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.
Kevin Stevens is a Class C certified Contractor living and working in Colorado. He is also working on his own tiny house project in Northern New Mexico. He has been following various aspects of the tiny house movement for years.
quest for our land was a quest to find more seasonal balance in our lives. Nederland has
been good to us: it has a slower pace then the “flats”, what we call Boulder and the
surrounding front range, but also gives us ready access to the culture of a
larger city when we feel the need for it. We still wanted to experience four seasons, so a place that still has a
winter was a desire- just not 9 months of it!
Last year we had snow just up the hill from us in the middle of
August. We have also watched the
fireworks on the 4th of July from inside the living room as a light snow was
falling. It is one of the hardships we
endure by living at over 8000 feet. However, the mild summers, 300+ sunny days a year and hearing cougars
and coyotes on a summer night do their part to make up for it.
View from our ranch at night
Tori and I have been attracted to the desert, me for quite a few years
more. Road trips to Utah and points further west developed a
longing for the scent of sagebrush on the wind after a rainstorm. But the intense heat of summer steered us away
from places like Moab, and
most of Arizona. Creating art is a big part of our lives and
artist like other artists, so we thought
of desert areas that are supportive to artist. Naturally this led us to northern New
Mexico: Georgia O’Keeffe spent many years
there. Years ago I had traveled through Taos and admired the
landscape, the architecture, the food and culture. Sagebrush is abundant there along with
pinon, and Juniper, a lot of the locals simply call it the PJ. I have often bought pinon and Juniper incense
to recapture the scent from campfires there.
land searching began online with some local real estate listings. A few months of looking gave us an idea of
what was available, we printed some listings, found them on maps and with
Google Earth looked to see what the area landscape might be. I also got in touch with a local real estate
agent there. In November of 2009 our
quest took on some more texture via a road trip, on the way also checked out
some areas in Colorado north of the Taos area. Armed with a digital camera and a GPS we
explored about half a dozen listings, one that was at the top of our list based
on the online pics, turned out to be a disappointment. The lot itself was
great, the soil was sandy in some areas, had some good mixed tree cover and
important to us had some great rock outcroppings and diversity of terrain.
The price was in our budget, and the
community was interesting (We spent an
afternoon at “Poco Loco” the local market / hangout for a neighborhood post
Halloween celebration.) Unfortunately
the entry to the lot had some “trashy” neighbors. The road in, which would be our future
driveway, had huge piles of junk near it, bottles, cans, misc. construction
stuff, old building projects etc. We
could just not bear to have to drive past that every day. We spent that night camping nearby on some
forest service land. I called up our
agent and arranged to meet her the next day for some more property tours.
hooking up with Liz, we toured some more vacant land and also some homes
located on some area parcels. Late in
the afternoon we hooked up with Gil and Deb for a tour of one of the four,
twenty-acre parcels they had for sale, they were friends of Liz from years past
and had not yet officially listed these lots.
lot that we had the most interest in was the one furthest from the highway and
it had some rock outcroppings along the southern edge. We liked it but were not
that impressed. The 80 acres they had
for sale was part of their larger ranch there- about 720 acres total. After we looked at the end parcel Gil wanted
to show us the Petaca which lies just east of their square mile. On the way to the overlook we saw an
interesting smaller side canyon and I asked if we could check it out. We hiked
up through there and were very impressed with it. We threw the idea out there that we liked
that area more. Ater touring the
overlook we took the ATV’s across the road and back into some cool nearby
forest service land. (I forgot to
mention that nearby access to public land was also a selection criteria for
wined and dined us that night in one of their cabins across the road, put us up
for the night and let us borrow the ATVs again the next day. This time with the
aide of their old but somewhat accurate property map we checked out the area
that impressed us the day before. This
area was quite a bit larger than we were originally thinking, about 40 acres
(the first “trashy” place was only 7 acres- one of the earth ship properties was
12; Gill and Debs other lots 20) The beauty and peacefulness of it took hold
of us. We had found our place! We believe that certain areas have a type of
magnetism for some people: Tori and I call this “The Magic of Place"- we spent
the later part of that afternoon working with Liz to write up an offer.
they say in the movies the rest is history! We now own just under 42 acres of
diverse: PJ with an abundance of Sagebrush ; )
Stay tuned for more on Kevin and Tori's project!
Therese Ambrosi Smith is a writer- check out her work here. She spent four months constructing a modified Tumbleweed for use as a mobile writer’s studio. She loves cooking and eating as much as she loves writing and building things. One example of a recipe she's cooked in her tiny kitchen - that her guests have loved - is wild rice and mushroom soup. Her regular contribution to this blog, “Meals on Wheels," addresses the challenges and rewards of working in a tiny kitchen.
I love to invite people to dinner -- I like cooking and eating --
but I also enjoy sharing our tiny house.
