MY DIY HOUSE-BUILDING ADVENTURE: How Small Is Too Small?

Most tiny-house photos show lovely, spartan homes, unapologetically shaped like little shoe boxes, clear of any signs of life, save for some dog-eared copies of Kerouac and tiny pots of fresh herbs. Who lives here?

May 1, 2014 at 6:00pm | Leave a comment

Sitting down to design our own home is a dream; you have the opportunity design a space exactly how you want, with all the storage, reading nooks, and giant, wooden slides instead of stairs you can handle.
 
Just kidding, designing a home is mostly:  “But will this fall in and kill us all?” 
 
image

We’re just building a few shapes.

 
Aside from brushing up on my math, it’s also helped me wrap my tender neurons around spatial visualization; figuring out how to put a house together in a way that utilizes the space we have, and has a good amount of storage. We’ve been through thousands of sketches, possible roof lines, floor plans, kitchen shapes. One night we even built scaled-down cardboard models. I’ve also learned how to use Google’s free open-source program, SketchUp, to do a computer rendered version that we can refer back to for measurements. We can pull a Philadelphia Experiment-esque 3-D rendering to impress loan officers into giving us cash.
 
image

This house comes with some bodies in the wall.

 
Speaking of, getting an unconventional mortgage is just as complicated as it sounds. I wouldn't blink if the Loan Officer asked me to transcribe my own genome for review, or eat a bowl of spiders. I’d quickly oblige a stool sample at this point. I’d do it, just like I’ve spent hours filling out applications--sweating like I’m stealing from a craft store. 
 
Some of the biggest design elements came along with the type of house we wanted--a simple, small, open-plan modern home. This is both out of necessity and out love of retro, clunky-looking shed-roof houses. Shed-roof homes marry a space-age utilitarian look with good space efficiency. Obviously we’ll wear only jumpsuits when at home.
 
This roof style is one of the most utilitarian: easy, cheap, and some might say--ugly. The house shape is a box. I know designers that would throw up if they read that sentence, but they don’t have to build it after their day job, so let them scoff. The general plan of the house is simple, but there are so many little details to agonize over. We have to decide where to put the damn front door, where every electrical outlet should be. 
 
image

More Shabbin love.

 
One of the biggest questions is--how much space do we need? We’ve lived in 24 sq ft, and now our 600 sq ft cabin seems small. We want to have just enough space, but not an inefficient amount.  A thousand square feet seems just about right--not Trinity Network-extravagant, but not so small that the catbox is under our bed. Again.  Nothing says ‘good morning; quite like a sockful of kitty litter.
 
To help us figure out how to use every bit of space, I  walked around our current cabin, room by room, taking stock of the problems with each, hoping to plan a house around our life. I’m going to need kitchen  counter space for appliances I use every day, like the espresso machine and juicer. Shallower shelving, so I’m not finding The Dates That Time Forgot hidden behind dozens of cans of beans. I needed those dates for mincemeat pie, damn it. 
 
We’re lucky that the tiny house trend is going strong, because there’s so much inspirational material out there currently. But all this time poring over dozens of design books, Pins and blogs on small houses, it hasn’t really been helpful. Most photos show lovely, spartan homes, unapologetically shaped like little shoe boxes, clear of any signs of life, save for some dog-eared copies of Kerouac and tiny pots of fresh herbs. Who lives here? People that own only three spatulas. People that fold underwear. People that have capsule wardrobes. Just the word ‘capsule’ is sickening to people like me. 
 
If you have a tiny house, I sincerely hope you’re a short-statured, boring do-nothing that lives in California. Because these adorable little coffins have some storage, but definitely not enough to accommodate four seasons, or any hobbies involving power tools or a collection of anything. Most of the small homes you’ll find online can comfortably contain such breaktaking activities such as stamp collecting and embroidery, and that’s about it. Some of our gear can go in a shed, but space to actually do things is important to us. 
 
image

Want to buy a cat?

 
Having cats, dogs and children constantly underfoot is commonplace in our current cabin. Sit down, and you’re on a cat. Put down your dinner, now there’s a cat on your plate! Open any door at all, and behind it is a cat! Your whole bed is made of cats! In addition to being in league with Satan, cats need some room to disperse, perch, and vomit. We plan to have stairs, to attract cats, but what about some built in perches, to cut down on cat-induced casualties? 
 
It’s strange having to think about where to put your kid’s childhood room, and where the window will be, and what he’ll see when he looks out. The window in my childhood room was tilted almost skyward, so that it made our bedroom look like an Alfred Hitchcock film, or appropriately horrifying. Our current house plans accommodate an addition, so that when the kid(s?) are older, they can each have their very own room. Pancake has always slept in the same room as us, but he’s been cramping our style for months. Nothing like an adorable cherub snoring to really put you in the mood--it’s like he WANTS to be a only child.
 
We have a beard-o old man coming to possibly fix up the well this week (running water?! woooo!!!), and we’ve got to buck all the firewood we cut down last year. Summer is basically here, and it’s about to get pretty real up in here.
 
What do you wish you had in your house? Breakfast nooks? Giant bathrooms? A cat maze? Probably a cat maze.