There’s only one thing I like about the “tiny house movement.”

It’s not a movement.

It’s actually a sign.

It’s a sign that people are not necessarily confined to “the norm” or some idealized concept of home and also that trailers are finally getting the respect that they always deserved.

Historically if you told someone you live in a trailer it would conjure up images of dirt paved trailer parks and unruly children running wild. If you told someone you live in a van down by the river, well, that’s just a ridiculous Saturday Night Live skit. If you told someone you live in a mobile home well then you’re just asking for the question: “What are you doing with your life?”

Americans have plenty of jokes about living in your parent’s basement or garage but in some countries parents actually want their kids at home.

I just heard a joke saying, “I don’t date guys without a bed frame.”

I feel targeted since I sleep on a futon… oh the disgrace.

We say owning a home is a sign that you’ve succeeded in life but in actuality renting is often a much better financial decision and allows for freedom that homeowners long for while repairing their roof or buying a new water heater.

For some reason, right now, tiny homes and trailers are gaining respect and are even seen by many as their ultimate dream. Of course the reality of these rediscovered lifestyles is not really worth the hype but I wonder why now. What has changed and is it a good sign or just a passing trend?

One thing for sure social media is a driving force in creating romantic, idealized views of these simpler homes. There are plenty of posts with dramatic pictures of tiny homes in pastoral settings or nestled in a forest next to a gentle stream. I can’t even guess how many pictures I’ve seen of sunsets at the beach with people’s bare feet hanging out the back of a van. This photoshopped and Instagram filtered view is not what I’m pontificating about.

In reality “the simple life” is not actually all that glamorous. It takes a lot of work and determination and also money. Okay, not as much money as a 3 bedroom house in San Francisco but there is serious money in this industry and, in my opinion, it’s a little out of control. When I see these decked out Sprinter vans with super modern interiors, full kitchens and baths and roof decks and surfboards and bicycles, I don’t see simple, I see money. These are not the people I’m thinking about.

Tiny house people are much more invested in their future than some rich mega van owner with toys in tow. Many people build their own tiny house and I have nothing but respect for that. What I don’t get is why they have to look like rolling hobbit cottages or gingerbread barbie houses. (Sorry, had to get that off my chest.) What I really respect are the people that use their tiny house as a starting point for a true off-the-grid homestead with vegetable gardens and solar power and toilets that make gas for cooking. These people amaze me.

It’s not a brand new idea though.

As the old fart that I am, the first people I remember to head out to the country and live off grid were pot growers. They’re the ones that really started the demand for solar panels in the first place. I’m pretty sure they lived in trailers or mobile homes too. They were considered degenerates and misfits. Hippies living out of their vans in the forest were considered weirdos. Remember the Whole Earth Catalog? That was the hippie bible and serves as a testament to their dedication to that lifestyle. Today there are a million websites for living off grid, solar charging your van and composting or incinerating toilets.

Today it’s becoming less outsider, less hippie and more acceptable to seek alternate ways to create your own idea of home. I worry a little though that rich people are co-opting hippie culture and making it about Instagram posts and expensive toys instead of about living cheap and with kindness to nature.

A tiny dwelling in your back yard used to be called a grandmother unit but now it’s an “accessory dwelling unit” and might even be a tiny house trailer if you manage to sneak it in. 

City laws seem to be evolving a little. San Francisco recently lowered the minimum size of a condominium, modular housing is making a comeback, shipping container houses are a real thing. Cranes lowering a bolt-together house onto a new site is not that uncommon and is pretty cool to watch.

It’s kind of weird, though, how much city planning and building codes control. They’re great for making sure your house is safe but get a little creepy when determining what constitutes good design or a pleasant neighborhood. Maybe tiny house trailers try to look cute so that they can get permission to leave the trailer park at the outskirts of town and find a hidden spot within a neighborhood.

Does anything really change though?

I hope so.

During this moment of pandemic stay at home orders I’ve been spending lots of time at home and lots of time overthinking all about my life in my home. I feel very lucky to have it and very lucky for my whole life here. I hope that all people have a place to hunker down that doesn’t feel like confinement but rather like a peaceful refuge.

