor. Photography by: Rachel Wybro

Home experts are just a click away