A year-and-a-half ago, we decided we wanted to build and live in a tiny house.
I’ll admit, now that all is nearly done, that my husband and I were somewhat impulsive in the beginning — I could easily list many things we could and would have done differently, which I’ll write about another time. But in general, we could have waited longer after our first tiny house building workshop before we pounced — to let things settle, to learn more.
It’s not that we weren’t satisfied with Tumbleweed and aren’t happy with the almost-finished product completed by our Santa Cruz-based builder, Molecule Tiny Homes. In fact, we’re absolutely delighted and can’t wait to move into it. But we jumped on the wagon at the start of 2014 in haste, and if I were to do this all again, knowing about all the options I now know, I don’t think I’d have purchased Tumbleweed’s barn raiser (a partially built shell with trailer, walls, and roof completed).
We wanted to live in a tiny space. We wanted to design it. We wanted to pick our appliances, learn about sourcing power and water, propane heaters and stoves, materials, and solar power. But we realized that we did not want to physically build it, and do so over a long period of time. This was a hard thing to admit.
We can dream all we want, and say lots of things — including wanting to build our own house with our own hands. But we had to truly want to do this — and commit to it. We aren’t builders. Could we learn? Absolutely. We’ve learned about windows. Wood. Kitchen sinks. Induction cooktops. Tiny energy-efficient refrigerators. Composite tile materials. I learned how to use a saw; I got more comfortable using a drill. Still, we learned early on that our proposed plan of “working on the house on the weekends and finishing it in a year” was not practical, and also made us extremely unhappy. It also wasn’t ideal that the house sat on my parents’ driveway in the suburbs, exposed to neighbors and in a community where constant construction noise and work would be a nuisance.
…the limitations we’ve created for ourselves have led us to create something uniquely ours.
So, if I were to approach this process again, I’d have slowed down a bit, and probably consulted with, hired, and worked with a tiny house builder right from the start. That said, this journey has been quite the learning experience with hiccups and hurdles, and the limitations we’ve created for ourselves have led us to create something uniquely ours. The house isn’t perfect, but as I’d written recently about finding the right plot of land to park, this isn’t about perfection, but constantly (re)shaping a space and environment in which to live and grow. Our soon-to-be-finished tiny house on wheels, Little Leavenworth, is exactly what we need right now.
Here’s a little tour of what it looks like so far:
Our house is 131 square feet, with a total of 184 square feet including the loft. It’s a Tumbleweed Elm 20-foot model, which we chose because we liked the use of first-floor “great room” space combined with a sleeping loft (that could fit a king size mattress). However, we designed a totally different interior layout and are really excited about it.
As you see above, the exterior siding is pretty dark. In the inspiration gallery, you’ll see that we initially wanted to burn and char the wood to create a shou sugi ban look, paired with a bright door. (I’m a big fan of bright accent colors and love yellows, oranges, and reds mixed with grays and whites.) When we began to work with our builder, many of our ideas changed, and we had to consider alternatives due to budget, materials, and more.
They first stained the exterior with an espresso stain, which looked beautiful and warm, but it wasn’t the dark siding that mimicked the charred look I was hoping for. They then hand-rubbed the wood with a transparent black lacquer to darken it, which was time-consuming, but it now looks fantastic — and is just the look I imagined. The hand-rubbing gives some parts of the porch a distressed look, which are nice touches.
Above, you can see a view of the “great room” from inside the house looking out. The kitchen-in-progress is on the left, with open shelving and white faux brick backsplash. I wanted white subway tile with dark grout on the backsplash, but we couldn’t find a suitable composite tile alternative (real tile isn’t recommended on the walls of a tiny house, given the stress the house will occasionally experience during towing). I was bummed about this, but my builder suggested alternatives, and ultimately found a brick pattern that he later sealed white. While it’s not what I originally envisioned, I’m very happy with it — it’s an example of finding a creative solution when faced with a limitation, which led to an unexpected and unique result.
