Micro homes are one solution to the increasing lack of metropolitan living space – and Van Bo Le-Mentzel’s One Square Meter House takes this trend to its logical limits. The open-source design offers room to eat, work and relax. But what’s it actually like to spend a day on such a minimal footprint?

With Berlin bathed in seemingly permanent sunshine, many office dwellers yearn to swap their cubicle for the great outdoors. And myself? I simply stay at home, in the perfect spot near a Prenzlauer Berg metro stop, reading a book with my door open.

A man taking notes in a tiny house
One square meter of living space – our author gives it a try.

Okay, my current abode might be a tad unconventional. It’s the ultimate tiny house at a footprint of a single square metre. The man behind it all, socially-minded architect Van Bo Le-Mentzel, has designed this little wonder and made the blueprint available for free download. Expect to spend about €250 worth of material and a day to put this micro marvel together – a total of 200 screws are involved.

There are a cactus, a book and a smartphone located next to a laptop
A cactus, a book – and you’ve got a tiny living room.

So, it sounds like the perfect temporary residence for figuring out what defines a home. Does it require a fixed address? Does everyone really need more and more space? After all, the average German now occupies twice as much living space (42.7 m²) as in the 1960s, tendency rising.

A tiny house standing on a grass strip in front of a building
Live where you want – and then move on.

My One Square Meter House forces me to focus on the essentials. A poster on the wall, a small plant, my work surface, a book and a laptop – that’s all I need for a fully furnished place to sit, work, eat, read, play and relax. Many passers-by smile when they spot me: Who wouldn’t like to stop and check in with themselves right in the midst of a busy city?

A man sitting on his laptop in a micro home
A healthy work-life balance with one square meter.

“Huh, what kind of chicken coop is that supposed to be?” a passing local teases. After almost half a year in the German capital, I’ve made my peace with the infamous Berlin bluntness. “If you’re going to say chicken coop, then at least make it organic!”, I feel like shouting back, since organic farming allows six hens per square metre, which probably translates to humane conditions for a single journalist.

A man passing a tiny house, standing on the pavement in front of a building
Eyecatcher: the One Square Meter House by architect Van Bo Le-Mentzel.

Refuge as a talking point

However, that feeling when you come home, shut the door and finally feel sheltered and undisturbed is elusive in the One Square Meter House, since – sooner or later – someone will knock on the door to catch a peek inside the odd micro cabin. I seem to have become an Insta motif for tourists: #strangedude #crazylittlehouse.

A man moving a tiny house on a grass strip
Tiny wheels make it a mobile home.

Maybe it’s time to move somewhere a bit greener? Thanks to my domicile’s rollers, a change of scene is (almost) no problem: Moving the house takes a little power and practice – and strict avoidance of all stairs or cobbled streets. In a quiet side road, I find enough peace and quiet to pick up my novel. 

A tiny house standing in a sunny backyard
The tiny house – a solution for the deficit of urban living space?

Hans Fallada’s “Kleiner Mann, was nun?” (Little man, what now?) follows a young family desperately searching for a home in late-1920s Berlin – and for a job to pay the ensuing rent. Would Fallada’s protagonists have thrived in a larger version of my one-square-metre house? Somehow, I doubt it. So, is it nothing but a gimmick, then?

A man standing next to a tiny house, waiting to cross the street
On the go – our author with his little abode.

Affordable DIY living

“I designed the One Square Meter House so people don’t have to sleep outside”, Van Bo Le-Mentzel reveals on the phone. “Together with a group of homeless people, I built four or five of them and took them on the metro. In the end, we even set up a spontaneous settlement at Mauerparkat, a public linear park in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district. It was raining and we made pancakes. Sure, the house isn’t incredibly comfortable, but it’s a home of your own.”

A man moving a tiny house in front of a huge garage gate
No need to rent a spacious loft – a micro home can be enough.

The open source design is an integral part of the concept: Anyone should be able to build a domicile with their own hands and modify it the way they want, Van Bo adds. People shouldn’t have to accept the dictate of the housing market. “I call it constructive empowerment, since my kind of empowerment is about building and construction.”

A man sitting on the steps of a building with a tiny house standing next to him
Every staircase can turn into a balcony.

It has always been Van Bo’s mission to give people a roof over their heads, irrespective of their situation in life. After all, the son of Laotian refugees knows what it’s like to have no home. In 2015, at the height of the refugee crisis, he spontaneously approached Berlin reception camps to turn bunk beds into two-story homes that added at least some sense of privacy and security. 

A laughing man sitting in a tiny house in front of his laptop
Learning to make the best of the limited space.

His latest project, the modular 100-euro flat with its own bath and kitchen, is a “co-being” concept where flats can be docked or ditched depending on current circumstances. His long-term vision involves a world where nobody needs to pay rent anymore – thanks to a car that turns into a home, transformer-style. A bold dream, but why not?

A man in a tiny house
Peace and quiet for focused reading or working.

Home is where the love is

By now, my cabin has started to heat up. If I don’t want to risk scoliosis, I need to head out to stretch my limbs for a bit. I could also use a matcha latte, so I park my tiny house at a nearby café.

Living without local limits or too much dead weight feels really liberating. I’m surprised that what started out as a little joke has led to some pretty profound thoughts.

A man sitting in a tiny house on the pavement, drinking coffee and two chairs standing in front of him
Savoir vivre: set up your house at the café.

How many things do I need to be happy? To me, home is no echoing loft, but my cat stretching on the floor to get petted. It’s all-night board game sessions with friends. And it’s a place where I can be exactly who, what and how I am – it’s a safe harbour in a crazy world. The square metre premium for this? Is probably priceless.

Want to built your own One Square Meter House? You can find the open source design here.