To Loft or Not To Loft

Whenever I see an article about tiny houses, it seems there’s always the inevitable, “I could NEVER climb a ladder to get to bed” comment.  I mean, on some level, it is a valid criticism.  If you’re an 80 year old granny, for instance, it might not be the best idea to attempt to reach your sleeping space via a ladder.   The same if you have to get up to use the restroom multiple times a night.

Sleeping lofts make a lot of sense though, in terms of efficiency of space.  When you have a very limited amount of square footage, a bed will take up a huge portion of it, so using the loft as the sleeping area is a good idea.  Aside from that obvious point however, there’s the totally awesome fact that a loft really feels cozy.  When you’re in an area like that, small and up high, you feel like you’re in a little nest or a cocoon, and I absolutely love that sensation!

While still attending college in San Antonio, my partner and I had the good fortune to find an apartment on the top floor of a renovated downtown building.   He worked from home so as part of my interior design for the space I decided to make more room for an office by converting a storage loft into the sleeping area.  Here’s what that ended up looking like:

Image

I like how the graphic wall hanging draws your eye upwards to the brightly colored loft.  I had my dad help me construct the ladder and railing, and even though I never got around to finishing the railing (there was supposed to be a piece of clear plexiglass along the bottom set into narrow wood channels), I really loved being up there.  Here’s a close up shot.

Image

This loft didn’t have any windows so to brighten it up I used apple green paint, then kept the bed linens all in white to keep it from being too overwhelming.  I added lighting and used shower curtains on the rods made of pipe that my dad welded, and with the fabric panels it really sort of framed the whole area and softened it a bit.   I loved the feeling of being up there.  In fact I loved that whole apartment.  I was sad when the day came to move out.  But, after having experienced the joys of sleeping in a loft like that, I definitely knew that I wanted to replicate that feeling in my tiny house.

The only thing I would change (beside a fully finished railing) would be to add a light source to illuminate the ladder better for middle of the night potty breaks.  I did have one instance where, climbing down while half asleep, I thought I’d reached the last step only to discover that I still had one left to go.  Not fun. But, after that I realized that I could just count each step as I descended, so I always knew how many there were left to go.

Still, a light source is a good idea I think!

 

Advertisements

Shoebox Haus Interior (so far)

So, this is what the interior of my tiny house is looking like so far.  

Image

 

VImageImage

 

It’s super exciting to be in the space, already getting an idea of what spending time inside the tiny house will feel like.  I’m also really excited about the skylights in the loft. Because the property is out in the middle of nowhere and there is absolutely zero light pollution, the view of the stars is incredible, and I’m really looking forward to getting to see at least some of them from the comfort of my own bed.

With all the windows and skylights, the quality of light is really great in the space.  Being that this place is off the grid, and solar panels are probably a year or two in the future, it’s important that the tiny house interior not be reliant on artificial lighting.    

Eventually, this is what the finished interior will look like, minus the hideous looking wall sconces (they were the only ones I could find in the Revit library and I really didn’t feel like spending the time to model accurate ones).  

Image

Just imagine totally awesome sconces where those eye sores are now.   It’s going to be a cozy little getaway.  The thought of being surrounded by my books, with a view of the fire going and also the mountains really makes me smile!  Speaking of fire…here’s a peek at my big splurge purchase–a Morso 1440 Squirrel wood stove.  

Image

I love this little thing.  Growing up in Texas, we never had a fireplace and I always thought it would be so cool to have one.  Now, I have my very own little stove.  During a stretch of cold weather we decided to head out to the cabin, even in its unfinished state, and I have to say it was quite fun, huddling around the stove for warmth.  Chito, my 12 year old chihuahua, also seemed to enjoy it.  

Image

 

I did a ton of research on wood stoves for tiny houses, with my main concerns being that I needed one that would A. be small enough to not take up a lot of room and B. provide enough, but not too much heat.  Originally I had my heart set on a Morso 1410, which is the same as the 1440 but with little legs instead of the heat shields, but it turns out the heat shields allow for much less clearance requirements, which in a space this small is really important.   The only downside to this stove is that it can be a challenge to find wood short enough to fit inside.  Aside from that, it seems to work like a charm, and it’s super cute.  

I can’t wait to make more progress on my tiny house! 

Tiny House Construction!

After some stressful moments transporting my huge window out to the site, construction began on my tiny cabin. I ended up hiring a neighbor (the same neighbor who helped during the shed moving fiasco) to construct the shell of the house. Initially the plan was for my dad, who is a carpenter, to help me build, but since he wasn’t able to come up from Texas to visit for very long I decided to have someone else do the exterior and I could work on the inside as I had the time. Since I didn’t have the budget for everything to be built at once, I decided I’d divide the project into three phases. Phase one would be the shell of the cabin, phase two would be the interior, and phase three would be the screened porch.

