The "Benefits" of Big House Living

Kendra Pierre-Louis is a writer, researcher, environmental strategist, and author of the 2012 book Green Washed: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet. Kendra  wishes more people would hop on the small house bandwagon if not for the planet, than at least to cut down on housekeeping time. She can be found online and on Twittter

Despite my strong sustainability credentials, I sometimes feel unqualified to speak out on the evils of big houses.  There is no priest nearby, so it is to you that I make this confession: although I eviscerate the big house trend in my book Green Washed I have never lived in a big house.

My current home, a studio apartment in the New York City borough of Queens spans a spacious 220 square feet, somewhere in between the Popomo and the Bodega. My childhood home – which quite comfortably housed my mother, father and older sister – clocks in at a mere 1,120 square feet. This was totally normal square footage for 1955 when the house was built (though still some 246 square feet larger than the largest of the Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, but positively Lilliputian by modern standards. In 2010 median house size spanned some 2,169 square feet (and that’s after three years of house size deflation).

Kendra's Favorite HouseA view from Kendra’s favorite small house ever – a century old, single story house in rural Vermont

Did I mention these bigger houses also house fewer people?

I confess this fact of my limited exposure to larger homes because it’s easy for us of the small house clan to rest on the intellectual superiority of our position. The science shows that smaller houses require fewer materials to build, require less energy to heat and to cool, and better coexist with the population densities that have been linked to environmentally and socially sustainable lifestyles. And though, a well-designed small house may cost more per square foot to build, they’re cheaper to build and cheaper to maintain.

Check and mate, right?

And yet, lots of people love big houses. As a relatively eco-aware friend once told me, “I grew up in a 4,000 square foot home and it was gorgeous – one day I’ll have a similarly sized home.”

Why yes, we’re still talking.

Maybe, just maybe there’s something we denizens of small abodes are missing.  

Like the experience of being able to talk to our family via intercom like one acquaintance I know who was raised in a large sprawling home in suburban, New Jersey.

In contrast, when my mother wanted me for something she was more old school – she hollered; imagine how much her vocal cords could have been saved by a comprehensive intercom system necessitated by big house living?

Here’s another benefit to big houses– you can host a lot of people.

When a friend needed to host a wide number of friends and family because of a family emergency, a family friend was able to roll out the red carpet courtesy of not one, not two, but of four guest bedrooms.

You never know when you’ll have to host an entire basketball team on a moment’s notice.

Finally, let’s not forget the absolute best thing that large homes afford us: the opportunity to ignore our family members by never, ever, existing within the same space. 

In grad school I lived in a ramshackle cottage with questionable heat and plenty of personality with two other roommates, and it was the first time I noticed this curious trend. Namely, the less house per occupant – uniformly inhabited by strangers who had agreed to live with each other sight unseen courtesy of my grad school’s e-mail list serve – the closer the roommates became over time, even when on the surface they shared nothing in common (i.e. bacon loving, pot smoking, alcohol drinking atheists sharing a place with extremely devout, hijab wearing Muslims).  Small spaces are intimate spaces and force us to get along or go our separate ways.

I’m not saying it’s not possible to have these things in a big house.

It’s just harder.

And that, I think is the most compelling argument for tiny houses isn’t an environmental one – but a social one. 

Written by Guest Blogger — December 08, 2012

Filed under: big houses   bodega   Books   Downsizing   Green Washing   home design   popomo  

Jonathan Black: Tiny House Builder, Grandson Extraordinaire

I try really hard to be a loving granddaughter: I visit my grandma as much as possible, take her out to lunch as often as she'll allow, and occasionally even help clean out her basement. So naturally, I've always had reason to believe I was the model grandchild.

That is, until I met Jonathan Black at the Tumbleweed workshop in LA.

 Jonathan Black Jonathan Black 

A former CalPoly student, 26 year old Jonathan chose to seek a different educational path after several unsatisfying years of school. He currently works as a server at a restaurant in San Luis Obispo, and says he's much happier dealing with "life stress" than "school stress." Now, he's setting out on a whole new meaningful adventure: tiny house building for a cause.

Jonathan's grandpa has stenosis, and is trying to plan ahead for the unfortunate possibility of needing to use a wheelchair. His house in Morgan Hill, however, is not wheelchair accessible. To solve this problem, the family has hatched a brilliant plan: Jonathan will build a wheelchair accessible wing on his grandparents' house.

There's only one problem: to work on the house, Jonathan needs a place to stay. His grandparents owned both a motor home and a shed, but neither was an option. The motor home needed too much work, and grandpa had already converted the shed into an office.

The perfect solution? A Tumbleweed Tiny House for Jonathan.

Jonathan loves the idea of avoiding debt, and is excited to integrate his tiny house into a larger meaningful project for his family. He purchased the Fencl plans before coming to LA. 

Brainstorming at the workshop 

Jonathan played around with many different designs at the workshop, getting input from his mom, Bethany, and other helpful attendees.

He will build the Fencl in January, hoping to use as many found and donated materials as possible. He will be blogging about the process as he goes, as well as checking in with us here.

