Work on the Tiny House Continues!

So another year has gone by, and the tiny house has come along, albeit very slowly.  My family was unable to visit this summer, and I was hoping to get my father’s help with construction but unfortunately that didn’t happen.  Though I also encountered another problem…it’s so hard to do anything other relax and hang out when we’re out there!  I arrive with the best of intentions, but alas…I tend to be overwhelmed by the desire to either do nothing, or read a book.   However, I did manage to get a few things done this summer.  I enlisted one of the neighbors to install the large window that I’d inadvertently broken when bringing it out last year.  He’s assured me that it will be easy to order a new pane of glass and just replace the one that’s cracked.  I have to say, I was a little nervous seeing a gigantic hole being cut in the side of the house, but once it was in, I was SO happy I had him do it.  Even with the cracked pane, the view to the forest is so beautiful!  And it lets even more light into the tiny house.

New window installed!
New window installed!
Me cleaning up the intact window pane.
Me cleaning up the intact window pane.

One of my other projects this summer was to work on my wood floor.  I decided to go with a lime wash by a company called Roma.  It’s a fairly involved process but I figured that since I only have 200 square feet of flooring, how much work could it be?  As it turns out…A LOT.   There were so many steps involved, but in the end, the wood planks took on a beautiful patina and color.  Behold!

Look how pretty!
Look how pretty!
Close up of lime washed planks.
Close up of lime washed planks.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the flooring installed!  But I have a lot of work to get done before then.

One of the other tasks I decided to undertake that I was really dreading was insulating the roof.  I decided to use R21 fiberglass batts, and I’m crossing my fingers that I don’t end up with a mold problem.  One of my neighbors, who is a contractor, assured me that since I’m planning to use tongue and groove boards on the ceiling and walls, there should be enough air getting through that I should be fine.  I guess we’ll see if he’s right or not.  I really hope he is right though, because it was kind of terrifying to be up on a ladder that high, in what I call an Oompa Loompa outfit, mask and goggles; I was certain that I would fall at some point and break my neck.  Thankfully though, that didn’t happen.  Here’s what the insulation looks like! (The blue tape I used to join the seams of two separate batts)

I survived this!
I survived this!

I really can’t wait to get further along on the tiny house.  It’s such a peaceful and beautiful place, even though this year there was hardly any snow on the mountains which meant our stream and pond went dry by the beginning of July.  We were also at a huge risk of wild fires this year, which led to state wide burn bans.  Even with no fires in our fire pit, we still got to enjoy being out in nature and making friends with some of the local critters.

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Hopefully we can get further along and get it completed soon.  Though when that happens, I’ll have an even harder time leaving at the end of each weekend!

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The Importance of Coziness

The word “cozy” is one that is over-used.  Usually by real estate listings trying to find a way to say “small” that won’t put off the average buyer.   By definition, the word means “small, comfortable and warm”, and “friendly and pleasant”.  These are descriptions that fit a tiny house perfectly.  Though most people would invariably focus on the lack of size in a tiny house, I prefer to instead put more importance on the emotions a small, comfortable space can illicit.

Perhaps my occasional social anxiety is the reason I think about things like this.  But to me, the idea of being in a cozy space makes me feel safe.  The image of being able to quietly observe the world from a safe perch is a very pleasant one.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my living room with Chris and Chito in our house in town, during the season’s first big windstorm.  I really wish we could be out at the tiny house now, enjoying the sound of the wind rustling through the trees.  I think the “safety” aspect of my tiny house is even more important because of its location; out in the middle of the forest, where it gets pitch black at night and cold since it’s up near the mountains, the notion of having a little place that’s warm and inviting just seems even more appealing.  I can imagine coming in from the snow to warm myself by the fire, my dog on my lap.  Even though I’m perfectly warm and comfortable here in our house in town, there is just something so reassuring about dwelling in a space that is scaled down.

Chito on my lap.
Chito feels safe on my lap.