Folks with thousands of square feet marvel at the comfort possible in
our 286 sq ft home, carved from a single
car garage. With leaves in the table, we handily host gourmet meals for eight.
Recently we downsized our office, building a new space based on a Tumbleweed design. We work efficiently in the 84 sq
ft trailer. As an author, I’m trilled to have my workspace double as a mobile
retreat and guest cottage. An inflatable
bed and RV toilet are employed when we need to house visitors.
We made the decision to rent the “main” house for income when I
decided to live more creatively. The
journey began with shedding a mind-numbing job and the trappings it provided.
Designing a functional living space was task one.
Everyone who decides to downsize - and designs his own house - goes through the
very healthy exercise of defining what’s important. We determined that our most
used room was the kitchen - and we used it for non-eating activity too -- from
conversation to crafts. The table was
central to our plan.
We spent as much time planning the space as building it. Everything we thought we’d need was measured
and plotted on graph paper before the first board was cut. The garage conversion took four months of
weekend work and now, after four and a half years -- and a novel and a half -- I think it was the smartest thing we’ve
Living small became fodder for fiction. My first novel “Wax” was about young women
coming of age in the shipyards during WWII.
If you’re familiar with the history, housing was in very short supply in
war industry towns. Parking Lot C, in
the Kaiser shipyards, became a village of Airstream trailers for the duration.
When “Wax” was nearly ready to print, I was asked to provide two
pages of filler. The printer’s final page “signature” is produced in multiples
of eight, so my 334 page book was a little short. What would be worth printing? (Clue: the women are eating spaghetti in two
important scenes.) Sylvia’s Famous
Spaghetti Sauce Recipe (As adapted for the two-burner propane stove in
Airstream No. 28).
Back home in Kansas City, Sylvia would spend all day on a rich
meat sauce starting with garlic and olive oil and cubes of pork and beef
shoulder, seared at 475 degrees for half an hour. She’d transfer the meat to a
big stock pot with two quarts of broth, veal bones and vegetables. A long, slow
simmer in the broth would tenderize the tough but flavorful cuts of meat, and
to the whole she would add tomatoes and the remaining seasonings. The sauce
would then simmer for another six hours until the meat fell apart. Everyone she
treated to a serving of her Famous Spaghetti Sauce said it was the best ever.
She refined her technique — using ground beef — so she could make
“Camping Spaghetti Sauce”. In her tiny Airstream trailer, with few cooking
utensils, Sylvia did her best to recreate a favorite meal for her friends.
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp minced onion
¼ cup minced carrots
¼ cup minced celery
¾ lb ground meat – can be pork and beef mixed
1 C whole milk
2 C dry white wine
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes packed in juice
1 Tbsp oregano – fresh, minced
one more tablespoon minced garlic
salt to taste
Melt the butter in a sauce pan over a very low flame and add two
tablespoons garlic. Simmer the garlic very slowly until tender. The more slowly
it cooks, the sweeter it will be.
Add the carrots, onion and celery and sauté until the onions are
soft. Do not brown. Add the cloves.
Add the ground meat and stir to heat evenly for about three
minutes, until the meat is gray but not browned.
Add the milk and allow it to simmer until evaporated, about
twelve minutes; follow with the wine. When the wine has evaporated, add the
tomatoes with liquid and the oregano. Allow the sauce to simmer on the lowest
possible flame, for three more hours. Thirty minutes before it’s finished, add
the final tablespoon of minced garlic. Add salt if desired.
4 Servings Enjoy!
“The time went by so
quickly; we never had a chance to make plans,” Doris said. “When the ships on
the line are launched we’ll be sent home too.”
“Now come on girls,”
Sylvia said. “This is our last night together in The Land of C. Let’s have a
little more optimism. We’ll be at peace soon.” She adjusted the seasonings and
gave the sauce a final stir. Her red hair color was starting to fade. “All
those love-starved men will be returning to wine and dine you marriage-age
treasures. Life will be good,” Sylvia said. She looked at Tilly.
Sylvia drained the
spaghetti into a bowl and loaded three plates. Then she ladled the rich meat
sauce on top.
Tilly took the first bite.
She twirled her fork and wrapped the length of the spaghetti around the tines.
“Thank you so much, Sylvia. I’ll never forget this meal.”
From “Wax”, by Therese
Hi! I'm Nara,
Tumbleweed's staff writer.
You might have seen my name on the bottom of recent blog posts, or perhaps you noticed my face looming over a questionable gingerbread house. Now it's time for a formal introduction!
In addition to managing the blog and talking with you lovely people about your tiny house dreams, I'm in the process of finishing college in the glorious liberal woods of Western Massachusetts. For my what you might call my senior project, I have been attempting to dissect a small but crucial slice of the
American Dream: The American House.
Playing tiny- I had to fend off some small children for this shot
Beginning later this month, I'll
be living in a Fencl on my campus for 120 days. I want to share the benefits
and realities of living small, so I'll be writing about my "Tiny
Semester" on this blog. I'll also be holding several open houses and
informal workshops in the Western Massachusetts area- contact me if you're interested!
