“The debate was starting to occur around housing affordability and we knew the thing we could influence the most that would change the cost of a house was how big it was,” says HLC Auckland Housing Programme project director Mark Fraser.

We called the experiment The Small Home Test Lab.

The first question we were seeking to answer was: To what extent can good design compensate for the lack of physical space?

The second was: How small is too small?

We decided to build three architect-designed small houses at Hobsonville Point in Auckland - a 40m2 one-bedroom, 87m2 two-bedroom, and 89m2 three-bedroom home.

The sections ranged from just 111m2 to 184m2 and they included private backyards. Most importantly, they were priced within Hobsonville Point’s affordability cap of $485,000 - well below Auckland’s median.

People told us we were crazy. At the time, the average house size in New Zealand was a little over 200m2 and a quarter acre (1011m2) section has long been part of the “Kiwi Dream”.

But we went to the market and asked everyday Aucklanders if size is still as important as living in a well-designed, well-built house in a good neighbourhood.

Thousands of people toured the homes and more than 70%(external link) of them said they could see themselves living in one.

That response told us that times have well and truly changed.

“What we learned was that good design does compensate for less room,” Fraser says.

“We also learned that there is a market for smaller houses. It’s not for everybody, but it doesn’t have to be.”

All three houses sold and HLC has continued to apply the learnings from the Small Home Test Lab to the ongoing delivery of quality, affordable housing at Hobsonville Point and other major developments around Auckland.

The findings have informed the design and construction of terraces, apartments, walk-ups, and standalone housing options.

Good design is the key. If houses are functional, attractive, and clever, they can feel much more spacious than they really are.

“We proved for ourselves that good design is worthwhile and, actually, small houses are attractive,” Fraser says.

The experiment has given HLC’s builder partners the confidence to design smaller dwellings into their housing schemes, including homes that appeal to the growing number and one- and two-person households in Auckland.

When we first started Hobsonville Point in 2011, the idea of building a two-bedroom house was considered “ludicrous,'' Fraser says.

“The influence of the Small Home Test Lab continues as we now know there is a market for a range of typologies and price points.”

Fraser says he believes smaller houses are the way of the future.

“People are letting go of that old suburban quarter acre section ideal. It is definitely changing.

“We are seeing people are much happier to accept smaller footprint dwellings and smaller land size.”