When one realizes that tiny houses are meant to provide exactly what you need and nothing more, the idea of “home” becomes much more powerful, to me at least.  This is a sacred space, that provides not only shelter from the elements, but also is a place to house ones thoughts, emotions and dreams.  And somehow, the smallness of a tiny house is the thing that really amplifies this philosophy.  That’s not to say that big houses can’t be comfortable, but somehow, being in a cavernous space isn’t congruous to that feeing of safety.   Time and again, I’ve read interviews with other designers where they say that, although their clients have huge homes, they always seem to prefer to the smallest, most intimate rooms.  Those are the places they actually live.

A long while back, I found a book called ” A Place of My Own” by Michael Pollan.  It documents his adventures in constructing a small building to house his books and to work out of.  In this book he really describes what this space means to him, it’s a special place and in reading his words it’s easy to understand how important it is to him.  He really understands the charm a small space contains.  I really recommend checking this book out.  It’s a good read.

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I find it sad that American culture has been conditioned to believe that bigger is always better.  As a result, we have suburbs full of cookie cutter houses devoid of any individual character.   This is why the tiny house movement is such a big deal, I think, for it challenges that long held belief that the bigger is always better than the smaller.  While people in these homes might feel more fortunate than tiny house dwellers, I feel so fortunate to enjoy the quality of the light coming from my many windows.  I feel so lucky to be able to look up at the stars while I lie in my nest-like loft.  I can’t describe the sheer joy I felt when, a few months ago, we were up in the loft and saw the international space station cross the night sky, perfectly framed in our skylights.  I also feel fortunate because, my tiny house is like the grown up version of my childhood dream of having a clubhouse or treehouse.  And it’s the coziness of the space that really makes it special.

I’m sure I’m rambling at this point, and I should really spend some time to organize my thoughts more thoroughly, but I guess my main point is that I believe that the main shortcoming most people would attribute to a tiny house is the very thing that makes it so wonderful.  I feel so lucky to be a part of the tiny house movement.  And I hope more and more people discover the joys of being in a cozy place.

A Promise of Light in the Darkness or My Neighbor Offered me his Old Solar Panels and Of Course I Had to Have Them

We had a great weekend up at the tiny house!  Fall is in full swing and along with cooler temperatures, we got to experience a range of different weather there over the last two days.  Chris and I drove up Friday night, lit the stove and our gas lamps, and I heated milk on the stove to make hot chocolate.  Saturday morning started out cool and sunny, and I got to see the mountains, though they disappeared later in the day as the clouds and rain rolled in.

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Mountains, Gandalf, mountains!

With it being cool and rainy that afternoon, it was the perfect time to make tomato soup.  So that’s what we did, using a propane powered double burner that my dad brought me over the summer.  It’s meant to be used outside, so I made sure to open the windows while using it.  Ordinarily I wouldn’t recommend using stuff like this inside but I just really wanted tomato soup and it was kind of breezy so I figured we’d be okay.  I was so excited to try out my new dutch oven! It worked beautifully, and we enjoyed a hot bowl of tomato soup in front of the fire going in the wood stove.  (The recipe is on the food network website if you’re curious–it’s the Barefoot Contessa easy tomato soup).

Yummy Soup in my new dutch oven!
Yummy Soup in my new dutch oven!

While my family was here this summer, my dad found time to build me a storage shed with the last of the lumber we salvaged from the torn down shed.  He even reused the old shed door, so nothing went to waste.  It’s been so nice to have a place to store things in, like my generator, lawn mower (also a gift from my folks) and I even have a space for firewood storage on the side.   I still need to paint it, and add trim around the door and window, but for now it’s just fine.

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My little storage shed

So my neighbor next door recently upgraded his solar power array.  Since he lives there full time now, he needed more power that the little system he had in place could provide.  He offered to sell me his existing solar panels, batteries, charge controller and inverter, so of course I said yes!  He brought them over to me and I have them in my shed now.  I’m so excited!!  It’s a small system, but since at this point we’ll only be up on weekends it will be perfect.

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My swanky new solar panels!
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The less glamorous but still crucial accessories

There’s really only one place on my property where the solar panels can go, as it’s the only spot that gets sun during the winter months.  Though, I’ve decided not to try to install anything until I can go up there around December 21st (when the sun is at its lowest angle) and make sure the panels will get enough exposure.

