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?
Here at La Casita a surprise was in store for Cedric this holiday season. A young Corgi pup named Asher Bear was my gift to Cedric for Christmas and now we are adapting to tiny house living with an adorably fluffy, tiny being! It’s quite the learning experience, both enriching and challenging and well worth the extra effort! So far, we’ve found the transition from two to three quite smooth and La Casita is proving to be just as nurturing a space as a big home can be.
People have asked us about having pets in a tiny house and many seem skeptical of the possibility. I believe many things you can do in a larger home you can creatively accomplish in a tiny house. For me, this means tweaking my lifestyle and asking for help. Over the summer a friend of ours house sat La Casita and he owns a 50 pound dog. Rather large for the size of our house but with a little help from our community it worked out beautifully. We put Zach in touch with a friend and neighbor who had just lost her dog a few months back and was more than happy to dog sit during the day while he was at work. That way, Ani-dog was able to have a larger space to spend the day and both human and pooch had much desired company. It was a great compromise that worked for everyone and is one example of how you can make having a pet in a small space work for your tiny lifestyle.
As with any pet purchase, it’s important to seriously consider what creature best fits personal lifestyle and, for dwellers of tiny houses, the animal’s adaptability to living in a small space. Cedric and I thought long and hard about a dog. We’d been looking at breeds and talking about potentially have a pup for over 2 years. We selected a breed for size and personality as well as a breed whom we’ve lived with in the past. We always knew a small to medium sized dog with plenty of energy would best suit our lifestyle. We are active people who enjoy biking to the park, kayaking the marshes and going on walks after dinner. We wanted a pet who could enjoy these activities along side us. We knew Corgis need lots of outdoor time so we felt that we’d be able to meet the breed’s need for activity and in terms of size it wouldn’t outgrow a tiny space as s/he moved in to adulthood. So far, La Casita has proven a great environment for Asher since it pushes us daily out of our home and into our community. It allows us to assist in his socialization but there’s still enough space in our home to invite over friends for puppy parties which are great fun.
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In my last post I discussed the community Cedric and I live in and how La Casita has brought neighbors to our door. I’d like to continue exploring this topic in terms of how you create and sustain community. I’ve been involved with several non-profits and grassroots groups over the past 8 years that have helped me learn about community building. These experiences, especially bicycle advocacy, assisted us in building community around tiny houses in Charleston. My hardest lesson, however, has been learning how to sustain the community we create.
In 2008, Cedric and I along with a group of friends founded the Holy City Bicycle Cooperative (HCBC). It was the first community I had been a part of that found its beginnings on the internet. Cedric had started a website without knowing a single person in the biking community but a simple site brought together a group who had all been working separately. Through our combined efforts we had a co-op within a month. I actually met Cedric for the first time at that meeting and when I left I was amazed at how quickly the internet had brought us all together. The Tiny Life is a fantastic example of an online community supporting and encouraging a physical community. Hearing stories, exploring other’s projects and being able to stay easily connected is essential to growing and sustaining any community.
Besides the wonders of the internet, networking has been a driving force in my experiences in community organizing. Conferences are an awesome way to meet and learn from others doing similar work. HCBC members used to attend a conference held once a year called Bike!Bike! Different cooperatives hosted each year for 3 days of workshops, races and potlucks. When we came home we had increased energy and renewed excitement in our projects within the cooperative. I’d love to help organize a conference for tiny house enthusiasts and have a chance to network and learn from all the rad folks out there that are creating a wider support group for other tiny lifers.
Visiting other projects is another way that we’ve built community which we learned when leading a community garden non-profit. The people behind the projects we assisted were always an incredible inspiration. We experienced further inspiration within the tiny house movement when we stopped in at Boneyard Studios in D.C. this past summer and checked out how they’re attempting to create community. It’s no easy task, with weary neighbors and hostile city zoning it’s persistent work that builds tiny house community. We’ve learned that connecting to people face to face is essential to such growth.
That is what we’ve attempted within our neighborhood-connection. I try to acknowledge everyone’s presence, from the children running through the streets to the dealers on the corner. I look people in the eye, ask how they are doing and acknowledge their presence. I often get the sense that folks don’t expect this. Some people look at me with surprise at being addressed. Being raised in the south where strangers often greet one another in the street, you’d think this would come more naturally to me. Alas, I was raised by a northerner and I was not instilled with this sense of southern manners. I have to push myself everyday to open up to strangers and take a moment, set my intent and actively greet people. And it’s paid off. I hear friendly voices in return, even from some of the most hardened looking of neighbors and that has been my reward. Friendliness as well as general respect.
I’m excited to see what Jay Shafer has up his sleeve with his new venture Four Lights as well as other community builders such as Boneyard Studios. It will be interesting to watch the progression of these and other movements. For me, living in community is the best way to live the tiny life so I’ll be keeping a close eye on these projects as well as any others that are out there. Collaboration breeds inspirations so let’s work together!
- What do you envision when you think of community?
- What actions do we take as individuals to continue moving towards supporting one another in building community?