20 years ago I bought a 250 sq. ft. house and I really didn’t think I would still be living here today. My house is defined as “substandard.” Even with a new story I added, if it burned down today, I might not be able to rebuild it because at 700 sq. ft. it’s still not considered a legal size.

When I first moved in, I didn’t realize that this house was all that I would ever need. I had a stereotypical idea that this was a starter home or a stepping stone toward something bigger and better. I admit that, at first, I let the stigma get under my skin. The longer I lived here, though, and invested my time in rethinking and redesigning and building and modifying I realized that I could change both the house and myself. My house became very personal and very loved and uniquely me. It’s kind of hilarious that while I was learning to ignore convention and to rethink my own goals, my house was also becoming super trendy in the eyes of our fickle culture.

Although I definitely think we’re fickle in our constant search for change and theoretical improvement, I wonder if this tiny house mind shift will stick and I hope the definition of home is actually changing. I hope it becomes less of a status symbol, less ego based, and more of a reflection of who we are individually. I hope it’s a sign that people are finding their personal voice in a systematic and industrialized world and I hope it’s not just a new category for industry to take over and ruin. I hope it’s a sign that the definition of home is not tied to some supposed standard and that people are rejecting meaningless traditions or conventions of value.

The people that I see being creative and ingenious in creating their home and ignoring traditional standards really do inspire me. A home should be deeply personal and original. It should be a source of joy and comfort. 

It’s much more important what your home looks like on the inside than what it looks like on the outside. It’s more important that you want to cook there than whether your kitchen has trendy granite and stainless steel finishes. We should not be looking at others for approval we should be looking within for insight. Don’t waste too much time looking at Pinterest and lifestyle magazines for inspiration from others and spend more time looking within to decide what is right for you. 

Obviously I’m not writing this to proclaim that everyone should live in a tiny house, quite the opposite. I’m writing to hopefully inspire people to reject the stereotypes and classist concepts of home and to embrace the endless options for what home can be.

If a tiny house is an example of resetting our value system and destigmatizing living outside the norm then I’m all for it.

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Past and Present

I’ve been spending ridiculous amounts of time on Instagram.

Please check it. I like the immediacy of it. My goal this year (in addition to the continuing work on my house) is to update my various forms of social media more often. I want to integrate everything and make all of the different forms work together and share common information. Each type of social media has its own benefits and I’m going to try and learn how to use them to create the best experience.

I managed to insert a YouTube video from my channel at the bottom of this page:

Taking a break…

I have plenty of work to do but I have not been doing it.

The exterior of my house looks done. Meanwhile the interior needs tile work and finish carpentry that I’ve been avoiding. Sometimes you have to live a bit. I know that I’ll get it done and also that it is never really done. I’ve been scheming and designing and building since I moved into this tiny house in 2000. Now it’s 2020 and I feel pretty good about what I’ve accomplished

Living Life

I’m still amazed at how much room I have.

I have an actual bedroom. Over the years I’ve gone from a 250 sq ft cottage to a 700 sq ft house. It’s been an interesting journey and I have no regrets. Throughout this process the only thing that’s constant is change. I’ve become very comfortable with chaos and the unknown. Perhaps I’m too comfortable and perhaps on the inside my life looks out of control. It’s a good metaphor for my life in general – on the outside I look kind of like I’ve got my shit together but on the inside I’m a messy work in progress.

Fighting normality

I think we all have to reject “normal”

One of the things I follow a lot on instagram is the “tiny house movement.” Although, I think “movement” is an overstatement. People are not protesting in the streets for tiny houses but some laws are changing regarding in-law units and housing density and even what the minimal legal size of a house is. For instance, my house is considered “sub-standard.” The fact that law regulates what size your house can be is ridiculous. I’m happy for all of us that both laws and thinking are changing. We need to think outside the box. We need to fight the norms. We need to imagine new ways of building and of living

The idea of house and home has become too standardized. It’s standard to the point where people believe their house isn’t enough unless it matches some societal norm or some idealistic picture in a magazine. Of course there are construction standards and furniture standards that help to make sure things work but there can be huge variation within those guidelines. If you’re working with a contractor don’t blindly accept their word.

