Teeny, tiny houses

Inside a tiny chapel!

Hmmm, time flies. I’ve been meaning to post some thoughts about the Tiny House Jamboree since we went to it 6 weeks ago in Colorado Springs. 6 weeks. Yikes! Since then we’ve travelled half way across the country (the second half of it) and visited three real life tiny houses en route. Seeing, and more importantly, going inside of, tiny houses alters one’s thinking slightly. So this blog post is a summary of my impressions from the Jamboree, and from getting to climb inside some tiny houses there. And from visiting tiny houses in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and also staying in a tiny, off-grid container house in Detroit, and also staying in a tiny loft in NYC. (Apologies for those reading who are not tiny house enthusiasts, regular programming will resume soon).

Tiny House Jamboree

Boulder, Friday. As I‘m clearing out my overfull inbox, some tiny house news catches my eye. A Tiny House Jamboree. Starting today. In Colorado Springs. Surely that’s in Colorado? Yes it is, about two hours south of Boulder. Let’s go!

The first annual Tiny House Jamboree ran for three days, and more than 40,000 people attended. It was free and promised more than 20 tiny houses to see, and a program of speakers. We only managed to get there for Sunday afternoon, so unfortunately didn’t hear very many of the speakers. There are some great reviews written by folks who did attend. Just search for Tiny House Jamboree to find them. Here are a few I like:




Queues were long :-(

The weekend left me thinking differently about the compromises needed in a tiny house.

Most of the tiny homes on display were from commercial builders – there are so many options from commercial builders here in the US compared with Australia. On paper, lots of the tiny houses look fabulous. But interestingly, when actually seeing them and climbing inside them, nearly all of the commercial Tinies didn’t feel very homely. Rather, they gave the impression of being (very nice) utility rooms. I think this was because most of their interior was taken up with the usual trappings of kitchen and bathroom, which then didn’t leave enough living space. I suspect commercial builders often design a ‘regular house’ on a smaller footprint – putting in the fundamentals (like standard size fridges, ovens, microwaves, sinks, big bathrooms, washing machines) of a house, and therefore compromising on liveability in the rest of the space. On paper these can appeal as we are accustomed to thinking they are important. But in practice I don’t think it works. The house still needs to be liveable – and so the compromises need to come from these things that we take for granted that we need. I think Selene’s outside shower design is a total winner in terms of compromising.

On the other hand, the owner designed and built homes, where people have customised to solve their own problems were just lovely. Not all were what I would do, but all worked for their owners. Things that stuck out to me were:

  • Living outside of the tiny house is very important – the ‘homiest’ houses had outside living areas separate from but set up around the house. A little deck, some plants. Alan and I have always been thinking along these lines, and it’s what we were trying to achieve with the van/horse float set up back home.
The outside space around this tiny made all the difference to how it felt. No need to be self-contained inside (unless maybe you live in Michigan).
  • I was reminded that not all functions may need to happen inside the tiny house. For example cooking outside with a barbecue, separate bath house block, etc.  If you’re not moving the house then a small collection of buildings would be a great option.
  • Stairs to a loft beat the ladders hands down. I have always thought I’d choose a ladder because it takes up less room and I’m young and fit enough to manage. But the reality of clambering up and down a ladder for a week in Detroit changed my mind. Yes it was totally doable, but the extra effort did take away from the liveability. The best stairs we saw had bookshelves and open shelf space
Best stairs I saw. I like ones with drawers too, but these helped give an open airy feel.
  • Tight lofts are unliveable – if you can only sit up in one end, or in the middle under the crest of the roof it really feels like you’re in a crawl space. Those dormer roofs, whilst tricky, are done for a reason. We saw loft beds and downstairs beds. Loft beds left more room downstairs, or allowed a smaller footprint, whereas downstairs beds crowded the floorspace, but did allowed a really airy feel. I think a tiny house for one person could get away with a well-incorporated downstairs bed, but for two people the separate space a loft provides would be really important.
This downstairs bed has another bed that pulls out above. Took up quite a lot of floorspace though. http://www.ggcdesigns.com/
This downstairs bed has another bed that pulls out above. Took up quite a lot of floorspace though. http://www.ggcdesigns.com/
  • The bathroom/kitchen side by side at one end under the loft is my preferred design. We saw a few slightly different combinations of this and whilst they each some pros and cons in their individual design, the thing they had in common was leaving an airy, open feel at the other end of the house. The more floorspace with height you can keep, the less cramped the house felt.
  • A side entry door helps to create a cosy living space. I think this is because it allows you to tuck the living space into one end of the house, and the loft/bathroom/kitchen into the other. We did see one design with the kitchen across one end and the bathroom at the other. The kitchen felt lovely and spacious, but it did compromise the living space a lot since it felt like you were perching in between the door, the kitchen and the bathroom. Houses with the door at the end felt a little too closed in for my liking.

