Seven years ago, Bryce Langston, with partner Rasa Pescud, launched the YouTube channel Living Big in a Tiny House to explore and showcase the tiny home movement from around the globe. With nearly 3.5 million subscribers and a view count standing just shy of half-a-million, it’s easily in the top five most successful online New Zealand shows, and climbing.
“I never expected it to be quite so well-received,” beams Bryce. “It all started from me wanting to build my own tiny home. I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to create some videos and create some conversation around alternative housing and maybe inspire a few people. The growth of the channel has been unbelievable and we’re super proud of the show and the response it generates.”
Why do you think that it has been so well-received?
“For a lot of people, life is so hectic, and I think they’re drawn to things that may create a little more resilience in their lives, a little more freedom. In addition, while architecture shows such as Grand Designs are great to watch, for many—‘generation rent’ especially—they can be disheartening. Most younger people will simply never be able to build those multi-million-dollar homes, but tiny homes are seen as achievable projects.”
Bryce’s easy-going manner and inquisitive style of presenting no doubt also helps lure and hook viewers, too. No stranger to being in front of the lens (Rasa is the one behind the camera), Bryce has previously starred in Shortland Street and Spartacus. He’s also a talented singer-songwriter and in 2018 published his first book, also called Living Big in a Tiny House.
“I think that another reason the show works is that I’m not someone who goes out there pretending to be an expert,” says Bryce. “Everything I’ve learnt, I’ve learnt on the job. I’m not afraid to ask questions.”
Episodes are generally 15-20 minutes long, covering topics such as innovative DIY tips and ingenious storage solutions (stairs that double as hidden drawers is stand-out example), while following countless folk who have embarked on a tiny home journey. The houses are often staggering in their imagination and execution, including one legendary example that unfolds from a trailer into a castle replete with turrets.
“One of the earlier tiny houses that had a real impact was in Japan, built by a master craftsman called Mr Tagami,” recalls Bryce. “Whereas in Western tiny homes, people generally look to find ways to cram as much in as possible, his philosophy centred around only putting in what was necessary. His attention to detail was breathtaking—he even made sure that all of the timber lined up so that the grain ran continuously throughout, with nothing to break up the eyeline and the harmony. It really influenced what I thought possible in small space design.”
Is minimalism something that has always interested you?
“I’ve always enjoyed travel and have moved frequently, spending a lot of time overseas, so never really had the opportunity to acquire lots of things—whether or not my personality leads me to being that way, I don’t know!”
Does tiny home living attract a certain personality?
“I’m always amazed at the variety of people. There are so many reasons why people are attracted—for some it’s economic, for others it’s environmental, while many see it as a lifestyle. There are people from all walks of life, from first-time buyers to families to retirees looking to free up some capital.”
Bryce does say that there are, however, certain character traits that do help people adjust. Hoarders, he chuckles, are unlikely to do well, while those living with others need to fast develop good communications skills: “Living, working and travelling with Rasa, we are often in high pressure situations and have learnt to communicate well. It has ultimately been a positive for our relationship.”
Any other lessons that you’ve learnt about yourself, and others, while making the show?
“It has taught me the difference between what I thought I wanted and what I really want. It taught me about the importance of family, of being able to have more time and resources to put into travel and have a life of less stress and with no debt.”
Indeed, it was a feeling of being “priced out” of the Auckland housing market that initially inspired Bryce and Rasa to investigate tiny home living. I ask if he believes society as a whole needs to change its approach and expectations as to how housing is built and of how much space we really need.
“I would rather see change happen organically,” says Bryce. “I don’t want to tell other people that they should live in shoeboxes. People who are excited about tiny homes should have the ability to do so, but if you place you’re priorities in having a bigger space, then that’s what you should do.”
There are also several legal hurdles. Not only do differing countries have different laws about tiny home living, but often councils within those countries—New Zealand included—then have contradictory regulations too. There is usually no issue for folks who have their homes on private land, but for those whose lodgings are affixed to a trailer with no fixed address the law becomes more difficult to navigate.
“Tiny home living has shifted from being a fringe concept to being accepted as something more mainstream,” says Bryce. “Councils are accepting that and offering a greater range of parking, for example. The progress is largely thanks to grassroots activism and lobby groups—the New Zealand Tiny House Association, for instance, is working closely with officials to iron out many of the complicated issues.”
The couple’s tiny house—completed towards the end of 2018—is currently parked up on Bryce’s parents’ property. I ask how they coped during the ultimate tiny home living test: lockdown!
“It was actually brilliant, a really nice opportunity to spend some quality time in the house as we haven’t really had much chance as we’re so busy travelling with the show. We were also part of the bigger family bubble, so it was lovely.”
Did it change your perception in any way?
“If anything, it cemented my perception of tiny houses. As we witnessed the pandemic worsen and the financial implications and job losses that came with it, the general feeling among the tiny home community was of relief at not having the burden of rent or mortgages. It felt like we were in a much more secure position.”
While the tiny home communities are currently largely online, the dream is to build real-life ones (they are already developing in the US) where residents buy land together and build communal facilities such as laundries, veggie gardens, and spaces for functions and guests to stay. Forging friendships within the global community has, says Bryce, been one of the most rewarding—and unforeseen—aspects of his tiny home adventure so far, as has witnessing the conversion of living-small sceptics.
“We have met a few spouses and partners that needed some convincing to adopt the new lifestyle, but pretty much every one has adapted well and loved it. In fact, many of those who have built a second tiny home have often made it even smaller!”