25 of the Best Tiny Houses, RVs, Boats, and Other Alternative Home Ideas from Real-Life Residents

published Dec 4, 2020
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Credit: Minette Hand

Gone are the days of assuming someone’s “home” means a structure affixed to solid ground or built from common construction materials. Homeowners around the world have creatively designed and built a wide variety of homes, from converting school buses and vans to homes on wheels, to repurposing shipping containers, barns, garages, and backyard sheds. Alternative homes don’t just refer to the Tiny House movement anymore!

For those who take the leap into living an alternative home lifestyle—whether they choose a home on wheels or something a little more stationary—the reasons behind it are as diverse as the people making the jump. Some cite a yearning for adventure, freedom, or the desire to live a unconventional life. Others want to try out minimalism. Many choose alternative homes as a means of getting out of debt, simplifying their life, or as a way to actually afford owning their own home. (Tiny home prices are often way more affordable than those of conventional houses.) Thanks to how many tiny house plans that are free or available for very cheap, a lot of people also enjoy the challenge of building a home with their own hands.

Whatever the reasons someone might choose an alternative home to live in, the result is almost always inspiring, drool-worthy, and packed with small-space maximizing ideas.

Credit: Stacy Keck

1. A 200-Square-Foot 1973 Airstream Argosy Shared by a Family of Five

Melanie and David Raver share a 200-square-foot 1973 Airstream Argosy with their three young daughters. They spent the two years planning, building and designing their trailer. “We have had no prior experience, however that did not stop us from taking on the project,” explained Melanie in their Airstream home tour. “What we didn’t know, we learned! It was our mission to make this build work for us and our family!”

Credit: Minette Hand

2. A 480-Square-Foot Backyard Shipping Container House

This house made from shipping containers is not the actual home of Jen West and James Martin… they built it in their backyard so that they could have extra space to use and rent for extra income. But though it’s not where the couple sleeps every night, it’s used often by them; Jen is an intuitive tarot reader, and one of the rooms serves as a lovely space for that. The tiny 480-square-foot house is also full of small-space lessons anyone could use for their size-challenged home, from a DIY Murphy bed (using hardware found on Amazon), to sliding doors, and even the use of color in a compact space.

3. A Small Rustic Modern Joshua Tree Cabin

When John and Ashley Wagner bought this small cabin in Joshua Tree in 2016, it had sat empty for 10 years, and needed a lot of work. Unfortunately, they had spent all of their money on a down payment, so they had to do a lot of the work themselves. From DIYing light fixtures, to installing doors, to tiling, the entire renovation took eight months, and the home (which they Airbnb when they’re not enjoying it themselves) is full of remodeling ideas as well as small-space inspiration (the cabin is under 800 square feet).

4. An Off-the-Grid Hawaii Homestead

Arina and Zen Moriya, both natives of Japan, have pursued their dream of living sustainably and off-the-grid in the Hawaiian tropical jungle by creating a unique homestead with their own hands. They’ve made their own piece of paradise for the last decade; all three structures—the main house and a cottage the family uses, and a little bungalow they rent out on Airbnb—were built by the couple with the some help by contractors.

5. A 92-Square-Foot Converted Sprinter Van

Jaz and Crystal are a Canadian couple who travel in their self-converted sprinter van full time with their two Australian Shepherd dogs, Bella and Izzy. They bought the van used and spent eight months converting it on their own to a four-season tiny home on wheels. “Our home shows who we are in every way. It reflects our love for the outdoors and the natural world,” they wrote in their home tour.

Credit: Toni Colombo

6. A Teeny Off-Grid Tiny House in Hawaii

Zeena Fontanilla, her husband Shane, and their son Maverick live in a tiny house that’s only 8.5 feet wide and 32 feet long, and they designed and built it themselves. They are living off-grid, which means they collect their own water, have a composting toilet, and have solar/batteries to store their electricity. The tiny house is parked in the middle of a pasture surrounded by cows and goats with tons of open space. It’s clearly a peaceful home.