After he completes his tiny house, he'll begin work on the wing for his grandparents. "My mom doesn't want it to look like a disabled wing," explained Bethany. "We want Jonathan to do something that doesn't look ugly, because it's a sensitive issue." Jonathan will be mentored by a local building inspector who is also an ADA inspector, seeking ways to make the wing both aesthetically pleasing and wheelchair accessible.

By the end of next year, he'll have not only blown me out of the water in the best grandchild competition, but will have completed a little house of his own. Two birds, one stone anyone?

Jonathan with grandparents and mom

Right now, Jonathan is looking for trailers in the Morgan Hill area, so please let us know if you can help!


Written by Nara Williams — December 07, 2012

Filed under: Build it yourself   home design   house plan   plans   small house   wheelchair accessible   workshops  

Livin' Tiny Open House

Molly Baker will be showing her Tiny House this Wednesday

Come meet Molly at the Outdoor Research Retail Store November 28th, starting at 6pm.

She'll be giving tours of the house, and will be able to answer any questions you may have about traveling from all their ski destinations in their home modeled after our Epu.

She'll also be hosting a ski waxing party, so bring your Skis!

The Outdoor Research Retail Store is located at:
1st Avenue South  
Seattle, WA

Click here to see more images of the Tiny House Ski Lodge

For more information, click here to go to the Outdoor Research Retail Store website

Written by Adam Gurzenski — November 26, 2012

Filed under: open house   ski lodge  

Ski Lodge on Wheels

Above: YouTube video of Zack & Molly's Tiny House filmed edited and produced by Sam Giffin.


When extreme skiers Molly Baker and Zack Giffin set out to pitch their idea for a ski tour to their sponsor, Outdoor Research, Tumbleweed’s Epu provided the inspiration to bring people something that no one had ever seen before. Armed with Zack’s background in carpentry, a love for skiing and Tumbleweed’s website, Zack and Molly created a tiny home with everything their team of FIVE athletes and cameramen would need. What followed became an epic adventure, and a public reaction, to the tiny home on wheels that was something nobody expected.

Neal Provo on the slopes. Photo by Mark Fisher.

Tumbleweed recently had the opportunity to talk to both Zack and Molly about their tiny home adventure during the 2012-2013 ski season, and one of the first things we wanted to know was how people reacted to it. Zack explained that when they came in to Silverton, CO, they had multiple invitations for places to park their tiny home. “The whole community, they just got it and loved it.” The crew would go out for a day of skiing and were amazed to come back and find gifts and firewood left on their doorstep.  “We take it in to the community and it’s like a magnet. The kids understand it. The grandparents understand it.” Molly tells us, “Bring a tiny house in to the community and people are almost automatically your friends. They feel like they are part of something.”  The sense she got from the people she met was, “‘Thank you for sharing this piece of art.’ There is an emotional connection.”

Tiny Ski Lodge on Wheels. Photo by Mark Fisher.

When challenging norms, not everyone is going to agree. Zack says that, although people’s reactions were overwhelmingly positive, there were a few exceptions. “People either get it or they don’t, and they don’t understand why. We show up and we have a completely different mentality. [To those people] we are an affront to their values.” Molly tells us of a police officer who came upon their house parked along a street. “I don’t know what is wrong with this, but something is.” She tried to explain that it was like a cabin on wheels but he just couldn't get it. A few people thought it was Santa’s workshop and, a few others, a coffee cart. "It was so surprising to see people's reactions. Their imaginations of what we we're doing exceeded what we expected."

When pitching the idea of this ski tour to Outdoor Research, the team used Tumbleweed’s Epu in their presentation, along with a more standard tour modeled on the use of an RV.  Molly said the RV“[was] not going to connect with people. There was no question they trusted that this was the only option.” Zack, on the other hand, said he was “almost dead certain they wouldn’t go for it and, to my surprise they did.” He was impressed with the company’s ability to see the value in it. “Not every company would say yes to this project.”

Once given the go ahead, Zack and Molly had seven weeks to build the house and plan the tour. The work and the hours put in by both were daunting, but Molly tells us "We were certainly dreaming big, but it's amazing what you can create with grand ideas and purposeful intentions." To make matters more interesting a tree fell on the house in the early part of the build and a freak cold snap filled the home with snow. Molly faced the challenge of trying to explain how they were traveling when calling to ask permission to stay in parking lots. If they didn't understand she’d ask, “Have you heard of Tumbleweed?” and direct them to the website. “Then you drop the tiny house on them!” Looking back she says “Every time we pulled in I sensed that we had exceeded expectations.”

The interior of the home was customized to meet the needs of the team of five skiers and cameramen as well as all of their gear. Two ropes connected by wooden dowels swung down between the ceiling and the wall above the wood stove to separate the gear, and dry it after a day in the snow.

Zack & Molly in their tiny house. Photo by Mark Fisher.

