THE small HOUSE CATALOG

Plans, Drafting & Design

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From Giants to the Fairy Tale Cottages of Carmel (Carmel By the Sea, California)

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Part of what is so appealing psychologically about these places is that houses keep a particular similarity to one another and yet are quite unique, each and every one. That seems to be what we want to find reflected in our human community, too. Closeness and connectedness without the sense that uniqueness and individuality have been lost or controlled.

The Many Uses of Tiny & Small Houses (Port Townsend, WA)

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To start, we had always intended to build a small home to live in full time. We weren’t sure it would even be in Point Roberts, but we always thought of the “rolling house” as a temporary solution. Who knew (at the time) that it would be so comfortable for us that only county regulations would fully entice us to leave it?  Since Shawn and I have begun construction on The Beekeeper’s Bungalow, a lot of passersby have begun to ask the same question that we considered between us when we decided to build a larger small home, What are you going to do with the cute little orange house?

Anyway, the questions we asked ourselves and the questions being posed to us by curious neighbors are what I’m going to use as the jumping off point for this blog entry:

What can you do with a tiny house if you aren’t living in it full time any longer?

One option, of course, is to sell the tiny house. If you’ve built on a trailer bed, the issue is a very simple one (well, as simple as driving a house down the road ever is…mechanically easy but psychologically a bit nervewracking). However, if you’re thinking ahead about the selling option and you’re building on a “footed” foundation, consider putting the house on skids…small buildings, like sheds, have been moved this way for ages.

What about other options? I thought that I would just share a few of the many that I’ve heard from people in town. I’ll start with our own decision. We are keeping our tiny house and it will become “office central” for THE small HOUSE CATALOG. Shawn’s drafting work will probably benefit from my not bopping around the room doing my thing while he is calculating loads and headspace.  Since it’s hooked up to septic, etc. it’s also going to become an enticement for friends and family to come up and stay awhile. And it looks pretty cute on the lot and frankly would be hard for us to let go. It’s become a nice part of our memory. It’s a great place for guests to stay as it’s fully contained, kids love it and adults do too.

Here are some other creative options: One woman stopped by and said she would make this a kitchen that she could put on her land as an accessory building. She is a chocolatier and needs a commercial space separate from her home kitchen where she can do all of her prep work for sales. A little mobile kitchen on her property would free her up from having to rent and drive to commercial space (to satisfy health department regulations, someone selling commercially cannot prepare foods for sale in their home kitchen) Very convenient!

Another couple came and surprised me when the teenaged daughter and her mother told me that this would be a perfect accessory building for their cottage in town. The cottage is small and with the kids growing up, they wanted a little more space for the teens to be able to do their own thing with the family but also be “on their own.” What surprised me was that the daughter immediately began pointing out what she wouldn’t need…no bathroom necessary, no kitchen necessary…just space to have friends hang out together and sleepover. Parents of teenagers might or might not press more for the bathroom than the kids!

A rental space is another option I have both seen in person and heard passersby mention as a desired outcome. When we’re visiting Port Townsend, WA we stay with a man who has a small cottage called Hammond House on his single lot in the backyard that he rents out as an accommodation. It’s low maintenance for him. He hires a local cleaner to come in and clean up the space after guests leave and the cottage is self sustaining. It has wifi, cable, a sauna, full bathroom, big bedroom area and an enclosed patio/seating area all in a very small space. It’s roomy and perfectly comfortable. The in-city location is perfect – you can walk everywhere. He has located the cottage in such a way that his own house doesn’t look over into it and vice versa. Privacy for everyone and a boost of income for the owner. I can think of a lot of ways that something like this might be a benefit for a variety of people, including guests.

The Hammond House Guest Cottage in Port Townsend, WA. Nestled in the single city lot sized back yard of the main house, this little cottage is tiny and a perfect size for visitors to the fun and artsy waterside town.

The Hammond House Guest Cottage in Port Townsend, WA. Nestled in the single city lot sized back yard of the main house, this little cottage is tiny and a perfect size for visitors to the fun and artsy waterside town.