That’s my neighbor on the left. They hate me and they hate that the city let me build my second story addition. They live in a development across the street and their house is still taller than mine

It’s your house so own it

I’m treating my house as an experiment.

I know my house doesn’t look that radical. It’s just a product of all the parameters that the lot and the codes allowed. There were a lot of ways to fit within those parameters. This is just what I chose to do but it wasn’t an accident and it wasn’t based on a lot of preconceptions about home.

I’m rejecting the norms and preconceptions. I’m rejecting the status quo and the magazine ideals. For me, this is an experiment. It’s deeply personal. It’s intimately connected to who I am and what I do and how I want to spend my time.

One of the reasons that I’ve been taking a break is that I want to enjoy the process. I’m actually not fixated on the end product. I want to enjoy my life even while changing it and building it. I’m not static and I don’t demand that of my house either. I’m having fun over-thinking and designing myself into a corner.

I’m sure some people see my lack of progress as a weakness or an inability to get a job done but maybe I’m not waiting for anything to be finished. I’m enjoying life right now. My life has chaos and messiness and unknowns and I’m enjoying all of it.

No really, I’m enjoying it…

It’s not all fun and games but I’m always pushing the limits of my knowledge and my patience.

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Long time coming

…and still working…Obviously I still have a long way to go but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about how I want the finished room to function…

The Living Room ...still in process

I’m thinking about seating :

Here is my present thinking regarding how to make this small space work well and feel open. Also see below there are some references to illustrate my thinking.

it should be modular to accommodate different settings

  • seating should be able to create a corner lounge area
  • seating should separate into individual seats for a small group setting
  • seating should be low and “loungy” to keep the room visually open
  • seating may be able to function as a table surface

Some references I’ve been looking at:

This is a product that Patricia Urquiola developed for Gan. I like the way that it blurs the line between the seating and the floor. It’s very low and really invites lounging and offers many different positions including using the floor as a seat with the cushions being a back.

gan rugs / sofa patricia urquiola

gan rugs / sofa patricia urquiola

gan rugs / sofa patricia urquiola

I know those images show huge spaces…

…but the concept is what I’m looking at and I would probably only need maybe 3 modules.

Gandia Blasco

Here is an earlier version that I’ve seen but I don’t think this has any connection to Patricia Urquiola. Maybe this was an earlier version of the idea. This is an older image I have but I believe it was credited to Ganda Blasco

 

 

 

 

A sofa I recently saw by Minotti

Menotti Sofa "White"

Menotti Sofa "White"

 

Yes, these are big…

but these are examples of another part of the concept that I’m working with. I like the way a longer lounge, a normal depth seat and a table surface are all integrated together. Also note that these are very low.

I also like the low back using pillows to adjust your back rest. That seems very flexible to me but something I will need to experiment with.

I’m thinking low equals lounge and when all the pieces are squeezed together they’re a guest bed.

More visuals to come as the concept gets more developed…    oh…and I also have a lot of plaster and electrical and plumbing work to do but that’s a whole other story.

-dirk

 

 

 

 

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When the going gets tough…

the tough start potting

dividing equasetum

Obviously I still have a lot of work to do. I just got the stair treads in and I still have a lot of electrical and plumbing to do but one of the benefits of working on your house yourself is you get to choose the priorities.

 

I ‘ve been thinking that the terrace needed a little love so I was wondering about what kind of plants to put there. I wanted something tall and skinny so that it wouldn’t take up much room and would manage to grab as much sunlight as possible.

 

I bought one tall pot without knowing what was going to go in it. I’ve learned that if you see a pot that you like, buy it. I don’t often find a nice pot at a reasonable price so, when I do, I buy it. I even went back and got another one because that one pot looked kind of lonely on my terrace. Just today I figured out what to put in those pots.

I love bamboo

bamboo from bamboogarden.com

I’ve always loved bamboo and I thought about it when I thought “tall and skinny” but there are more types of bamboo than you could possibly imagine.

