I have a friend who is building a tiny house (under 500 square feet). He bought a medium sized trailer to hook up to his white Chevy and plans to create a livable movable structure in which to live. “When I rent, I’m paying someone else’s mortgage, and I’m over it,” he said one night over beers. “I will be able to own this tiny home outright in a year and then I can save that $6,000 a year I was previously paying in rent and spend six months out of every year exploring South America.” My friend is not alone in this pursuit. In fact, he is part of a larger grassroots movement of do-it-yourself folks who have a found a way of reclaiming their economic freedom and living within their means by creatively reclaiming small spaces.

For the first time in the history of housing, our places of habitation are getting smaller. As an antithesis to the McMansion trend—and a reflection of our current economic downturn—the tiny house movement embraces a whole new set of values: affordability, conservation of resources, downsizing, simplicity and a reevaluation of what the good life looks like. Websites like tinyhouseblog and cabinporn have thousands of fans and are a sure way to spend an afternoon in fantasy land. But for more and more people, this is not just an afternoon daydream, but rather a whole new way of life.

Jeff Shelden’s cabin in Montana’s Judith Mountains, as pictured on page 70 of Tiny Homes.

The energy, creativity, and ambition of this trend are perfectly captured in Lloyd Khan’s new book, Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter: Scaling Back in the 21st Century. With more than 1,300 photos featuring 150 different tiny homes that range from small houses, to houseboats, campers, straw bale, and round timber, the book is crammed full of ideas and inspiration. The builders of these small spaces vary in experience from novices fulfilling life-long dreams of building their own homes, to architects and entrepreneurs with multiple tiny houses on their resumes. Organized like a family’s photo album, the book provides an intimate look into the spaces of strangers. Yet these tiny houses so perfectly reflect each homeowner’s personality that by the end of the book they will all feel like old friends.

The aesthetic designs, materials and approaches found in Tiny Homes are as diverse as the people who choose to make these spaces their homes. While some look like little more than mud huts, others have the charm of rustic wood hunting cabins from the turn of the century, or resemble a building straight out of a science fiction movie, metallic and paneled in energy harvesting solar cells. Defining shelter as more than just a roof over your head, Tiny Homes explores the oft-forgotten connection with the land and materials upon and with which we built our shelters.

Darren Macca and Ann Holley’s transportable ProtoStoga, as pictured on page 178 of Tiny Homes.

For instance, Mike Basich, a professional snowboarder, bought 40 acres on Donner Summit and built his house from the rock and lumber found on his land. Situated on a stuffing site, he can snowboard out his front door in the winter, and in summer the stone cottage perfectly blends in with the grey rock mountain landscape.

In another example, Linda Smiley Evans built a beautiful and organic looking house from cob and straw bales, with most materials wither from the site, recycled, or pulled out of the commercial waste stream. The roof is layered with a pond liner membrane cover and planted with native ferns and flower bulbs.

On the other end of the spectrum, the weeHouses by Alchemy Architects, are a prefab system with a clean modern aesthetic of wood and glass.

While the tiny house movement may be garnering a lot of new attention, the book’s author Lloyd Kahn is a longtime activist and visionary. His previous book, Shelter, first published in 1973, is a bible of handmade houses and helped give birth to the “Green Building” revolution. Tiny Homes brings Kahn’s vision into the 21st century by introducing us to countless others exploring alternative approaches to housing. The book is not lacking in examples or momentum, and while the low resolution quality of some photos is unfortunate, the sheer quantity of images more than makes up for it. Thoughtful commentary further enhances the pictures by telling the stories behind the houses, which are often as fascinating as the structures themselves.

SunRay Kelley’s “man cave” in Washington state’s forested land, as pictured on page 101 of Tiny Homes.

More than anything else, this book is a roadmap for a journey. It’s an excursion into the potential joy of scaling back, reducing living costs, and escaping high mortgages and rents. The design of these structure embraces the idea of a simpler life, and recognizes that people are happier when they are surrounded with high quality materials and an efficient use of space, rather than the consumer-culture-driven cluttered masses of “stuff” that seem to accumulate exponentially with every passing day. Self-sufficiency is prized and artistic approaches are highlighted, stirring a deep hum within our collective creative roots.

I plan to spend many more hours perusing this curated assortment of spaces, both for inspiration and to rouse a deeper imagination of what home can be.

Check out Lloyd Khan and the trailer for the book: