Ryan Mitchell of The Tiny Life website has been keeping us posted about his exciting plans for a modified Fencl. In addition for guest writing for Tumbleweed, Ryan has been blogging about simple living, tiny houses, and environmentally responsible lifestyles on his website: we think he's awesome!
The devil is often said to be in the details, and this
couldn’t be any truer than in a tiny house.
Many times I have made the argument over at my blog that tiny houses are more complex and intricate to build than your standard
McMansions. This is because in a small
house, you have so little space to work with that the small facets seem to jump
out at you.
When it comes to traditional homes, mistakes are easily
covered through various tricks of the trade, but they have one major thing in
their favor, lots and lots of space.
With that space you can easily hide the mistakes. Compare that to a Tiny
House, and the tolerances are so small that sometimes being off by 1/8th
of an inch means re-doing hours of work.
It is here in the details that tiny houses have made a name
for themselves, because you have to be so intentional about how you use
space. Here are 5 tips to help you make
sure the details given the reverence they deserve.
Make a list of the most important activities
your home must be able to handle, form should follow that list
Tape out your floor plan to scale and act out a
day in it. Be sure to have extra tape because you’ll be changing it a lot!
Stop looking at other Tiny Houses, make your
house for you.
Consider storage for all your things, including
often forgotten things like trash, recycles, and dirty laundry.
Obsess over the look, feel and form of
everything in your house to make sure it fits in well.
Shannon Borg is a wine writer, sommelier
and poet who lives on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. She is excited about taking the Tumbleweed
Tiny House Workshop in Seattle on January 12th and 13th, which will focus on
the very practical skills and tools you need to build a very small house. As a
preliminary exercise before taking part, she thought she'd put down a few (very
non-practical) ideas that have been rattling around in her tiny brain. She's inspired by the people that have done so, and who have changed their lives to
live simply - we’ll see where it takes her!
As children, we were fascinated by the
miniature. We loved baby ducks, baby bunnies, baby dolls, and, of course,
babies. Maybe it is because the small thing was closer to our own size, maybe
we felt less threatened around something smaller than ourselves. When it came
to toys, my favorites were my Easy-Bake Oven and a kid-sized doll house built
by my mother and sister for me for Christmas one year, complete with brick
exterior (ok, wallpaper) and garden (ok, plastic trees). It was a canvas for
the fantasies of my eight-year-old imagination.
“Toys literally prefigure the world of adult
functions, and obviously cannot but prepare the child to accept them all,” says
French cultural critic Roland Barthes in his fascinating (and small) collection
of essays, Mythologies. Boys
practice being workers and soldiers with little trucks and guns, girls learn
how to be homemakers with little kitchens and dolls. Our toys are society’s way
of “training” us to live the lives we are expected to live. Mini-brainwashing
you might call it. I get that. It makes sense that this part of our lives is
formed by a higher percentage of “nurture” over “nature”. These days, boys play
with dolls and girls with guns, but there’s still a strong magnetic pull for
each gender to their “accepted” toys, and still, their accepted roles.
Whether or not my toys trained me to be the
person I am, I’m not sure, but that dollhouse was the best present I ever had.
It was almost more important than Barbie, its single inhabitant. Barbie lived
alone, you see, because in my mind, this two room apartment was too small for a
couple, and Barbie was in her early thirties, a career girl. This was 1973, and
I grew up Mormon. Everything in my life pointed me towards marriage and babies.
Then why did this toy not do its job? Maybe, as with many women of my
generation, a myriad choices took me different directions. Or maybe I
re-interpreted the message of the dollhouse to fit my own dreams.
It began life as a large wooden trunk-like box
that had held my brothers’ train sets. Turned on its end and remodeled with a
board added to separate the space, the box had a large lid/door that opened to
reveal two rooms. The top room my mother had decorated as a bedroom, and the
bottom was the little living room and kitchen. The top of the box wasn’t forgotten,
and was laid with little toy trees and a small Astroturf lawn and Lilliputian
park bench, too small for Barbie, really, but adorable. It was a rooftop
garden. The whole thing was clad with human-sized brick contact paper and had a
neo-Classical front door with columns, windows and long black shutters made
from cardstock glued in place. This was a brownstone, or some other turn of the
century apartment building, and it wasn’t a family home. Therefore, Barbie had
to be single. My real-life family home was a 1962-built redwood-sided (Yes,
REAL old-growth redwood from Northern California) ranch-style house in the
post-war suburbs of Spokane Washington, roiling with my four brothers and two
sisters who all shared rooms, clothes, shoes, toys, arguments and laughter.
Barbie lived blissfully alone in her tidy little pied-de-terre.
It was small, it was beautiful. It was hers.
And it was mine. I remember imagining myself in
two rooms, and loving the idea of having everything I owned in one place.
A table, a chair. A few books. One pot, one
bowl, one spoon. A stone. A beautiful shell.