Since the cabin isn’t all insulated yet, it was pretty chilly this morning.  The wood stove heated it up fine, although I’m thinking this will probably be the last weekend we stay overnight until late spring.  Unfortunately I didn’t get around to working on the wiring (there was soup to make, books to read, mountains to look at and small dogs to cuddle with) but hopefully at *some* point I can get around to it.  Preferably before next summer.

Tiny House Kitchen Design

So, I’m currently obsessed with Rachel Khoo’s kitchen.  If you’re not familiar with her, she’s the super adorable British girl who hosted “The Little Paris Kitchen.”  She cooks–and films her show in–her tiny kitchen in her Parisian flat.  I find it really encouraging to know that she can make all sorts of delicious meals in a place that small.  And, I absolutely LOVE her backsplash tiles.

The lovely Rachel Khoo cooking up a storm in her tiny kitchen
The lovely Rachel Khoo cooking up a storm in her tiny kitchen

In designing my kitchen for the tiny house, there were a number of criteria I wanted to meet.  First, I wanted to maximize the countertop work area.  Secondly, I wanted to find a way to squeeze in a dishwasher.  (I love cooking but I hate washing dishes.) And lastly, I wanted an oven large enough to roast a turkey in.   In pondering different layouts, I discovered that the best use of my space would be to use an L-shaped kitchen.

Kitchen Diagram

As you can see in the diagram above, this layout would allow me to have counter space on either side of the stove to work on.  In addition, the sink I chose, the Bredskar stainless steel sink from Ikea, has a cutting board that fits into the sink itself, which I can use to increase the work area if needed.  I’d say the only down side to the “L” configuration is the dead space that you get in the corner.  I decided I’d make the most of this space by locating my propane water heater there (more on that in a later post).

Ikea sink with cutting board insert
Ikea sink with cutting board insert

As I mentioned before, my intention is to use open shelving throughout the kitchen, and I’m considering having the top shelf extend over the windows to increase storage space.  Speaking of windows, I’m excited about being able to look towards the mountains whilst cooking.  I know most people traditionally prefer the window over the sink, but for me, I’d rather enjoy the view during the cooking process rather than the clean up.

KITCHEN DIAGRAM 1

In the above drawing you can see what the sink wall will look like, with my wall mounted faucet, dishwasher, open shelves, and an open cabinet to store my cookie sheets and cutting boards.  I absolutely can’t STAND it when stuff like that is stored in the oven.  (Early on, when I moved in with my partner, in preparing to make dinner I turned on the oven without realizing that things were in there… Let’s just say trying to pry a melted plastic cutting board off of an oven rack is not very fun.)   I’m also planning on installing a very narrow shelf to hold spices.  I really want to make the most of every inch of that wall.

KITCHEN DIAGRAM 2

And here is the other wall, showing the continuation of the open shelves, with the exception of a cabinet to the left of the window.  I’d like to use the side of that cabinet to hang things like my sifter and store things like cooking oil, etc. inside the cabinet.  I’m also intending to use a knife magnet to store my knives and keep them out of the way, but still handy.   Here are the range and fridge I’ve decided on:

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Both run off of propane, and the range is really nice because it’s intended for an off the grid lifestyle–notice it has no digital clock, and the mechanism that ignites the flame is battery powered, so I won’t need to plug it in at all.  The fridge is perfect for my needs, with a good amount of storage space and even a small freezer.  They’re both a bit pricey, but since I’ll be completely off the grid, the fact they run off propane makes them totally worth it.

I’m so excited to keep working on my house.  This week we’ll be going up for the weekend so I can get some more electrical wiring done.  I’ll probably pack some soup that we can heat on the wood stove.  It’s supposed to be rainy, which I’ll enjoy because I love listening to the rain on the metal roof while I work.  And during breaks I’ll probably snuggle up with a blanket and read ghost stories.   Not for too long though, or else the wiring will never get done!