Given the drying clothes and the occupation of the small house by five adults engaged in vigorous physical activity, it is surprising that people’s first reaction upon entering this tiny space was often “Oh my God! It smells amazing in here!” Zack credits three things for the unexpected reaction –

  • The lack of mildew. Mildew is a common problem in these climates especially in small spaces. The team would stoke the fire beyond what they needed and open the windows to help dissipate the moisture created by drying clothes and five people breathing.
  • The smell of a wood fire.
  • The smell of the raw wood interior. The idea of using raw wood came from looking at Tumbleweed’s website. Zack remembers the scent in the tiny house giving one “warm feelings, feelings, like home.”

Spiral staircase leads up to loft. Photo by Mark Fisher.

Attention to detail in a small space is critical. The staircase (pictured above) in Zack and Molly’s tiny home is an excellent example. They wanted to keep the space open for conversation, but placing a ladder up against the wall would run a person straight up in to the pitch of the roof. In order to avoid that problem, Zack along with his friend Paul, a talented woodworker, created the staircase you see in the photos. It allows the space to stay open and still allows a person climbing up to bed to find themselves centrally located in the loft. That is not the only aspect of this staircase that makes them unique. If one looks carefully, the stairs, the brackets holding the stairs and the angles of the brackets all conform to the golden ratio revered by both architects and artists for centuries. Each stair, bracket and angle differs from the previous one at a ratio of 1:6. Attention to detail at its finest.

When asked about their favorite moments with their tiny home, Molly laughs and recalls the first time she saw the house pulled on to the street. “From the back you can’t see the truck so you just see this house going down the street. I was crying I was laughing so hard.” She also recalls an evening more recently at the Banff Film Festival when 16 friends gathered in their tiny home, including a friend in a wheelchair. “People were sitting on the stairs, the couch… everywhere. It was wonderful.”

Zack says it’s “when people talk about being inspired by what we’ve done, when they connect the dots and see the possibilities of an adventure of their own.”

In their video (featured at the top of this post) Molly sums up their experience eloquently - “Living in the tiny house we learned that it’s so much more than a house, so much more than a powder crazed ski mobile. It’s a way to spark conversations, make new friends and be at home wherever you go. It serves as proof that ideas can become reality even if you are afraid of what they might turn in to.”

Molly, Zack and their team leave on another ski tour in their tiny home on December 1st of 2012. If you are in the mountains of the western United States this winter, keep an eye out for them!

Tiny House at Night. Photo by Mark Fisher.


Written by Bernadette Weissmann — November 23, 2012

Filed under: ski lodge  

Small Kitchen Design Tips

The Best of Small Kitchen Design - The Little Rock Whidbey

Small kitchen design is unique in its need for both functionality and eye appeal. Lindsey Lewis of Little Rock, Arkansas adapted the kitchen in our Whidbey plans and takes high honors in both!

The small kitchen photos below offer great solutions for solving some of the most common small kitchen design dilemmas with stunning results!

Storage is one of the biggest issues confronting the occupant of a small kitchen. Kitchens, by their very nature, require “stuff” – pots, pans, utensils etc.  Storing these necessary items in a way that does not create visual clutter is key. Lindsey’s stunning banquet is a great option.  Linens, large pots and pans, over-sized serving platters or your Aunt Helen's favorite candle sticks will all fit snuggly and out of site in large, neutral colored baskets beneath the seating. 

An island at the center of the kitchen provides additional workspace and another option for covered storage. It has the added benefit of providing space to place items coming out of the refrigerator or, with the addition of a stool or two, a space to socialize with a glass of your favorite Sonoma wine while the meal is being prepared.

Cabinets with glass doors help make small kitchens look larger. In her Little Rock Whidbey, Lindsey uses frosted glass in her cabinet doors and a brightly colored back wall with stunning results. 

Shelves are another common option for kitchen storage. They keep things open and light but come with a few pitfalls. Most designers suggest choosing which items to place on them with great care to eliminate potential clutter. Stark white plates with cherry red bowls and stew pots make the perfect statement next to this sink. Handy hooks for coffee mugs hang below freeing up more cabinet space.

The flooring helps to create much of the character and dynamic of this custom Whidbey. Extending that flooring from the great room through both the nook and kitchen helps maintain the uniformity of the space.

Lighting is an often over-looked aspect of design.  The natural light in this Whidbey is astounding but Lindsey also took care to provide “task” lighting in key areas. Note the lights above the table, island and sink. Carefully assess how you are going to use your space and locate task lighting according to your needs.

Small kitchens do have several things going for them that their larger brethren do not. There is an inherent efficiency in a well-designed small kitchen that no large kitchen can compete with. Everything you need is at your fingertips.

The other advantage a small kitchen has is cost. Because a smaller kitchen is going to use less square footage of counter space and fewer cabinets you will be saving money. Apply the funds to upgrades. High quality counter tops have great visual appeal and wear better over time. Custom cabinetry with high-end pulls and handles add immense value and character.

Congratulations Lindsey on a stunning adaptation of Tumbleweed's Whidbey! Your kitchen is an inspiration! 

For more tips from the number one name in small house design read The Small House Book.  


Written by Bernadette Weissmann — November 13, 2012

Filed under: design   Downsizing   home design   kitchens   Whidbey  

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