Vermont has quite the tiny house scene. Only two weeks after moving up here we came across our friend KJ’s tiny house and heard about several more! Back in SC, we were pretty much the only tiny house folks that we knew about but it seems Vermonters have had tiny house fever for some time! Today I want to share this wonderful tiny house that our friend built and currently occupies with her bull mastiff!
The house currently lives on a farm and sits on a 8 1/2 x 16 foot trailer with two bumpouts that serve as storage and sleeping space. She has a hard wired, 20 amp circuit that allows her to hook to a breaker box in the barn next door and although she has a clawfoot tub she recently bought, she does not having running water in the house.
While taking a permaculture course, KJ was exploring a less toxic, less material based lifestyle. She was living in yurt in Vermont and realized that it was not the best living situation through the long winters. It took a lot of wood to heat it and keep it warm for one person so she nixed the idea of buying a yurt. She became especially interested in gypsy wagons and began researching other small living alternatives, such as school bus renovation, back in 2008. Then she moved in to a tree house on a goat farm owned by a couple of architects. She revealed her dream to build a tiny house and she says their eyes lit up! They agreed to help her in exchange for goat sitting on the weekends. Two months of building and she had herself a house.
The house is built with pine that was cut and milled from the forest on the goat farm and it was built specifically to her measurements. She’s thinking up new ideas for the house and planning to remodel the downstairs to have a narrower staircase and a space for a table and two chairs. The best things about living the tiny life? The strong sense of ownership and accomplishment is certainly a strong sentiment for her. “It’s mine, I made it!” is the first thing she tells me when I asked her the above question but also living in a non-toxic space and escaping the materialistic bent of our consumerist culture are among the positives to living this life.
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When it comes to living the tiny life which is better? The city life or the country life? With the ability to move your home the possibilities are endless. Having recently made the switch from urban to rural tiny lifestyle, we’re assessing the transition. Here are some advantages and disadvantages we’ve experienced in La Casita.
The majority of folks I’ve talked to who live in a tiny house do so for economic reasons as well as ecological ones. Those were the big motivating factors for Cedric and I. Living lighter on the earth is of great interest to us as is meeting our needs with less money so our recent move got me thinking: is living the tiny life in the country greener and more economically sound than living in the city? In the city we rode our bikes to work, the grocery store, the bowling alley, restaurants and most of our friends’ houses. Now that we’ve moved to a more rural area I find I’m driving a lot more. I definitely feel dependent on our vehicle rather than my bike. For me, living the tiny life isn’t just about houses, it’s my intention in everyday experiences. Being dependent on a car does not satisfy my need for a more intentional, regenerative existence.
There’s also the added expense of car dependency. Gas is more costly here than down south. Plus, with winter still in full swing we had had to buy a set of studded tires so we could get out of our driveway! We’re both feeling as though it takes a lot more stuff to live the country life in the north than it did the city life in the south.
When it comes to aesthetics living rural has living urban beat-even in the winter! Life out in the country is proving exceptionally beautiful and much more quiet than our life in Charleston. There’s also a lot more privacy. Walking out the door in the city often met with someone staring at the house and wanting to know more about it. I loved talking with passer-bys but when you’re getting stared at on the regular, it starts to feel invasive. Plus, being packed in next to other houses does not provide the most scenic view. Here in Vermont we look out to the woods and up to a mountain and at night the stars are stunning. I’m definitely sleeping better at night without my next door neighbors yelling and drinking in to the wee hours of the evening!
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When designing and building a small space, functionality is vital. Each piece of furniture in our tiny house was designed, re-designed and then tweaked again before we installed anything. It took us nearly a year of living in the house to finally figure out what we thought would be the best living space we could have in La Casita. Our style throughout the house is heavily influenced by boat living. Cedric lived on his parents’ sailboat as a young child and as an adult he re-built a small sailboat and lived in the Ashley River in Charleston. His experiences in that particular tiny living community have inspired much of La Casita’s design. Our built-in furniture is a further testament of that fact.
When drawing out our seating arrangements we knew they needed to be multi-functional, allowing for reading, eating, relaxing, working and sleeping. We were asking our living room to do quadruple duty since space is so limited in the house. Below is our bench seating. To the left we have drawers that pull out and act as a storage space/dirty laundry hamper which helps keep our entire house more orderly. Two little drawers make all the difference in a tiny house!
Under the seating you’ll notice a small hole in the flooring. That is where a stainless steel tube fits into our floor which allows the transformation from bench to dining table. The boards mounted to the wall stabilize the table and keep it from shifting during use. We had the hardest time figuring out how to attractively stabilize the table so that it was functionally sound but also visually appealing. We also wanted to keep as much room as possible available under the table for our long legs. The pipe was left over from our kitchen counter set-up and all the wood you see in the pictures was reclaimed. It ended up costing us nothing to build which was a plus!
We are really enjoying the use of a dining/work table!
Sleeping on the converted bench is a bit like camping. Cedric and I have both tried it out and it’s not quite as comfortable as we would like so we will probably continue to tweak the design. We want a space where a guest could sleep comfortably and not feel quite so cramped. Lengthwise it’s fantastic but it is so narrow it makes sleeping through the night a bit challenging.
