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.
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).
A 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
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.
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
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.
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!
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
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
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
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!