A Room of One’s Own

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Van Bo Le-Mentzel’s tiny DIY houses.

Depending on where you’re from, just owning a slice of privacy can be priceless. For Van Bo Le‑Mentzel, who began life as a refugee in Laos, the idea of holding property – no matter how small – was once a dream. Now living in Germany, the 35-year-old has come up with a room shaped like an archetypical house, available for anyone to make their own.

Like all of Le-Mentzel’s work, the blueprints for the One Square Metre House are accessed for free through his Hartz IV Möbel blog. He began this democratic approach to design by posting a downloadable series of Bauhaus-­inspired furniture plans, asking only that DIYers pay it forward by sending him photographs of their finished projects for his first book, or by engaging in some other karmic enterprise.

This spirit of goodwill informs the One Square Metre House, which works as follows: You down­load the plans and buy 20 metres of frame timbers, along with plywood for the walls, 200 screws, four wheels, one acrylic window and one door. It takes a day to assemble. Stand it upright, and it’s a two-metre-tall office or dining nook; position it sideways and it’s a bed, the peaked roof doubling as a back-rest. For entrepreneurs, it can be customized as a ticket counter of one’s own, a cooking island of one’s own – anything you can think of – that easily wheels to wherever it’s needed.

The BMW Guggenheim Lab is touring the house around the world, and the Old Brewery Mission, a homeless shelter in Montreal, recently hosted a workshop with the designer. Le-Mentzel is working on a stackable version that will become a hotel, in time for his 2014 book, Karma Economy. What’s it all about for him? “Making people think about spaces and en­coura­ging them to pose the right questions: to whom do the earth, the air, the lake view belong?”

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