A Tiny House History
This was my very first tiny house –
the playhouse that my dad built in the backyard. This playhouse was part of my life from my earliest memory.
That started my permanent love affair with a life lived out of doors, and gave me lots of tiny house opportunities to boot!
When I was 11, my mom discovered and connected me with the Alexander Lindsay Junior Museum, in Walnut Creek, California. (Little did she know that her life as a full-time chauffeur was just beginning). I became part of a “tribe” of young folks helping to run the musuem, and one of our jobs was to take care of the injured and orphaned wildlife that people brought in. Sometimes we could let these critters go again, and other times, we couldn’t.
My dad was an engineer and loved to build things. He taught me how to build by building cages for the constant stream of animals moving through our house.
The beauty of this was that I learned about structure from the inside out. Knowing what an animal needs, designing a home to meet that need, and then learning what it takes to build to that design (“How in the heck will I attach this funny door?”) is a fabulous way to learn how to build.
I am so very, very grateful to both my parents for the incredible lengths they went to, to ensure that I was exposed to things that lit me up.
One of the first jobs I had after the museum was on a Forest Service Lookout, in Eastern Oregon. I spent two summers living on top of a mountain in this 14′ X 14′ tower.
Bliss. Simply bliss.
In between the two lookout summers, I had a chance to build my first tiny house on wheels – this pyramid camper.
I built it for a friend who was living in McCloud, California.
I had thought to build a little cabin on a trailer when a friend introduced me to an historic “sheepwagon” – the trailer that a sheepherder lives in, out on the range.
I fell in love with the sheepwagon, and designed and built one of my own. I made it about a foot wider and taller than a traditional wagon, with a solid roof. I built it out of an old burned-out trailer and used building materials I scavenged. I had wonderful help from a friend with great welding skills, and enjoyed the love affair my small town had with the project.
I built her 1978. It’s 2015 as I am writing this, and she is happily settled out front as we speak.
Here I am between client calls, taking a break.
Side note: If you are at all inclined to build yourself a tiny house, I can only say that this is simply the most rewarding and meaningful posession in my life. Do it. Do not hesitate to do this for yourself. You can do it, and you will be so happy you did.
Next stop: Macky Bar on the Salmon River, in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
It turned out that thanks to the photos of the pyramid camper and the sheepwagon, I met Wil Wilkins, one of the most special people in my life. He asked if I would move into the Idaho backcountry and help finish a cabin back there. I did, and we lived for the winter in an old miner’s cabin on the banks of the Salmon River.
That summer, we moved to a historic ranch up in the high country, at Stonebraker Ranch in the Chamberlain Basin, thirty miles from any road. That was our honeymoon summer…I felt like we were living on the set of Bonanza. Bliss again.
The beauty of tiny house living is how very much time you spend out of doors.
We left Idaho, sheepwagon in tow, and moved to Montana’s Bitteroot Valley.
We were amazingly comfortable in the 11′ X 14′ Sally House, which I still consider a very optimal size.
We had a card table we could set up or take down for meals, and we could have it on the porch or inside. We hosted frequent gatherings around the campfire pit and enjoyed our life immensly.
By the time our oldest son was walking, we had finished restoring the main farmhouse, and moved in. As excited as we were to have the beautiful new house, we cried the day we left the Sally house.
And as you can see, we created a wonderful tiny space in the tower of the new house.
At that same time were starting a timber framing business, which we founded in 1983 and ran for ten years, building timber frame homes all around North America.
Over those years I became deeply involved with the TImber Framers Guild, and was involved with a multitude of amazing community projects in various capacities.
That was when I learned how much I love turning other people on to the joy of building things, and especially teaching women and young people how to build things for themselves.
These are tiny bluebird houses I built with the 4H kids.
When we sold our timber framing business, we took a contract to work on a remote island in Fiji, and this was our tiny house there.
Thank you, tiny spaces, I love you!
I love it because it keeps me in touch with the out-of-doors. I spend more time outside, which is critical to my well being. It’s easy to forget that – as Mark Twain said, “Bad weather always looks worse through a window.” When you live tiny, you just naturally get out into that weather that looked so bad, and find out it’s really a great place to be.
I love it because it’s small enough to take care of easily, and things become so affordable in so many ways. Everything takes less money to pay for and less time to care for. Everything I have can be beautifully taken care of easily.
It keeps me real about my relationships. There’s nowhere to hide so you get really good at being honest, saying what needs to be said in ways it can be heard, and working together to build the life you want.
Yes, I’d say that most of all, it helps keep me honest, in so many ways. I end up choosing and taking care of the things that matter to me, and waste less of my energy on the things that tend to clutter up my life when I have extra space for them to fill. Small spaces serve me. My life is better in a small space.
Having only the space you need for what really matters keeps things clean, beautiful and real. And there’s more on the way!
My partner Marianne has dreamed of and created tiny spaces all her life, and her story is filled from start to finish with tiny house excitement and inspiration. She’s about to start building her own tiny house and I am so excited to be part of that.
Her enthusiasm has been wonderfully infectious…she’s brought me back around to Tiny Houses. She took us to a tiny house mixer up in Portland Oregon last spring – here we are with Dee Williams who’s been such an inspiration in the movement. (It’s Dee giving her the rabbit ears, not me!!)
We stayed in the Caravan Hotel while we were there, spending the night in a tiny house to try some of the features on for size.
Her 20′ trailer will be done any day now, and we’ll go pick it up and begin!!
For my part, my favorite thing is living an exciting life – and a big part of that for me is sharing the fun and enthusiasm with others. I love nothing more that to help people go ahead and do things that excite them. I look forward to doing more and more fun, hands-on building projects with other women.
I love building things, and what I’ve come to see is that what I really love is building the capacity for joy and living an enthusiastic life.
Since I last wrote, we have almost finished a tiny workshop that will be supporting the tiny house building project…needed a place to put the chop saw out of the weather! Here are a couple of photos of that exceptionally fun project. In fact, it’s been so delightful we put it in the local St Patty’s Day parade!
Want to play?
If you want support to build your own tiny house, and your enthusiastic life, please e-mail me. I’d love to help you to get completely comfortable with your project. Whether you simply want to learn enough about building to feel more comfortable working with a contractor, or get the hands-on experience that will let you build your very own tiny house, let’s do it! Why not?
I have had a lot of fabulous mentors in my life, as I have learned the things I have. The beauty of a good mentor is their ability to believe in you more than you yourself do. Their confidence and belief in you will carry you as you build your own confidence and skill.
Whomever you choose, if you want to build a tiny house but don’t think you can, I hope you will seek out and find a mentor who will help you make this the most satisfying and personally rewarding project of your life.