 

You’re right, that image at the top of the page is not bamboo and I wasn’t sure if I could grow bamboo in a pot or not. The image to the left here is a special variety of bamboo that I found at bamboogarden.com near Portland, Oregon. On their website I found that there are smaller varieties of bamboo and that some of them will do well in a pot.

 

They told me that bamboo needs a wider pot rather than a deep one so those pots that I already bought were not necessarily the best. The variety of bamboo that I chose wasn’t the cheapest either so I had better take good care of it. I went and bought another pot…..

My bamboo should arrive soon

waiting for bamboo

So here is my terrace with 2 tall pots of equasedum from Home Depot and a new pot waiting for my “special” bamboo from Oregon.

I spent way more time and money than I had any intention of doing but this gives me a lot more satisfaction than crawling around underneath my house adding new conduit and pulling wires.

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Installation of Stair Treads

stair tread alignment jig

This is a jig that I made to align the stair treads during the assembly process. The steel frame intentionally has a lot of room for adjustment to allow for irregularities in the floor and the walls and any variation in all the parts involved. These treads are screwed into the steel plate from below. See the steel plates here and to see the steel frame going in go here.

 

Stairs fill the stairwell

the stairwell

The entrance looked large without the stairs. Now its filled up.  I didn’t skimp on the scale of the stairs. I didn’t want to compromise on the ease of getting up and down. These stairs will get a lot of use.

Something like a spiral staircase just wouldn’t be useful for frequent trips up and down. A “fireman’s pole” might be helpful for trips down though.

 

There is still plenty of work involved in attaching the hand rail posts and fabricating a new hand rail for the stairs but, for now, I rather like it just like this.

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Miscellaneous Progress

Latest Photo

Here is an update. I posted this on facebook but I realize that not everyone uses facebook. This is the finished railing. Did some painting since this picture. Its raining today and I will work on some rough electrical.

Yup its raining in june…Just like it rained in July when my roof was opened up…

 

Finishing Stair Treads

applying clear coat finish to the treds

That is “finishing” as in applying a finish, not to imply that they are finished yet.

Since I don’t have much space inside I wait for nice weather to do finishing of the stair treads on my quiet dead-end street.

I hose off the street a bit to keep dust at a minimum. The finish is applied by a painting pad instead of a traditional brush. Its impossible to leave any brush strokes when you are using a pad and a roller can create texture and bubbles.

Here is the previous post with information on the stair tread material.

Getting Ready for the Wood Stove

tile area for the wood stove

I’ve actually bought the wood stove seen in my earlier post and it sits in the middle of my entry waiting for the stairs as the method for getting it’s 300 pounds of cast iron up to the second floor.

This image shows the tile work that is going to be underneath and behind the wood stove. In the foreground is a small piece of the oak flooring that will meet the tile floor.

 

The Railing for the Deck

deck view from the inside

I have finished enclosing the deck area with wood and glass. The wood railing design is very much as described earlier.

A rendering of my concept

I talked about this design in my earlier post entitled : “Details, details”

 

 

This new railing relates somewhat to the garden fence below. I used the same design techniques outlined in the process of creating that fence here : fence design

 

View from the Street

deck view from the street

The deck enclosure uses three different materials which may be considered taboo by some architectural aficionados. While I’ll be the first to admit that I tend to over think this stuff, there are practical reasons here. The stucco is a “fire wall” required by code due to the close distance to the property line.

The glass area was created to maintain the view that I was enjoying from the unfinished railing and the angled wood was a response to watching the sun set.

A Custom Glass Railing

aluminum and rubber design

I wasn’t able to find any “off-the-shelf” solutions to capture the tempered glass railing. I found the parts that I needed from two different sources.

I added rubber strip material to an aluminum “U” extrusion to create a way to capture the glass.

Aluminum is a beautiful material and can be worked with standard woodworking tools.

cutting aluminum

drilling and countersinking

extrusion attachment

 

 

 

 

 

The only difference working aluminum is that the sawdust sparkles.

aluminum sawdust

A Follow Up on Heating Registers

I was looking for registers in a previous post about “Life in the crawl space.” The register is the final frosting on the cake for all that nasty work down below. I found these bronze fixtures at a fairly reasonable price. The bigger they get, of course, the more they cost so I went with a less expensive register for my 12″ x 12″ Floor Return. I have to save money somewhere.

 

 

The Tub has Arrived

"onto" by duravit

But not the tub I originally wanted. My goal was to have a deep soaking tub that also functioned well as a shower. I thought I found that when I wrote the post about the Duravit “Seadream.” By the time I was ready to order it was out of production. The “Onto” is a beautiful and deep tub but it doesn’t have as much standing space as the other one did.

Now I just have to figure out how to install it ??

duravit installation guide

 

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Sanding Stairs and Pondering More Lighting

Stairs of Parallam

sanding the beams before cutting to size

“Parallam” is an engineered structural beam material. Its designed to be very strong and very straight and consistent. I’m using it for my stair treds. I like the look and the fact that its a sustainable material. I like the balance of the machismo of the steel stair structure in combination with the softness of the wood. This wood material reminds me of a bundle of sticks or grass. I think it relates well to my bamboo floor and my bamboo shade that is the “door” to my stacking washer/dryer room.

rough placement of the treds pre-install

Here you can see the rough placement of the treds before final trimming to size. I have to admit I was a bit concerned about the scale of these hunks of wood in the small space but, happily, my estimates seem to be okay. There will need to be a railing of course but I do like the way that it looks without any railing. I’m working on sanding and final finish before I get them in place.

 

What About Bedside Lighting?

tolomeo wall light

I need to get all of the outlets and light fixture electrical boxes in place. Since I want as clean an installation as possible it seems necessary to determine the type of fixture before I can decide on the exact location of the electrical box.

At this point I am imagining an adjustable light fixture on each side of my new bed. I would like the fixture to mount to the wall without any cord, therefore I need to know what kind of light fixture as well as how wide the bed is going to be and how the fixture attaches to the wall.

Options, Options

Of course there are many options here just like all the other types of fixtures. So more research to do here too. I do want something that has some softness to it and doesn’t seem overly technical. Some of these get very technical very fast. It would be nice if there was some warmth to the light too like this one with a fabric shade. As always cost is a major deciding factor and some of these are too expensive.

 

ledino wall light

philips swing arm

ledino wall light

 

 

 

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Lighting, Both Natural and Artificial

Still Looking

Available in many different sizes but the price goes up accordingly

In an earlier post I was deep in a search for the perfect pendant light fixture. I called this my “fanciful pursuit.” I seem to labor over these fanciful decisions even more than the labor that I put into the fundamental infrastructure of the new abode.

The search never stopped and I have looked at many different sizes and configurations, none of which seemed to be just right. After creating the big entry space in my mind and now a reality, I guess I put a lot of pressure on myself to make it something special.

 

Nature Has It’s Impact

Lately I’ve been watching the sunset like a movie projected onto my upper story.

the sunset projects onto the new wall

The new sliding glass door creates a nicely framed image of the sunset. I find myself watching this image as it moves and changes color. It draws me upstairs to see it in person. I realize now that a pendant light fixture would block this view and I’m not sure if I want to let that happen. I was already thinking that the new fixture should somehow represent the sun or natural light so that, even on foggy days, there is a reminder that the sun is up there somewhere.

Now I’m looking at ceiling mounted fixtures and I’ve found some interesting images that intrigue me. I’m even thinking of putting recessed lighting in the ceiling and then hanging my own custom shade that hangs slightly below the ceiling hiding the fixtures and providing a glow as though there is a skylight in the ceiling. In all my research there is an obvious correlation between size and price. I know that is a “no brainer” but prices jump dramatically as soon as the diffuser gets bigger than 20 inches. I can make my own diffuser as big as I want for much less.

Large Ceiling Mounted Fixtures

found on ylighting website

This fixture is the “Quadra Ice Flat Ceiling Light” by Proli Diffusion Studio. Made in Spain by Vibia.

Its just shy of 24″ Square and I like the quality of the light shown in this image.

I’m not sure how this would work on a slanted ceiling. I think I want the diffuser to be level and I might be able to do that by adjusting the attachment point.

 

 

The Feeling of a Skylight

also found on ylighting

This is the fixture that inspired me with the idea of a large skylight. I like the quality of light in this image but I think it will take some experimentation in the actual space see what is possible.

This fixture is called “Big Ceiling Light” appropriately enough. The design is by Lievore, Altherr and Molina. Made in Spain by Vibia. It’s available in two sizes: 39.5″  and 47.25″ Diameter. I would guess this is the bigger one in the image.

There is a lot of finesse that goes into the design of these consumer items and I’m sure that is what makes them worth so much.

Here is a detail of the fixture above. You can see that its a high quality light that is probably worth it’s price of over $3,000.

I’m wondering, however, if I can create my own diffuser that I just hang from the ceiling underneath a few recessed fixtures. Well, that is the latest exploration that I intend to do. It may take some experimentation to achieve the quality of light that I am seeing in these photographs.

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Life in the Crawl Space

Its Been a Long Haul…

me after a day in the crawl space

but after many days in the crawl space, I have most of the heating ducts in place. I’m not sure what the inspector wants to see so I haven’t taped the ducts or wrapped them with insulation yet.

I’m happy with the heat distribution. I can feel a good force of air at all of the heat registers. Now if I just had some insulation on my second story I would probably have a nice warm house. Its been pretty cold for this area and I definitely don’t want to waste too much energy trying to keep the house warm. I do warm it up for short periods of time though.

You may remember the plan here.

The design changed a bit due to engineering, realities of the space and fittings available.

 

There is a reason they call it a “crawl space”

I bring the crawl space inside with me

I’m not a big fan of going into my crawl space for all the electrical and duct work that I’ve been doing. I usually end up bringing some of the crawl space back inside with me. I know people must do this kind of thing for a living but I can’t wait until its all over. I still have to run new plumbing for my second story bathroom which means I will be going back.

For now I’m resting on my laurels a bit and enjoying some forced air heat on these chilly mornings.

 

 

 

The Fun Part

You know that I am much more interested in the superficial pursuit of interesting design. I’ve spent many hours on the internet looking at all the options for heating registers. The final frosting on the top of a more practical infrastructure. It is kind of amazing how many websites there are out there that specialize in heating registers.

 

Just a Couple

Here are just two examples of what I have been looking at. These two are specifically for floor applications. Obviously if it sits on the floor it needs to be sturdy enough t0 step on. Its not very easy to judge the quality or durability through a website. Price is not always a good indicator. These are both metal.

I look at the shipping weight too and that can help to determine how sturdy it might be. One that I found online is actually at a local store so I’ll take a look at it in real life.

Drop me an email or comment here if you want any additional information such as  the links for any of the websites that I’ve been looking at recently.

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Status Report, September 2012

Where things are :

In the past people have asked me to clarify the locations of things so I hope that this illustration helps to show where things are on the second floor. This is also an opportunity to give a status update.

Layout of the new upstairs

  • The deck and the terrace are both going to have tile on them. The deck area tile is done but the railing around the deck needs to be finished. I posted a process picture of the tile deck on facebook  here.  The basic railing design I posted earlier on this blog here.  I am still tweaking the design a bit so it is slightly different than the illustration. There are different designs for varying transparency in different places. At the end of the deck  2 of the railing sections will be glass.
  • The arbor I made already and is ready for install when I am sure that it won’t get in the way of any other installation.
  • The stairs are in process. The metal frame is in place but I still need to level everything and make the final connections to the building. There will be plenty of work to do here. The engineer specified a beam under the floor where the stairs hit the lower level. The treds are wood and need to be cut and attached, then metal verticals are attached to each tred and those are topped with a solid wood handrail.
  • The bathroom and closet walls in the new bedroom have not been built yet. The entire bathroom has not been started yet. I want to wait until I get the new bathtub before I commit to exact placement of the bathroom wall.

I hope this helps to show where things are in relation to each other.

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