I'm so excited to be a part of Tumbleweed, and to pursue these tiny dreams of my own. One of the things that drew me to Tumbleweed was flexibility. Instead of
prescribing one set way to create a structure, Tumbleweed allows for houses and
builders of all shapes, colors and sizes. Everyone is encouraged to create
their own unique take on a tiny house.
To me, creating my own tiny house set-up is the ideal way to wrap up my year of studies. I want to create an interactive, influential space on my campus that represents alternative possibilities for housing. This also presents the opportunity to live off-grid, which is an important step for me. With help from my college and fellow students, I've been
working hard to develop sustainable, low-impact ways of residing in my tiny
house. Hello composting toilet, goodbye refrigerator!
And as I near my final semester of school, I want to try something different: I want to really, truly have to live with myself. To forgo plastic
bins and cardboard boxes of hidden pasts, to be conscious of the line between
useful and excessive. I want to address myself piece by piece, taking it apart,
discarding the excess, and reassembling in an appropriate, Tumbleweed-sized
I will graduate college all too soon, and I don't want to
walk straight into a mortgage. I don't want to be told to buy a house on
unrealistic credit and that it's my fault if I can't pay it. I want to joining
hands with the young people all over the world that are saying "NO!"
to an outdated American dream.
Watch out for upcoming blog posts. Heads up: I'm packing up my life this week, so it's about to get interesting!
Isabel Winson-Sagan is a resident of Santa Fe, NM, and has a degree from the University of New Mexico in religious studies and evolutionary anthropology. She will soon be attending the University of Aberdeen in Scotland for further work in religious studies. She just bought the trailer for her Tiny House, and will be starting her build in the next couple of months.
If I were forced to provide a single,
unqualified answer to the question, “Why are you building a tiny house?” I
would have to say: instantaneous love. I was 8 years old when I first saw the inside
of an RV trailer, while on a road trip with my parents. Afterwards I demanded
of my mother, “Why don’t we live in one of these?” On some level I was wounded.
My parents had always known about these perfect, tiny, ship-like houses on
wheels, and had chosen to abide in our irritatingly stationary home instead.
this instant love of mine was influenced by my fascination with hobos during
the Great Depression. I didn’t understand the economic desperation or the myth
of the West that had created these men. I only saw that they were tough, that
they had what it took to ride the trains. They were free. Somehow the ideas of
homelessness, wheeled vehicles, and the ability to carry your home with you
became crossed in my mind. An RV seemed to embody both that feeling of home and
the ability to leave home to my 8-year-old self.
childhood dream of living in an RV eventually subsided, and I moved on to other
pursuits. Skip forward a decade or so, to the day when I stumbled on the
website for the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. And it happened again. I was
instantly, irrevocably in love. And this time it was less impractical. In fact,
it seemed that here was the answer to many of my personal dilemmas: how to live
sustainability in a culture of consumerism that was simultaneously facing a
housing crisis, how to travel the road and feel safe, and how to have my own
home while moving across the country for graduate school. I was in love with the
aesthetic of Tumbleweed, and with the lifestyle it seemed to offer.
after I had made the somewhat wild decision to actually build my own house, I
began to connect the project to my academic interests. My fields are religious
studies and anthropology, and I realized that the tiny house could be studied
as material culture, with my own experience as the basis of anthropological
research. So I’ve started to study sacred architecture as well as building
science, and I hope to one day include my tiny house experience as part of a
graduate thesis proposal.
a woman, a Jew, a woodworker, and the anthropologist conducting a mild field
study on myself, several questions have been raised so far. How significant is
it, in this day and age, for a woman to be working in construction, or even to
be building her own house? What does it mean to be an American Jewish
craftsperson, when almost the entirety of my family’s material culture was lost
in the pogroms and the Holocaust? What does it mean to live in a home purposely
built for wandering, when the anti-Semitic legend of “The Wandering Jew” has
been around since the Middle Ages?
I woke up in the middle of the night a few
months ago, jerked awake with the force of one thought: I am building Baba
Yaga’s house. Baba Yaga (roughly translated to “demon grandmother”) is a
Russian fairytale character, a witch who lives in a house on chicken legs. She
is a symbol of Russia. So why am I building her house? As I build, I’m also
attempting to deconstruct the folk tale of Baba Yaga, in order to shed some
light on my own roots, and my own desire to build a little house in the woods.
It is a house that walks, and is full of either danger or help, for those who
know how to ask for it.
hut, little hut, stand with your back to the woods, and your front to me!”
the hut turns around, and the protagonist enters. This is the beginning of my
tiny house journey. Possibly some of my questions with be answered, or there
may be new questions raised. But in the meantime, I’m building, researching,
and documenting my tiny Baba Yaga house.