Kitchen Counter Dilemma, or #tinyhouseproblems

I have now in my possession the countertop for the tiny house.  I found it at Second Use, and had a local countertop guy cut it to size and make the opening for the sink.  He delivered it a few days ago to my house in town.  I plan to store it in my garage until I have the cabinets I need and then I’ll take all that stuff out to the tiny house.  They day I bought the countertop, it was a really bright sunny day and the label on it read “black caesarstone” and it actually looked black, or at least very close to it but again, it was really bright that day.   So I just assumed it was black.  Unfortunately, as it was being delivered, it wasn’t quite so bright outside and I was able to see that it was actually brown.  BROWN. A dark brown, but still.    

Dun dun duuuuun....the not-black countertop.
Dun dun duuuuun….the non-black countertop.

I hadn’t really planned for brown in my design.  I was hoping for mostly blacks and dark grays with white.  However, my design has been evolving as I buy things on sale or come across items that seem like they’d work well in the tiny house.  Now with this countertop, I need to find the right backsplash tile.   The obvious choice would be subway tile.  It’s cheap, it’s classic and I already know it works great with the faucet I’m using, which is the same faucet I had in my cottage in San Antonio, Texas:

My old faucet.
My old faucet.

I absolutely love wall faucets.  They’re unusual, beautiful and just plain neat.  I especially love the old fashioned look of the cross handles.  As I was shopping for wall mounted faucets I’d found another one that I thought would work well, in a more simplified, industrial style, but it was more than twice the cost of this one, so…cross handles it is!   Together with the subway tile, it really has that retro look that I really like.   Another option would be square white tiles, which I see a lot in Scandinavian homes.  They have a more modern look, but the more I think on it, the more I feel that the faucet would hinder any attempt at a modern design, so the subway tiles would seem the best choice.   Though I think this time around I’d go with a dark grout to give the tiles more of a graphic punch.  

For the rest of the kitchen, I’m definitely going to utilize open shelving.  I really love the look of having everything out in the open, and I feel that all of the practical, utilitarian things in a kitchen are beautiful so they should be visible.  I also used open shelving in my San Antonio house and I loved it.  

Open shelves
Open shelves hold plates, glasses and books.

I’ve already bought some stuff that will go on the shelves, such as a white dutch oven, some white mugs and other kitchen supplies.  I know a lot of people complain that shelves like this will collect more dust than regular cabinets, but being that my entire house would be about 200 square feet, spending 5 or 10 minutes cleaning the stuff on the shelves every once in a while seems entirely doable.  Plus it’s a small price to pay for the feeling of openness they’ll provide and how beautiful my plates and pots/pans will look on them.  

It’ll be a while before I’m ready to work on the kitchen, but for now it’s fun to dream of this kind of stuff!  I don’t know about you, but I don’t really dream of installing insulation or electrical wiring.  

Progress on the Tiny House

The family visit was over a few weeks ago, and we managed to get some good work done on the tiny house.  While we didn’t get as far as I’d hoped, we got important non-glamorous work done, like plumbing, insulating the floor, putting up the bathroom walls and installing the pocket door frame.

My dad working on the bathroom
My dad working on the bathroom
Shower plumbing and pocket door frame in!
Shower plumbing and pocket door frame in!

During my family’s stay, I rented a porta-potty so we wouldn’t have to go out into the woods with a shovel and a leaf for toilet paper (a la Russel from Pixar’s “Up”).  My dad installed the toilet in the cabin, so all that’s left to do is put my wall panels up, throw on a toilet seat and voila! Working toilet. Well, except for the water part.  It’ll be a while before I can afford to have a well dug, so for the time being I’ll have to bring water in a bucket from the pond, but hey, the point is I’ll be able to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without risking being eaten by a bear.

Woo hoo! We have a toilet! (But no seat yet.)
Woo hoo! We have a toilet! (But no seat yet.)

With one of the walls for the bathroom up, the space is starting to feel more defined.  I have a ton of wall insulation and wiring that I have to install, and then it’s on to insulating the cathedral ceiling, but hopefully after that I can start on the tongue and groove paneling for the walls and have everything start to look more finished.  In the picture below you’ll notice that we’ve cut out notches in the loft for the railing posts to sit in.  I’m so excited to keep working on this!  Even though for now, I think I’ll take a break and stay out there a few times before the end of the summer so I can enjoy my little house in the woods.

It's coming along! Yay!
It’s coming along,  y’all!