Here are some images of the construction during phase one.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

It’s so exciting to see something that you conjured up in your mind and drew on paper to start to come together in real life!  Even more amazing is the view I’m able to get from the huge window.  Every time I look through it I think, “man, what a lucky find!”.  Here’s what my view will be from that glorious window:

Image

Even with the building just being an un-insulated shell so far, and me sitting in my camping folding chair, I found that I could spend a whole afternoon sitting there, gazing out towards the mountains.  It was magical.  It was going to be torture waiting for the day it would be completed.  But, I hoped, the journey to get there would be really fun!

Interior Design Concept for my Tiny House

My favorite part of being a designer is finding really cool furniture and accessories and putting them together to create a cohesive design. The overall vibe I decided to go with for my tiny house I would described as “industrial cottage”. I love cottage style–that is, casual, relaxed furnishings that are stylish but not pretentious in any way.  To that I’d add some metal and modern accents to add some pizzaz. Below is my “first draft” at a group of furnishings for my tiny house.

Image

 

I like the idea of doing mostly white and gray, with a few pops of bright color as an accent. And I LOVE the combination of gray with either yellow or orange. The wood stove I’ve decided on is a Morso 1410 Squirrel (More on that on a later post) and I’m choosing the West Elm Bliss sofa as my seating option. I’ve sat in one several times at their store, and not only is it a great looking modern sofa, it’s also really squishy and comfortable. Plus it’s the perfect size. Time to start saving up for that one.

For the flooring, I I’ll probably go with marmoleum. While I’d love a hardwood floor, I don’t think it’s in the budget, and I think having the marmoleum will add a level of “modern-ness” and be easy to clean. Finally, a paper mache deer head will be a nod to the whole “cabin in the woods” thing but without the creepiness of an actual deer hanging on the wall staring back at me.

I’ll probably make adjustments to the design and swap things out as I go along, but I think it’s a good start.

Design

So, after lots of planning, sketching and brain storming, I finally came up with with a design for my tiny house.  But of course, right after I thought my design was finalized, I was browsing around at Second Use (an architectural salvage place in Seattle) and I found this:

Image

That’s right. A huge window.  For cheap.  I couldn’t pass it up.  Which meant I ended up starting my design over from scratch.  Again.  But it would be worth it for the view I’d get out of that window.  I also found this door:

Image

 

Using these two good finds to drive the new layout, I *finally* finished the design for my tiny house. Below is my floor plan:

Image

As you can see, the layout is similar to other tiny houses on trailers, but with the addition of a screened porch on the right side.  While I would have preferred to do a totally original floor plan, I found that a long narrow rectangular footprint would suit the site well as it would allow me to enjoy the views of the mountains from the porch, the living area, and even the kitchen.   However, since I wasn’t bound by the dimensions of a flatbed trailer, I did have the luxury of expanding the width of the house just a tiny bit to have enough room for a real sofa and ottomans, and also raise the ceiling, which would allow for extra room in the sleeping loft.   

Here is what the exterior will look like:

Image

I like the idea of making the main part of the house look like a traditional structure with board and batten siding, and then making the screened porch looking like a modern addition.   The rectangular foot print and simple gable roofs should also be easy to build, hopefully.  

With my design finally in place, it was now time to begin cleanup of the rubble out at the property and start building!

A Short Tiny House Design Detour or The Great Shed Moving Disaster of 2012.

As a designer, I put a lot of thought into my concepts and designs.  As I’m falling asleep in bed, the last things I think about before I nod off are of space layouts, materials and finishes, and just how awesome the design could be if I just tweaked this or that.   

I’d already put quite a bit of work towards a concept for my tiny house, when I received a message from Dave, the man who sold me the property out in the forest.  He still owned a couple of the neighboring properties, and emailed me to ask if I wanted an old shed that was on the lot next door.  He offered to help me move it onto my property.  I was intrigued.  Initially I figured I’d build my own tiny house from scratch but this was a really interesting opportunity to work with an existing structure.   I went to go take a look at it and I immediately noticed its potential:

Image

Image

 

Here was a tiny building with a shed roof and little deck out on the side.  The inside was totally dirty and scary but I got incredibly excited at the thought of converting it into a tiny house.  I took some measurements and began working on ideas.   I came up with a pretty great floor plan (if I do say so myself), so then all that was left was to move it onto my lot.   The day came, and Dave helped me round up some people to help.  It was really hard work–I may be an architect in training but unfortunately I didn’t inherit my dad’s handiness (he’s a carpenter) so I was grateful to be getting help from people who knew what they were doing.  It took all morning, but we finally got the shed up on the trailer.

Dave drove the shed over to my property, and I had him back the trailer up until it was at a good spot.   Then, we began the process of trying to unload the shed from the trailer.  We put up cinder block supports, trying to keep it balanced the whole time.   At some point, something gave way, and with a thunderous crash, the shed fell over to one side and the entire floor collapsed.  By that point, being as tired, sore and frustrated as I was, I yelled something along the lines of “That’s it!! Forget it!!”  Everyone just sort of stood there, shocked and disappointed that all our work was for nothing, and as they all left, I sat there, alone, looking at this now broken down shed, feeling really sad and bummed out.     

The next time I went back to the property, I saw that Dave had taken the backhoe to the remains of the shed, so now all I had was a huge pile of rubble to deal with.   I tried to look on the bright side of things–while the shed would have made a really cool tiny house, at least now I could still design something from the ground up, and maybe salvage some of that material for the new tiny house.   

Back to the drawing board!

 

 

An Introvert’s Hideaway

Image

 

I’m very much an introvert.  And as an introvert, one of my biggest fantasies is to have a place I can “get away” to and escape the stress of everyday life.  In planning and designing my tiny house, I decided to really focus on functions that I needed to be able to perform within it, rather than traditional “rooms”.  That way I could reduce my design to the most efficient one possible.  I also concluded that the main thing I wanted to accomplish with my tiny house was to provide a few really great experiences.  If I could do that, plus meet my essential functions, I could call my design successful.

So what great experiences should I aim for?  I sat and thought about the “perfect” place, and what I’d do there.  Here’s the scenarios I came up with:

“Feeling cozy and content, sitting in a big squishy sofa with my feet up, under a soft knit blanket, with my dog by my side, and be surrounded by books while watching the fire in the woodstove and looking out to the mountains.”

“Feeling a sense of wonder as I look up at the stars, while being warm and dry, covered in warm blankets while lying on the softest bed.”

“Sitting outside, enjoying the quiet and the scent of fragrant flowers and feeling free to nod off and take a nap.”

“Taking my time and enjoying cooking a delicious meal, and sharing it with friends and family, or even just by myself.”

And my most important goal: have a place to daydream and feel safe from the world, a perfect introvert’s hideout, tucked away in the forest.

I knew if I could achieve all of this, I’d have created the perfect tiny house for me.  Would I be able to accomplish all these goals within a really small footprint?   I put pencil to paper and began to sketch out ideas.

In Which I Realize a Tiny House Is the Perfect Place for Me

Image

 

My favorite book as a kid (and even now as an adult) is My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.  The story of a little boy running away to the forest and living in a cozy home in the trunk of a tree really resonated with me.  Being from South Texas, I’d never personally been to anywhere even remotely similar to the landscape described in the book, and yet somehow I knew that a forest was the kind of place I’d love to be in.  

I’d already read a lot about tiny houses and I loved the idea, and after buying the property out in the forest, it occurred to me that building a tiny cabin was a great idea for several reasons:  First, it would be cheaper to build than a larger structure.  Second, as an architectural designer, it would be a great way to get more experience in designing an efficient (and beautiful looking) space and explore this idea I had that smaller, cozier spaces affect their occupants’ emotions in a positive way.  And lastly, it would be the grown up realization of my childhood dream to be out immersed in nature and feel safe in a small, comforting home.  

I decided I was going to design and build a tiny house.  And that it would be called Shoebox Haus.  And, that it needed to be awesome. 

a place of my own

property_picture

It all started one summer, when my partner Chris and I were on vacation, driving around exploring western Washington.  Even though I was just a poor college student, I had gotten an idea in my head to look at properties for sale.  I knew I couldn’t afford to buy anything but I could dream, couldn’t I?  It was late in the afternoon when we drove down the gravel road, past a “NO TRESPASSING” sign (which Chris was really nervous about) and to the property that was for sale.  As we came upon it, and got out of the car, we stood there, amazed.  You could hear….nothing.  It was absolutely silent.  That silence, coupled with the beauty of the forest and the view of the mountains, made me instantly feel like this was a special place.   I knew I had to have it.

We were walking around taking in the scenery, yet feeling like we probably shouldn’t be here and could get in trouble, when all of a sudden, we head a car coming up the road.  Panicking and running to our car, we foolishly thought we could jump in and make a quick getaway.  We were blocked by the arriving vehicle though, and so resigned ourselves to probably having to apologize and be told to leave.

The man who arrived was the owner of the property, and we ended up striking up a conversation.  He told us all about the place, about the cabin on the adjacent lot he was also selling, and about the hiking trail that led into the forest.  He was incredibly friendly, as we left, I told him that when I finished school and moved up to Washington from Texas, if the property was still available I’d certainly buy it from him.

Two years later, on a sunny July morning, I stood on the parcel of land that was officially mine.