A blow-up sphere is giving new meaning to "living in a bubble."
The CasaBubble is a plastic sphere with a wood floor that lets you sleep under the stars, but with the comforts of being indoors. It's essentially an upscale tent that's either partly or entirely transparent, so you can commune with nature without annoyances like rain, mosquitoes and pollen.
The CasaBubble works a little like those blow-up decorations that pop up in front yards during holidays. A fan keeps the bubble inflated while maintaining a flow of fresh air and preventing moisture buildup. An air-lock vestibule lets occupants come and go without deflating the bubble.
The bubble takes about 50 minutes to set up, including 20 minutes' inflation time, said Frederic Richard, the furniture maker who teamed with fellow French designer Pierre-Stephane Dumas to develop the concept and bring it to market.
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The idea is to put you close to nature in a comfortable way. But it's so much more, Richard said.
"When people see the pictures, they like the bubble. ... But when they are in it, they are crazy about it," he said.
That's because the CasaBubbles have a cocoon-like quality, Richard said. The spherical shape is naturally comforting, he said, and the bubble muffles outdoor noise and redirects indoor sound in such a way that the people inside are encouraged to speak more softly. The overall effect is to soothe the occupants and promote a sense of well-being, he said.
Bubble rooms range from about 11 feet to 26 feet in diameter, but the larger sizes are intended mostly for events. The most common size for individual use is 13 feet, Richard said.
The CasaBubbles also come in several configurations, including the CristalBubble, a simple transparent globe, and the GrandLodge, a series of spherical rooms.
Opaque bubbles can be used for private areas such as dressing rooms and bathrooms, and you can even get a bubble that zips up from its base so you can bring in a hot tub or a large piece of furniture that won't fit through the airlock door.
It's possible to join bubbles together to create your own arrangement. And you can furnish your bubble with the company's inflatable furniture if you wish, Richard said.
The bubbles are easy to transport and store. Deflated, an 11-foot bubble weighs 33 pounds and fits inside a bag that's roughly 40 to 45 inches long and 15 to 20 inches in diameter — small enough to fit into a car's trunk or back seat and store in a garage, Richard said. The 13-foot bubble weighs 110 pounds, but the bag isn't much bigger, he said. The separate blower weighs 33 to 40 pounds.
The possible uses for CasaBubbles are many. Some people use them as outdoor bedrooms or guest quarters, Richard said, but they have been used as TV rooms, playrooms and offices. Some bed and breakfasts are adding them to draw lodgers who want to spend the night surrounded by nature, and the bubbles can be rented for business meetings, VIP lounges and weddings.
Richard said the bubbles' compact, portable nature and simple setup give them potential as temporary housing for people left homeless by disasters.
The bubbles are durable enough for long-term use, he said. With prices from $7,000 to $12,000 for the 11- and 13-foot sizes, Richard said, it's possible to create a living space fairly inexpensively, with minimal environmental impact.
"It can be a perfect answer to a lot of problems," he said.
The basic bubble is made of a PVC that resists fire and ultraviolet rays. The fan helps warm air escape, but the company recommends setting up the bubble in a shady spot to keep it from heating inside like a greenhouse, Richard said. The company sells canopies designed to shield the bubble if shade isn't available.
Bubbles also are available for use in very hot and cold areas, Richard said. One is made of thermoplastic polyurethane, which can withstand low temperatures. The other is made of Sunblock, a PVC-coated fabric that deflects sunlight to keep the inside temperature comfortable in hot climates.
The company that makes the bubbles also sells electrical systems using solar cells or batteries, and a fuel cell system that it says can run the fan for three months on only 2½ gallons of methanol.
Want to stay in your bubble for longer than a few hours? You can equip it with a dry toilet, an outdoor sink and a shower that uses a portable heater to warm water from a garden hose, Richard said.
For more information on CasaBubbles, go to Casabubble.com.