7. A Converted Van Home Using Non-Toxic and Eco-Friendly Materials

Daniela Testa and Ales Pokora didn’t just take on the challenge of turning this former delivery van into a comfortable home on wheels. Daniela and Ales say they’ve always been environmentally- and health-conscious, so when it came to designing their van conversion, their goal was to use as many non-toxic and sustainable materials to build it as possible. “Living in such a small space, we went to great lengths to build everything with non-toxic and sustainable materials as we didn’t want to have nasty chemicals off-gassing for years to come,” explained the couple.

8. An 112-Square-Foot 1985 Dodge Camper Van Shared by a Mom and Daughter Duo

Evelyn Bielmann, a freelance artist and interior decorator, was longing for adventure and traveling with her 16-year-old daughter Sasha and their pup Hershey. “Once we researched our options, we bought this 1985 Dodge van that we found online, and sold most of our stuff,” explains Evelyn. Beyond just finding space for two adults to sleep in, they’ve also created spaces for them each to work and be creative.

9. An 800-Square-Foot Barn House Shared by a Family of Five

Kristin Pardy shares her 800-square-foot home with her husband Preston (a resource enforcement officer for their provincial government), 13-year-old son Coby, 7-year-old daughter Isla, and 3-month-old son Jack. The family also includes three huskies, Bear, Blue, and Beau. A small barn style single-family house with one main floor bedroom and two loft bedrooms, Kristin was able to design the floor plan herself. “This helped so much because I was able to draw the house to perfectly suit our needs, our lifestyle, and the plot of land we already owned,” she wrote in her tour.

Credit: @deannadunn

10. A 20-Foot Long Converted Dodge Ram Promaster

James and Deanna Dunn’s van meets basic needs with an air conditioner and portable heater, full-size hot water shower, a toilet, running water, a cooktop for homecooked meals, a queen-sized bed, and even an ice maker and an espresso machine. But their home-away-from-home goes beyond just the basics, and is filled with card games, board games, a built-in corn hole board, and a 50″ roll-down projector screen for super cozy movie nights. They’ve got everything running off of solar power, so the van can actually go off-grid if needed.

11. An 170-Square-Foot Pink Converted School Bus

Jennifer Bateman, Kaitlin Porter, and their two kids, Canyon and Oakland share a rolling home on wheels. After downsizing from a 4,000-square-foot home, they now share a 170-square-foot school bus conversion (or “skoolie”). There are three beds—moms sleep in one fold-out, queen-sized bed and there are two bunk beds for the kids.

12. A 248-Square-Foot Minimal and Modern Tiny House

Monique Villiger and partner Aswan Shankara first considered tiny house living because they were interested in alternative home design, and because they desired to live “more simply, with less stuff and more time for life and each other,” explained Monique. They were able to achieve their goals and more with the 248-square-foot tiny house they designed and built themselves. The experience and result were such a success, they were crowned the 

13. A 304-Square-Foot DIY Off-Grid Tiny House

John and Fin Kernohan have 16 acres nestled in Georgia’s Lake Country near Lake Oconee, and they own three tiny houses, a yurt, a skoolie, community houses, an outdoor bathing area, a custom-built dog run and separate catio, and other structures. “Not only did we leave our big city lives behind, but with Fin’s coaxing we built ourselves a beautifully small 304-square-foot tiny house from the empty shell of what is called a lofted-barn portable building.”

14. A 180-Square-Foot Renovated 1970s RV

Bree Contreras and Guilly completely renovated this 1970s Class C RV. For Bree, an RV was also a way to get out of “years paying exorbitant rent to live close to my bougie-ass corporate job (that I hated),” they wrote on their blog, Life With Bree

15. An A-Frame in the Woods

Photographer and graphic designer Sheri Kowalski lives in a stunning A-frame cabin in the woods of Michigan. She’s managed to take a fairly small, kind of dark wood-clad interior and turn it into a bright, cozy space filled with a sleek mid-century modern style that complements the architecture. Perhaps most impressively, she’s managed to decorate it with collectibles and art that are very meaningful, all in a way that is cohesive and beautiful.