Real tiny-housers

After the Jamboree I was really inspired to see a few more tiny houses and I realised how much I missed the building we had done before we left.  So I joined a facebook group called Tiny House People and enquired whether there was anyone living in or building tiny houses over the rest of our planned route through to NYC who would be willing to let us visit, maybe in exchange for help with building.  That was how we came to visit ‘Moose’, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and Rich, in Pennsylvania.  Neither of them wanted any help with their building, but they were pleased to see visitors.

Moose, so-called because studying moose is his calling, had been in his house only a few months, and technically it wasn’t quite finished yet (the heater is only going in as you read this, just in time for freezing Michigan fall temperatures).  I reckon moving in before totally finished is a great idea because you can get a feel for how you might actually want to finish it off – from practical experience rather than theory. The main things we learned from Moose were that his small bathroom and kitchen felt just right (an inch of headroom below the loft rafters is enough) and that if you build it, they will come – both figuratively, in the case of finding somewhere to both build and then to park his house, and literally, in the case of nosy passers-by who want to tour your house all the time.  (Moose assured us we didn’t fit into this category since we already knew all about tiny houses).

Moose’s outside living is minimal because he’s planning to move soon, but a small deck and chair still made all the difference.
Kitchen beside the bathroom setup (the best I reckon). Unfinished with plans evolving as Moose uses it.
Open stairs with different sized storage spaces.
Clever double-sided shelves accessed from the living room and from the bathroom. They are tucked in the space behind the fridge.
Moose’s loft is really nice. Headspace to sit up all the way across.

Rich had an even tinier camper on some land in central Pennsylvania, and a dream, fast becoming a plan, to drive it to Florida for the winter, returning north each summer, eventually with another slightly-larger-but-still-tiny house in each place.  A carpenter by trade, his house has cost him a grand total of $120, for nails and hinges, everything else was recycled and cleverly re-purposed from jobs.  The result is a beautifully crafted, unique tiny house that benefits from his skill, patience and attention-to-detail.  Recycled looks so much better than buying new materials.

Rich really did live outside most of the time. He’s also experimenting with a larger tiny house – that’s the frame you can see around the camper.

In Detroit we stayed in a converted shipping container.  It was a great space.  A major difference from other tinies was that the furniture was not built in.  This gave it quite a different feel to lots of tiny houses.  I liked it.

Loft bed. The interesting thing about it was that it was narrower at the foot than the head. Didn’t make a noticeable impact on sleeping. The ladder was annoying though. And if you do have a ladder, make sure you have flat rungs, not round.
Freestanding cupboards and benches worked really well.


Here’s some other relevant tiny pics and links.

SimBLISSity were one of my favourite of the commercially built options.

Check out the chicken coop on the front of this tiny house!

Tiny House Expedition was the only non-commercial tiny we got to go inside (I think some of the others had left by Sunday afternoon).

Great shoe storage behind the door.
Good headroom in the loft.
Good headroom in the loft.