Debbie Agenbag outside a tiny home she constructed in Rosendal in the Free State. The tiny home movement is gaining popularity in SA.
Debbie Agenbag outside a tiny home she constructed in Rosendal in the Free State. The tiny home movement is gaining popularity in SA.
Image: Alaister Russell

Durban singer Aewon Wolf, aka Arnold Phillips, is selling his 1,000m² property and moving into a new 8m x 3m home.

And it's not because he's fallen on hard times.

The award-winning singer and producer is joining a growing movement of people who want to declutter and reduce their carbon footprint by taking up as little room as possible.

"I've adopted a minimal lifestyle as part of my life's journey. Reduction is better. The space is unnecessary and costly and affects our impact on the planet."

Phillips will be moving to a tiny town development in Salt Rock on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast.

The development was conceived by businessman Matthew Bower, architect Dayne Frost, blogger Kendal McGlashan, graphic designer Megan Jeanes, advocate Ryan Grunder and plumber Angelo Nel. There are four houses on a 4,000m² plot. Two are occupied and the other two are for rent.

A tiny home is a complete home but with a smaller area - anything under 100m².

Phillips will have a 24m² floor space which will include a kitchen/living room area, a shower and toilet, an outside deck with room for a movie screen, an outdoor music studio and a bedroom nook which he describes as a "pod".

Phillips, who'll be living with his partner, has been practising for his new lifestyle by transforming his bedroom into a tiny home.

Fellow downsizers John and Zelda Patterson converted a 7.5m x 2.5m horse trailer into a tiny house in the southern Drakensberg during the lockdown, and moved in in April.

"There were many times we sat looking at each other wondering if this would ever be finished. If you decide to do this, don't give up, it's a journey where you learn about yourself and your partner," John said.

The couple plan to use their new home to travel around the country, making their work as Jehovah's Witness Bible educators easier.

"There is a misconception that this is a hippie way of life - that's not the case at all. It's for people who want to live life to the fullest without high expenses. But living simply does not mean living cheaply by any means - we calculated that without labour it cost around R4,500 per square metre."

These tiny homes in Rosendal in the Free State are part of a movement that wants to lessen the human impact on the environment.
These tiny homes in Rosendal in the Free State are part of a movement that wants to lessen the human impact on the environment.
Image: Alaister Russell

A big hub for tiny living sprang up in the Free State, at the artist retreat Rosendal.

Long before Covid hit, Debbie Agenbag started building her dream tiny home as a breakaway house in the town. Then the lockdown happened, and finding herself with time on her hands, the Johannesburg-based sports events company owner turned her focus to completing her 60m² house, which has a guest cottage of 28m².

It struck a chord. Agenbag has since created a new job for herself as a project manager for other tiny homes in the town.

They range from just 8m² to 85m². She said homeowners could pay anything between R5,000 per square metre to R20,000 and beyond, depending on the building materials and appliances they use to furnish the home.

Since the lockdown, 35 plots have been bought for building these homes - six have been completed. "The buyers are people between 35 and 45 years old. They are people who want a change in pace and who realise that they don't need an office to work in."

These homes are all very luxurious with the most modern appliances...
Debbie Agenbag

Agenbag created a Facebook page, Building Tiny Houses - The Journeys, and "suddenly there was interest from others who've also dreamt of decluttering".

The Sunday Times visited a few of the tiny homes, and found that size can be deceptive.

A 68m² wood and aluminium cladding home on Peacock Street looks much bigger than the 100m² home across the way.

The home belongs to Johannesburg-based IT specialist Tonya van Aarde, who credits extra height for the spacious feeling.

"It's been a dream for the longest time. I wanted something that wouldn't offend nature. I wanted the feeling of being in a tent but with all luxuries - warm feather duvets and a kitchen which I use to entertain guests."

Agenbag said going smaller didn't mean going shabby. "These homes are all very luxurious with the most modern appliances. Per metreage it costs about the same as building a normal home, but because the home is smaller you can save more."

On General Fick Street, Agenbag showed off her 28m² home complete with outside braai area and swimming pool.

"Tiny homes aren't for everyone - the type that goes for this kind of living are usually eco-conscious. Most homes have solar panels; some have compostable toilets which feed vegetable gardens," Agenbag said.

"The economy has played a role in the move to go smaller - people are also realising how important their living conditions are, how important it is to have a safe space where they can relax and work."

 The original article was first published on Sunday Times.

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