16. A 296-Square-Foot Tiny House Packed with Plants

Tri Trinh, yogi and owner of Hot Pink Photobooth, a photo booth rental service serving the Washington, D.C. area, opted for modern, natural minimalism, and sustainability in order to reduce his monthly expenses, all while working toward early retirement. As the owner of this gorgeous, plant-filled tiny house, he currently pays a third of what he was paying to live in a small studio apartment in the city.

17. A Converted Dutch Barge

Christina and Rohan’s converted Dutch barge is one of the most stunning floating homes ever. “We purchased the vessel as a commercial vessel in Belgium and sailed it back to the U.K. to convert it from a container ship to a three-bedroom floating home,” explains Christina. “The most unique feature of our home is our super-size portholes that look directly onto the water so you really experience being IN the river!”

18. A Small San Francisco Earthquake Refugee Shack Cottage

“Originally this cottage was an earthquake refugee shack, built in 1906 after the San Francisco earthquake. Over 5,600 shacks were built by the Department of Lands and Buildings of the Relief Corporation and now, only a handful remain. In the 1970s the cottage was updated, the bathroom, kitchen, and foundation were added with an artistic flare of blue tiles, stained glass, and skylights. The cottage is surrounded by a beautiful garden that feels as though you’ve stepped into a secret garden. It’s a beautiful oasis in the middle of San Francisco,” explains renter Nathalie McGrath.

19. A 250-Square-Foot RV for a Family of Seven

Sarah Lemp and Jason’s house is owned by the church Jason works at as a pastor. “Given we don’t own our home, an RV has given us a sense of freedom. It’s nice to have a small place we can go, to get away or vacation in that actually belongs to us. We also have complete creative control over decorating, unlike our home, which is similar to a rental situation,” explains Sarah.

20. A 60-Square-Foot Off-Grid Rustic Camper Van

Katie Diederichs and Ben’s teeny off-grid van home features hand-painted tiles and a hand-carved table. “Our newly built van, which we named ‘Pearl,’ is our second camper van build, and likely won’t be our last! We have a composting toilet, solar panels, a kitchen, an outdoor shower, and a bed, all of which allow us to avoid restaurants, hotels, and public bathrooms,” they wrote in their van’s tour.

21. A 1975 Retro-Inspired Chevy Converted Van

Jenna Aldus and Colin Dierker are both university students who decided to study on the road since classes are online for the foreseeable future. They bought this 1975 van, and spent 40 days renovating it before setting off on their first adventure: Exploring Vancouver Island.

22. A 421-Square-Foot Backyard Accessory Dwelling Unit

This ADU feels much larger than it actually is. “I built this ADU in the original garage on my mom’s property to be near her for the future. I wanted to have everything I ever wanted in a home included but just on a small scale. I think I accomplished that,” wrote Shawn Pederson in his house call.

23. A 55-Square-Foot Converted 2019 Ford Transit Van

This 2019 Ford Transit van conversion is so gorgeous, it’s like a minimal, modern, woodsy cabin on wheels. “My husband Jason and I purchased our 2019 Ford Transit in January of 2020. We moved out of our New Jersey apartment in March and moved to upstate New York into my in-laws’ home. We then spent three months building the van out. We left June 1 and have been on the road ever since, searching for a new place to call home,” wrote Kayleigh Ann Archbold in their van’s house call.

24. A 187-Square-Foot Converted School Bus for a Family of Four

Hannah Hernandez and husband designed and built their converted school bus to fit their family’s needs exactly. “Some unique features in our home are a crib, a macrame bassinet, a farmhouse style kitchen with American Maple butcher block, an apron front sink, and floating shelf that holds a variety of decor that we thrift on our travels. We also have a washer/dryer, 2400 watts of solar power making us completely off-grid friendly, and a large amount of fitness equipment on board”

25. A 200-Square-Foot Tiny House Built to Get Out of Debt

Kothney-Issa and Marek Bush turned to the tiny house lifestyle to meet their financial goals. In their case, they were able to pay off $125,000 worth of debt in just 24 months. We’re talking about all their credit cards, both cars, student loans, and this tiny house, which they bought at the age of 25 for $55,000.