After Ryan’s post earlier this week, I got to thinking about sense of security. Living in a tiny house definitely decreases dependence on money but living the tiny life does not necessarily mean a life free of worries.
Before jumping in, I have to say that the completion of La Casita came at a time of great upheaval in the lives of my fiancee and I. Our rental had been foreclosed on, the bank had kicked us out, the tiny house was 3/4 done and we were essentially homeless. Luckily I had family in the greater Charleston area that took us in but it was a harsh reality for a couple of months. Since moving in to our house, life has been easier in terms of money but in terms of legal shelter there have been distinct challenges.
I guess my first question for someone thinking about a tiny house would be: do you mind living in an illegal situation according to most zoning codes? If this doesn’t bother you then my second question would be: does possibly not having a home address, which can make acquiring a driver’s license, a post office box or your citizenship difficult, concern you?
These are some of the realities we’ve faced living in a tiny house. Without a home address, it is very difficult to get our driver’s licenses in Vermont. Without a home address my fiance can’t start his citizenship application and in Charleston I couldn’t get a po box without a street address. Not everyone has this issue when it comes to tiny living but it has been a constant for us since moving in to La Casita and I never considered this would be one of the issues I would face.
Having just moved to a new community in Vermont, we’re slowly meeting folks and people are incredibly nice and open to what we are doing but we’ve already had a town official contact us about living in the house and its questionable legality. In a town of 3800 people, it’s not going to take long for us to be noticed. In a city of 100,000 it was much easier to hide from zone enforcement although they would roll by in their truck about once a month. They never stopped and asked questions but the possibility was there and we knew it. La Casita was a “temporary studio space” to anyone official who asked but it was fairly obvious we were living in it. Luckily, we planted it in the ghetto where cops and officials were more worried about busting drug dealing than some illegal zoning issue. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that neighborhood and living there was wonderful. We had great neighbors and no one ever messed with us but if we had parked anywhere else in the historic district of downtown Charleston, I’m certain we would have been forced to move.
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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?
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?
These are our top ten books to read when searching for tiny house inspiration! This is the literature that influenced the design and build of La Casita and which continues to inspire us to build tiny houses and attempt to live a more sustainable life.
#1: Go House Go by Dee Williams was the basis for our build. We found this to be an excellent reference and helpful when tackling the nitty gritty of building a tiny house. Check out The Tiny Life’s book review here!
#2: The Small House Book by Jay Shafer was an obvious choice when determining style. This book helped us to determine our desired aesthetic inspiring us with it’s intent toward sacred geometry and traditional angles that set tiny houses apart from sheds or mobile homes.
#3: Tiny House by Mimi Zeiger was our coffee table book for about a year. We loved to flip it open and enjoy this visually appealing amalgamation of tiny dwellings from around the world. The book focuses on buildings that share sustainability initiatives which encouraged our inspiration to build a home made of 90% reclaimed materials.
#4: Move House by Sean Topham is the book that led us to the Tumbleweed designs. It had a page featuring Jay Shafer along with many other quirky projects that opened our imaginations to what mobility and livability could mean.
#5: Ultimate Guide to House Framing by John D. Wagner is a well laid-out, clear guide to framing. From teaching how to use tools to reading blueprints to sheathing a wall-it truly encompasses how to frame a building in terms of construction as well as design.
#6: Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House by Robyn Griggs Lawrence is a lovely book we were intuitively drawn to. Wabi sabi is, to quote Lawrence, “a subtly spiritual philosophy that offers a path toward home as sanctuary a simple place devoid of clutter, disturbance and distraction,” which we are continually striving for in La Casita.
#7: The Composting Toilet System Book by David Del Porto and Carol Steinfeld is a comprehensive look at alternative waste removal options. More than 40 systems that offer ecological water management options are featured. It helped us gain a better understanding of what’s out on the market and what we can build ourselves.
#8: Make Your Place by Raleigh Briggs is an excellent DIY resource for living a more sustainable lifestyle. Charmingly written and filled with fun, simple and cheap recipes for everything from all-purpose cleaner to herbal hand salve, it’s also a great reference when starting a garden or trying to fight a cold. Such an endlessly useful resource!
#9: Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats and Funky Forts by Deek Diedricksen is by far one of the most lively written works on small spaces. I love it’s zine-esque aesthetic and saucy vernacular! Deek also has an excellent book list at relaxshacks.blogspot.com. Check it out!
#10: Little House on a Small Planet by Shay Salomon challenges people to think about their resource use and consider their true living needs. This book is a passionate endorsement inspiring the renovation, building and inhabiting of small dwellings.
- What books inspire you to explore, build and live the tiny life?
- What is on your recommended reading list for tiny life enthusiasts?
I found this great article on living frugally and thought it was a good read.
Do you avoid a lot of the expenses that many of your peers spend money on, such as technology and meals out?
For the most part, yes. I have a lower-end Android phone because I needed a new phone. I went as cheap as possible. I don’t own a car, I rely on public transportation, and sometimes biking. I have a laptop, because I need it for writing. I do have Internet access because it’s pretty important to get online. My only extra bill is Netflix, and I’m considering getting rid of that. I don’t go out to eat, or just for special occasions. I cook for every meal. I don’t drink coffee. I try to stick with water. I do go out to bars, but not every night. That’s my best way to meet people and experience cities.
What’s your typical meal?
I usually buy a pound of beef and a package of chicken and make easy Mexican dishes. I get some vegetables and mix it all together and throw it on a tortilla. I do a lot of pasta dishes. When I’m working, I usually pack a lunch, I make a sandwich plus chips or cookies to get me through the day. Then I get home and cook a fuller meal. I try to have a good mix [of food] so I don’t get sick. My brother taught me little tricks to take different ingredients around the house, like seasonings, to make a sauce that’s different and more unique, to give yourself different tastes.
What about clothes?
Once or twice a year, I might get a few new things, like an extra pair of jeans or pants, or a couple shirts, but I still have shirts I wore to college, so they’re six or seven years old or older. If a job requires certain clothes, then I’ll buy clothes for that. I maybe get one new pair of shoes a year and make them last as long as possible. I mostly shop at cheaper places, like thrift stores or Salvation Army or Goodwill. Those are good places to hit up.
Read the rest at here