Another closely tied option to this one would be to rent the space out on a regular basis. A tiny space that is well designed offers a perfect living space for single people, couples or people with young families…everything would depend on the people wanting to rent. Depending on your location, you could easily rent out your tiny house or cottage on a full time basis if that was your wish. It would pay for itself quickly in that case and might pay you back in other unexpected ways as well (e.g. as a chance to meet interesting people). Call me biased, but people interested in these small living spaces seem to be pretty interesting people… 

Meeting as many people as we do (something about the house being so tiny, along with the bright orange color must wear away at the inhibitions we sometimes have about just walking up to people and starting conversations), we’ve heard a variety of other ideas for small houses. An architect we met last weekend had entered a sustainable urban development contest and submitted a fantastic idea for compact urban living in Vancouver, BC using railroad cars as the basis for construction. These cars are compact, recycled, and can be stacked for vertical rather than horizontal living; critical in an urban area where space is at a premium. Using color and creativity, he had designed a little urban oasis of tiny living spaces made even better by the incorporation of green growing spaces outdoors that could be enjoyed by all the residents as well as passersby (who doesn’t like green spaces, especially in cities?). The storage containers were boldly colored, stacked several stories high and made a real statement visually. It was fantastic and suited the urban landscape perfectly. While not applicable for most of us, this is just another example of how only our thinking about things limits the potential use of small space.

Another advantage of a tiny house or small cottage on a lot or piece of land is that they are never so large that they take up a tremendous amount of space. In and of themselves, they provide a focal point of great visual appeal in the home/garden landscape. Cute, cozy and inviting, they make a statement about staying in place and enjoying what’s around you.

I’m only touching on a few ideas here. There are obviously many many more and in many ways, our imaginations are the only limitation to what can be done with a tiny house once it’s not being used for full time occupation. Once a home, always a home of some sort!

Please feel free to share your own comments on using tiny and small houses, I’m eager to hear what you have to say!

Small Footprints (Orcas Island, WA)

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We live in an area right now that is sort of an old beach town currently undergoing a resurgence in popularity as the children who grew up playing here in the summers are now of an age to bring their own kids down for the summers to repeat history. Rusty old cabins in various stages of dereliction or upkeep are being reinhabited, torn down, renovated – the works. In this process, we’ve seen 600 square foot beach cabins torn down and replaced by newer, much larger homes as well as vacant lots purchased with modern sized homes (some of which can be very very large in comparison with the old beach cottages) built right next to old places. The resulting juxtaposition of a large, modern home next to a 60’s cabin can be a little curious.

What urges me to mention this is not so much to make a judgment, exactly, of any kind. It’s merely to note that it is not frequently (if ever) mentioned in lot or land covenants, that homes built in the area must not exceed certain square footages. Yet, property values (as well as the character of neighborhoods) are affected when a huge (or even just a large) home is built next to a small home that has been around for a long time, regardless of the home’s condition. The building of large homes can also damage property values, but this fact doesn’t seem to be noted with the same fervor that the opposite does.This past weekend we took a trip to look at some properties for sale in an area that we were considering moving to. The process of trying to imagine where to site a house, orchards, the garden and other things was enjoyable, though none of the land turned out to be suited to our needs or our budgets, quite. One thing that was thought provoking, though, was our examination at the end of the day of some paperwork relating to one of the properties we had looked at. Looking through the covenants relating to the set of acreages (these properties turned out to be “developments” in the loosest sense of the term. They weren’t gated communities and didn’t have matching houses, but the original division of land into acreages had details that went along with them, cc and r’s I guess is how you’d describe these restrictions). Among them was an architectural provision that insisted that all homes built in the area would be no less than 1200 square feet. I voiced some surprise at this limitation and the realtor was quick to point out that the thinking behind that provision was to protect property values in the area. That was fine with me, in particular since we weren’t going to be buying the property anyway (especially after seeing that provision!). But as with many things, the idea stuck in my mind and I’ve been thinking about it ever since the weekend.

A small bungalow turned restaurant. Located on Orcas Island in Eastsound, WA.

A small bungalow turned restaurant. Located on Orcas Island in Eastsound, WA.

I’m only musing in this blog entry, and I should wrap things up, as one person’s musings can become awfully tedious after the second paragraph! Let me just conclude that it has often been noted that the cultures of “the west,” in particular the US, is very individualistic in its focus, outlook, character, etc. But in many ways, we are a very homogenized culture. There is a tendency to only see in one direction, and that direction is generally to follow the way that the herd is going. It would appear that homes beneath 1200 square feet are sometimes regarded as a drag on property value, which is rather interesting since only a short time ago that very size was considered suitably large. Apparently we can’t really imagine a neighborhood of mixed sized homes that would individually suit the needs of the families they are supporting, be they retired couples, young families, multi-family homes, or single people. Perhaps this is a function resulting from the tendency of people to move frequently for their work, rather than to settle into places for the long haul. In any case, it will be interesting to see how the wider effects play out as we continue to follow the trend toward smaller, more human scaled and generally more efficient housing. That trend is here to stay, for certain, and I wonder if someday folks will be wandering a five acre lot somewhere only to find covenants restricting the building of homes over 1200 square feet.