Here are a few in-progress shots showing what the original brick pattern looked like:
I definitely wanted open shelving above the countertop. I love this look, and because we have a surprising amount of closed storage space below the counter — and throughout the house — we didn’t need more closed cabinetry above. The box-like shelf on the left will also house a vent for our stove, which will be installed directly below. In the middle, under the window, we’ll install a stainless steel sink. Readers who have followed along here know that I’m obsessed with bumped-out farmhouse sinks, but because of the placement of the kitchen, the narrow “walkway” in the great room, and about a 20-inch-deep counter, a farmhouse sink wasn’t appropriate. Again, I was bummed, but I got over it.
I had to keep telling myself that we were creating our house, not a patchwork of model homes.
I’d viewed Pinterest a few years ago as a silly, unhealthy space where obsessions are frozen and dreams go to die, and yet there I was, earlier this year, transfixed by farmhouse sinks in dreamy rustic kitchens. When designing and decorating, it’s so easy to get lost in images. I had to keep telling myself that we were creating our house, not a patchwork of model homes.
We have a table attached to the wall opposite the kitchen, which we can fold down when we need more space. (We’ve requested, however, to shift this table down — about 28 inches from the floor — which is a better height to sit, eat, and work. We’re also in the process of buying a mobile sit-and-stand desk, which Nick and I will alternate using on most days, as we’re both working remotely.)
You’ll also see a Dickinson Marine propane fireplace installed on the wall on the left, and a closet to the left of the kitchen with upper and lower cubicles, all of which will have doors. If you look above the closet, you’ll see a silver and black contraption, which is a telescopic ladder to access the loft (and can be used outside).
Under the loft, we designed a cozy L-shaped sitting lounge that doubles as a storage area: these benches open from the top (currently covered by plastic) so we can reach in easily. There’s also an opening accessible from the front at the floor. We’ve custom-made black cushions for the lounge, which I’m excited to pair with a bunch of throw pillows. Track lighting is above, and shelving on the left wall, in the corner, is yet to come. I love the placement of this little nook under the loft — in most plans I see, people configure the bathroom and kitchen side-by-side, divided by a wall.
Another view of the closet is below. As mentioned, we have a lot of storage areas in such a tiny space — this closet will be best for our hanging clothes and shoes. (I’ve whittled down my shoe collection over the past year, but need to purge a bit more.) The kitchen cabinetry below the counter, and this closet area, will be painted in gray chalk paint; the shelves above will stay natural, for now.
The bathroom in the rear is indeed tiny, yet surprisingly efficient. We’re going with a Loveable Loo-style compost toilet, which is just a bucket, hidden inside a box and topped with a toilet seat. We considered the popular Nature’s Head toilet, which separates liquids from solids. But the bucket/sawdust toilet simplifies things: we’ll take the bucket out and toss it into the compost heap in the garden, which we’ll be setting up with our hosts, who are enthusiastic about this arrangement (and have composted humanure before). I was initially squeamish about all this, but after reading and learning more about it, it seems like a no-brainer. A flush toilet was never an option for us — not because we can’t hook up to a water source (we can), but because we were interested in approaching waste a different way.
The pedestal sink is compact and doesn’t take up too much space. A few shelves are attached to the seafoam walls, and we’ve repeated the white brick pattern here as a subway tile alternative, which we couldn’t get in composite tile. If you walk into the bathroom and turn left, there’s another closet on the opposite wall, not shown.
For the shower stall, I originally wanted a black subway tile pattern with white grout — exactly like the white backsplash, only black — matched with a white and black octagonal or hexagonal tile pattern on the shower floor. We got creative and sealed the faux brick in black, and had to go with a white shower pan for the floor — tile (or composite tile) wasn’t possible. Again, the result is much different than what I’d envisioned, but I like it — it’s cool to create something unexpected.
In the shower and sink — and throughout the house — we’ve selected simple and modern brushed nickel fixtures. The showerhead is a low-flow Bricor Elite-E model.
As I mentioned above, I’m really happy with the exterior, and love the textures and shades of blacks and browns. I especially love the weathered look on the porch columns and railing — and the porch lantern looks great against the dark wood.
We have thirteen windows total — all but the narrow lancet window (above the porch) are stone white Integrity windows, which (I’ll admit) were pricey. But they look fantastic from the outside and inside, and are well-made. (The siding isn’t quite finished, as you’ll see in that lighter triangular area.)
The house should be done this week, so there are more photos to come. We’ll be in England for a few weeks, so we’ll move and set up when we return. June is going to be a busy month!