Drama at the Tiny House

So, the tiny house was coming along pretty great. Slowly, but surely, things were coming together. I’d scored some really great materials at the salvage place, and when my family arrived for a month long visit, I was excited to kick construction into high gear. And for the first week everything was great. We camped out at the cabin, using water from the stream-fed pond for cooking and to use in our make-shift shower (made out of some old 2×4’s and a tarp) and working on non-glamourous stuff like installing plumbing pipes and insulating the floor. It was pretty wonderful actually; my folks had never spent the night out there and it was so great to show them how peaceful it was out in the middle of the forest. Somehow, I managed to fit my parents, my sister, her three kids, two dogs and a pet chicken into my tiny house. It helped that so far, it was just one open room with a loft, but even still, we were squished in there like sardines.

My family drove up from Texas in their SUV, and in order to bring all of my dad’s tools, they bought a travel trailer that they could attach and tow. We ended up using the trailer to haul lots of materials out to the cabin, among them my new window. I was super excited as we loaded it and I was in good spirits as we drove from my house in town over to the cabin. But then, as we got there, and began to unload, I discovered this:

This is what a crushed dream looks like.
This is what a crushed dream looks like.

I couldn’t believe it.  My window.  Broken.  Along with my soul.  (Insert violin music.)  I was so bummed out.  I knew it could be fixed but would probably take quite a bit of money, so I decided to step back and re-evaluate and see what I should do.

After that whole little episode, I thought to myself, “okay, just a little hiccup, it’s not that bad.” Little did I know, there was more drama heading my way.

My folks stayed out at the tiny house while my sister and I would head back to city and work during the week.  We’d decided that on a certain Thursday, we’d drive out to the cabin, get my parents and come back so that they could get some rest over the weekend.  That night, we arrived to discover that my 10 year old nephew was….missing.  He’d been playing in the woods by the tiny house and my family couldn’t find him.   I joined in the search, calling his name and walking all over, but he didn’t answer.  It was starting to get dark.   I then realized that we had no choice but to call the police.  So I drove my sister to the nearest town (we have no cell phone signal out at the property), she called the police, and my place ended up full of police officers, park rangers, tons of search and rescue volunteers, search dogs and even a helicopter.  It got dark, they continued searching, and as you might imagine, my family was basically in a state of shock and worry.  They searched all night, without luck.  The search continued through the morning, another helicopter was brought in, and THANK HEAVENS he was eventually found.  He was scratched up, with bug bites, a bee sting, he was cold and hungry, but otherwise he was alright.

After such a huge scare, I decided it was best to take a few days off from being out at the cabin.  I brought my family back to the city and we took a few days to calm down and let everyone get some rest.  When I considered how badly things could have turned out, it really put things in perspective.  A broken window means nothing compared to a lost kid!   But thankfully, everything turned out alright.  And I realized we’d have quite an interesting story to tell future visitors to the tiny house!

Painting, Planning, and a Few More Lucky Finds

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I recently enjoyed an amazingly beautiful day out at the tiny house. The sky was a gorgeous blue with just a wisp of clouds, it was sunny and warm, and I got some exterior painting done! I’m not done yet, but it’s coming along.  The color I’ve chosen to go with is Benjamin Moore’s Marblehead Gold.  It’s a nice subtle yellow from their historical collection.  I feel it’s important for the house to not stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of the surroundings, but I still want it to look cheerful.  Initially I tried a different shade of yellow but it ended up reading way too loud.  This one looks a lot better though.  The trim I’m painting Super White, also by Benjamin Moore.  I’m using that same white on the interior of the cabin too I’ve decided.  It’ll help balance out my dark accent walls.  

Also, I’m practically jumping for joy at my recent salvage finds!  I managed to score not just another big window, but also some newly milled fir flooring! That’s right, I am getting a real wood floor!  (Squeal of delight).  Have a look:

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The window will go right behind my sofa. It’s actually a brand new window that’s never been installed.  I already get really good daylight in the house, so this will make it even brighter.  I’m so excited about it!  And I’m ecstatic over the wood floor.   It’s going to add so much character!  My plan is to stain it with a special lime wash to get that Scandinavian look I really love.  I haven’t seen anyone do that sort of thing in a tiny house so it’ll be new and different.  Yay unique-ness!  