But we outgrow these things, right? We grow up
and enter society, and go to college, and read French philosophers and get jobs
and work hard to buy that 800, 1,200, then 3,000 square foot home with the
perfectly green yard smelling of fertilizer and the three bedrooms smelling of
2.5 children. The problem was, I never really wanted that. Maybe because I was
a “spare” kid. There was the heir - in my family’s case - there were six - and
seven years later, there was me. My parents
told me that when I was a baby, the other kids read an article about how
to make your child a genius, so the kids wanted to experiment. They heeded the
article, never putting me in a playpen, which was the style of the day, but
letting me roll and roam freely. I was a product of a two-parent family, plus
six proxies. Who knows? I think they created a bit of a monster, myself, but
nevertheless, I was of a different generation than they. The very last Baby Boomer,
(born the last day of the last year of the Baby Boom, December 31, 1964) with
the attitude that I could do anything. I could sell the tiny Red Velvet Cakes I
made in my Easy-Bake Oven to my brothers for five cents a piece, I could move
to New York City and live in a 300-square-foot penthouse apartment and have a fabulous career. Which is kind of
what I did. Kind of.
Well, I went to too much school, lived in San
Francisco and London and Houston. I got
married twice, but it never really took, and I had a potential career in the
world of the InterWebs, making a more-than-decent living. But here I am at 49,
living on a small island with a great boyfriend (who also doesn’t want to get
married) and a tiny career as a writer, happy as a clam in a tiny clamshell,
and happiest when I can pare down to fewer possessions and set up my nest in
the small nook of a tree.
I wonder how many of us are like that? How many
of us grew up practicing our lives on small toys, which seemed comforting and
safe, and then let our lives and houses get out of control, too big for our
bodies and our psyches and our nerves?And then, as we listen to ourselves - to
the original child in us - we start to reel it in, to desire fewer possessions
but more freedom?
Another French philosopher Gaston Bachelard,
wrote in his fabulous book The Poetics of Space,
of our fascination with the miniscule domiciles of nature - shells, nests, and
hollowed-out trees, and the small spaces of our childhood imagination -
corners, closets, hiding places: “The house grows in proportion to the body
that inhabits it.” He isn’t talking only
about physical size, but emotional size. A tiny house grows with the love and
joy the person living there brings to it. In contrast, vastness can
evokeloneliness - for me, and for many, I think. But he sees the two sides as
necessary for completeness:
Sometimes the house of the future is
better built, lighter and larger than all the houses of the past, so that the
image of the dream house is opposed to that of the childhood home... Maybe it
is a good thing for us to keep a few dreams of a house that we shall live in
later, always later, so much later, in fact, that we shall not have time to
achieve it. For a house that was final, one that stood in symmetrical relation
to the house we were born in, would lead to thoughts—serious, sad thoughts—and
not to dreams. It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of
I have never seen an idea so manifest in reality
than the story I saw in a recent documentary film, The
Queen of Versailles. In 2007, billionaire Time-Share King
David Siegel and his wife Jacqueline, at the height of their wealth, designed
and began to build the largest home in America, a 90,000 square foot replica of
the Versailles Palace, complete with swimming pool, bowling alley, health spa,
30 bathrooms and 10 kitchens. Et cetera, et cetera. It was a modern-day Hearst
San Simeon. No, beyond that. A dream house beyond dreams. A modern day Citizen
In the meantime, the bottom falls out of the
market, and the bottom falls out of the Siegels’ life. Still, with impending
foreclosure, Siegel vows to finish the place, which is now a vast languishing
carapace of a castle, more ruin than royal. As Bachelard says, if this “home”
is ever finished, it will be the place of “serious, sad thoughts,” of
nightmares, no longer dreams.
More and more people, especially after the
economic downturn, have begun to reevaluate their living situations, their
half-empty 3,000 square foot homes miles from the closest grocery outlet. We
hear of people attempting - whether by choice or necessity - to bring their
lives in line with the changing realities of our “Twilight of the Giants”
culture. Others are throwing off the bigger-is-better idea, simplifying their lives for environmental
reasons, hoping to consume less and thereby create a more sustainable planet.
But I think a part of it we might not recognize is the fact that a smaller
house, fewer possessions and a simpler life is what we want,
not only what we need. I think I’m a part of a whole culture of people that are
romanced by our memories of a simpler life, even if it was never ours.
of the outside world will never have the same tonality as those of home and, by
recalling these memories, we add to our store of dreams; we are never real
historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps nothing but an
expression of a poetry that was lost."
The small toys and
spaces of our childhood did their work, sent us out into the world to become
its citizens, but the memory of them never left, and remain something we value.
We’ve gained a heck of a lot in the past 100
years - monetarily, technologically and culturally. But I think as a culture we
are realizing that we’ve also lost much of the poetry of the past in the clouds
of complexities of our world, and that finding a smaller place to dream, a
simpler way to live, may be one thing that helps to save us from ourselves.