All in all we’re pretty happy with the results of our efforts. It’s truly made our house feel more like a home. The space will continue to evolve and we’ll continue to challenge our design but that’s part of the fun of living in a tiny space. It doesn’t take much time or money to recreate it if you want to change an aspect of your design.
- What’s your favorite multi-functional tiny house design idea?
This Christmas my favorite Belgian tiny house builder gifted me the most excellent kitchen appliance. He knew it was essential to any tiny house kitchen. He realized I needed it after going an entire year without homemade hummus. It was…a three piece immersion blender! I can’t fully express in a post how ecstatic I was to receive this appliance. It not only acts like a blender on a stick, which is incredibly convenient, it also has a whisk and small food processor attachment. The following night I made 14 bean garlic hummus and plenty of vanilla whipped cream. There is nothing I love better than homemade whipped cream in my coffee and hummus on my morning bagel. Needless to say I’ve been in the kitchen more! This appliance is so handy because it is compact, fitting neatly in our spice rack, and provides the action of three separate appliances in one. The attachments are unobtrusive and easy to store. Besides being a lot less bulky, it’s also much easier to clean an immersion blender than a regular blender. It’s truly an excellent tool in a tiny house. So all this excitement got me thinking, what else is useful to a kitchen the size of a sailboat galley? Here are a few answers from La Cocina de La Casita.
1. Pressure Cookers
Today’s pressure cookers are modern, readily usable and safe cooking appliances. We bought a small pressure cooker from the Spanish company Fagor and it’s incredible. We can cook something as simple as brown rice or as complicated as seafood stew in twenty minutes. Newer models also come with better safety features and cookbooks to help get you started. I had never used a pressure cooker before we lived in La Casita and now I never want to go without one. The one disadvantage is bulk. Our cooker is the largest of our kitchen necessities but it makes up for it in practicality, especially when it saves us money on propane every month.
2. Collapsible Accessories
Our silicon strainer is my favorite kitchen accessory. It reduces to the width of a badminton racket, allowing for storage practically anywhere in our kitchen. We also had collapsible measuring cups but unfortunately those were lost in a move. They would have been super handy in La Casita. Basically, any item in your tiny kitchen that you deem a necessity try to kind it in its collapsible edition!
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Have you ever heard the term Wabi Sabi? I first learned about this Japanese concept when we began designing La Casita a couple years ago. A simplified translation, taken from Taro Gold’s book Living Wabi Sabi, would be wisdom in simplicity and imperfection but this translation does not even begin to involve the depth of this concept. Wabi consists of the spiritual aspects of life while Sabi refers to the material side of life. Gold continues describing it as a worldview which, “fosters a bohemian sense of beauty that celebrates the basic, the unique and the imperfect…it supports ecocentric living and compassionate humanism.” This philosophy has been a continued source of inspiration as we’ve designed, built and improved upon our tiny home and it helps remind us of the imperfect beauty inherent in life.
How do we specifically experience Wabi Sabi in our home? When we look up at our ceiling joists there are holes in the heart pine where nails held up a home built in the 1920’s in West Ashley. We choose to leave the holes exposed as a reminder of the wood’s previous life. Our uneven floors of maple evoke a worn, weathered look. They were reclaimed from an old cigar factory in downtown Charleston. They have scratches, knicks and rough spots where worker’s boots scoured the factory floor from the early 20th century until the 1970’s. If you look closely the wainscoating downstairs, which came out of a house on a nearby island, contains dings from what we don’t know but the stories that embody each and every piece of our home make all the imperfection that much more inspiring and reflective of what we choose and the impact it creates on ourselves, our community and our environment.
Cedric and I have been living Wabi Sabi since before we knew there was a philosophy. Living in a city such as Charleston where the wood floors slant toward the river and the windows creak in the wind, weathered imperfection is just the average Charlestonian experience. In La Casita we’ve taken it a step further as we constantly strive to simplify our living space and reduce our material gain. However, it’s not always easy living Wabi Sabi. The imperfect aspects of life often cause some kind of suffering. In La Casita sometimes the imperfect creates discomfort or general anxiety. Cedric is a very detail oriented, symmetrically inclined artist and the imperfection which occurs when using reclaimed materials makes it hard to keep things aligned. There are times, when he looks at the floor, that he cringes and wishes he had refinished the planks. There are rough edges around our bathroom that have yet to be trimmed, none of our windows match and the corners don’t always match up exactly as we’d like but this also leads to creative reuse that gives our home its unique character. Each piece of material, no matter its imperfections, is valued for it’s story and we love living in a storybook tiny space that houses many tales.
Living in a space that challenges us, physically as well as mentally, never allows for boredom! We’re are constantly recreating our space and continuing to be open to change as living in La Casita evolves and teaches us to live the life of imperfection and accept it for all it’s worth. The difficult times in life, when things aren’t going exactly our way, is where we learn the most. We experienced that when we moved in to our home a month early because our apartment had been foreclosed on. It was a tough time but ultimately we came out of the situation stronger. That certainly continues to be our lesson while living the tiny life but we’ll continue to accept the challenges that come our way and remember to appreciate all that is Wabi Sabi.
- Where do you recognize Wabi Sabi in your life?