This week I’ve been scrambling to get all my interior design work done, as far as plumbing, lighting and electrical outlet locations and designing my loft railing.  My family is on the road up to Washington as I write this; they’ll arrive in about two days.  We’re going to work on the tiny house all next week so I’m frantically trying to get everything in order so I’ll be ready to go. On the one hand it’s kind of scary to think my folks and I will be camping out in a place with no electricity or water for a whole week, but on the other, I’m really looking forward to getting to spend time with my family (which I haven’t seen since last year) and getting to show them how beautiful the night sky is out there.  

I can’t wait to get further along on my tiny house! I know it’ll be hard work, but it’s going to be awesome once it’s done! (hopefully!) 

 

The Gods of Fortune Smile Upon Me or My West Elm Sofa was on Sale so I Bought It

I’d been wanting the West Elm Bliss sofa for a while now.  Every time I’d go to their Seattle store I’d sit in it and imagine I was out at the tiny house looking through my big window.  At $1299 though, it wasn’t exactly easily attainable with my very limited budget.  Because I tend to obsess over things, I would check the website almost every day to make sure it was still there.  For some reason, when I want something really badly, I become paranoid that if I don’t buy it at that exact moment it will be discontinued tomorrow and I’ll drop to the floor on my knees, sobbing uncontrollably at my misfortune, just like the women on Mexican telenovelas.

One day, I checked the site, and I noticed there was a sale on the Bliss sofa!  But not in the gray fabric I’d been coveting.  This is the one that was on sale:

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My immediate thought was “Boo! It’s not the right one!” but as I sat there and looked at it, I began to get design ideas.  If I went with this sofa, the rest of my design scheme would probably change and head in a new direction.   Rather than gray with bright colored accents, this sofa could be the main element in a scheme of more subdued colors, for an overall more calm effect than my original concept.  The fabric, a pebble weave that really resembles burlap, would provide a really intense texture, which would warm up the space even if the surrounded colors were more muted.

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I began to think that perhaps, since my cabin is out in the middle of the forest, surrounded by nature, it would make sense to keep the interior more toned down, so as not to compete with the view outside.  This sofa would be perfect to help me accomplish that.  And, at savings of $700 off the original price, well….how could I resist?   I ordered it right away.

And that meant going back to the drawing board as far as my design scheme.  Which was totally fine, because I was excited about this new direction.

I’ve always loved Scandinavian design, in particular the cute cottages you see that are studies in white.  While I think they’re very beautiful, I also feel like they can come across as very “cold”.   One day I was looking at pictures on Pintrest while deciding on whether or not I should take up knitting, (you know, to have something to do when I wasn’t reading books in front of my cozy fire out at the tiny house during a winter weekend) and I found this image:

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As you can see, it’s a very Scandinavian minimalistic bedroom all in white, which looks very stark, but the heavy texture of the blanket on the bed really helps to warm up the room.   I figured I could use that same principal with the sofa, and also incorporate another crazy idea that I was having, which was to paint some element, perhaps a wall in the tiny house, black.  I’ve yet to see anyone do this in a tiny house, and probably for the reason that it’s generally believed that lighter colors make rooms look bigger.   However, for some reason I kept having this little idea nag at me, that having a black wall or perhaps black bookshelves would really make a dramatic focal point and make the whole space more intimate.  After doing more research (i.e. spending several more hours on Pintrest) I found this:

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I absolutely love it.  It’s so cozy, with the dark paint on the bookshelves.  So, I decided I’d paint most of the tiny house interior white, but have a bit of a dark color, plus the natural burlap sofa and the end result would be a restful, laid back space, rich with texture.  I happened to come across this image whilst researching as well, and it really drove that point home:

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Notice the white walls, the black free standing cabinet looking things, and the burlap curtain.  That’s my whole scheme, right there in that image.  That’s the look I’ll go for.

It’s interesting how you can think you have your design plan all figured out, and just like that, it changes completely! But, that’s the fun part of designing.  You never really know where a simple change can lead you to, and that journey to the end result is supremely satisfying.