From 5600 to 800 Square Feet- And Lovin’ It!

Guest Post by Derek Diedricksen

The following is an interview with Dustin “Dr. Demolition” Diedricksen, as conducted by his brother Derek/”Deek” from Relaxshacks.com and “Tiny Yellow House” TV on youtube. As it mentions the duos Vermont Cabin quite a bit, be sure to check out their video tour that was shot last year (Tiny Yellow House Episode #5) . Dustin will also be part of Derek’s hands-on, tiny shelter building workshop this summer (July 9th) in Massachusetts, with additional demonstrations and educational lectures from guests Alex Pino (tinyhousetalk.com), tiny house author, magazine writer (Dwell, Readymade, etc) and architect Mimi Zeiger, and Tristan Chambers and Libby Reinish, who will be bringing their “Whittled Down Caravan”(whittleddown.com) for one of many open-house cabins that will be present that day. (all photos by Bruce Bettis).

As always- mega props, hugs, hi-fives, and repeat toasts (of high-percentage mead) to K.Grizz for posting this….

Photo by Bruce Bettis

Deek: For starters, could you paint a picture of your current housing set-up, and drop some specs….so we can all get a better idea of what we’re going to be talking about here….

Sure, its converted cottage in Scituate, MA on a concrete-block foundation (i.e. crawlspace) with step-down sunroom (formerly a screened-in porch); attic transformed into loft and 13’ cathedral ceilings, all under a main gable-pitched roof. It also has a very insignificant kitchen bump-out positioned off rear of house- southwest facing and a small, partially subgrade utility area that doubles as mudroom/entrance from side yard adding a tiny bit of space. All in all, its two bedrooms being only about 90 square feet (SF) and 70 SF, and one 60 SF “full” bathroom. Basically, it’s a small dwelling on a 10,000 SF lot in a “beachy” neighborhood with larger homes.

Deek: Tell me how you and the wife came to find yourselves in a tiny home….were you intentionally gunning for “living small”?

We had been house hunting for two years with the only real criteria being a great location -very cliché I know. This search began when we were both working hard and only 23 years old. There was no immediate rush for a purchase, but we figured the right house would come along eventually. We had towns and neighborhoods in consideration and looked at online real-estate listings daily.

A more contemporary looking cottage then came up (online) when my wife was taking a week-long vacation to attend her best friend’s bachelorette party in Toronto. I scheduled a showing with the realtor the following day. The house was a project to say the least, and I completely ignored anything the realtor had to say. I saw the home’s potential, and realized that any other person would tear it down and build some monstrosity, which is unfortunately typical to other former cottages in the area, and I did not want to go that route. The house passed a self-administered (4 hour) home inspection by my brother (licensed home inspector) and myself- where soon after we were already scheming about improvement ideas.

I called up my wife and got the okay (site unseen for her) to put in an offer. We haggled for a low price and eventually got it with a promise that we weren’t going to demolish it. The seller did a lot of work to the house and could sleep easier knowing someone else could enjoy it as much as she had. My wife then came back from her trip as a homeowner.

Deek: VERY trusting of her! Now speaking of Dawn, she grew up in Nova Scotia, and lived in a 5600 square foot home, which had a game/rec?room that alone was bigger than your entire house- how has that transition been for her?

Surprisingly, it didn’t take any convincing or pushing to have my wife?move into our small home. She fell in love with the town, neighbors, and the semi-private beach at the end of the street; it also meant more ski trips each winter and other freedoms with the money saved. And we won’t have to dread downsizing during our retirement period when it is just the two of us on a fixed income. We bought our house ?for the long haul! We started out even smaller, so this house was a big upgrade!

Our first professional living quarters (after graduation from University) was a one bedroom mother-in-law suite, and a “whopping” 425 SF. The entire bedroom was about 6’ x 6 ½ ’ with a custom-cut foam mattress wedged on one side of the room. In other words, the headboard and footboard were both walls. The remaining floor space was possibly wider than shoulder-width (at least for me). My wife had to sleep on the far side of the bed to allow for my feet to extend beyond the foot of the bed and through the pocket door (always left open) to the room; this being a solution to accommodate my height (6’5”). There was no window to the room, so calling it a bedroom may be technically inaccurate. The living room was much longer than it was
wide and could only accommodate a loveseat for permissible passage to the small kitchen area. The kitchen was simply a peninsula counter with two bar stools, a stove, sink, and fridge crammed into about 50 square feet. The bathroom was at the far end of this “hallway” apartment and was typical of any really small (but full) bathroom.

Hence, moving into our new house enabled us to store bicycles, tools, etc.- We were thrilled to move up into such a “Huge” place!

Photo by Bruce Bettis

Deek: What have been some of the biggest challenges with you two living small, then and now?
We have such limited storage in our kitchen area, and this requires us to go grocery shopping 2-3 times per week. With our current kitchen?setup we have no space for a dishwasher, and VERY limited area for food prep (we like to cook). I suppose it keeps cooking ingredients fresh. I drive by five grocery stores on my commute back from work… so it’s not too difficult, and just takes a little more preplanning.

It is also critical to keep things clean. A loose item of clothing on the floor can cause a traffic jam. Otherwise, I have no major  complaints.

Deek: Is this as small as you could go, or do you think 800+/- square feet for three (and 17 pets) is above your threshold?

I consider myself a semi-minimalist, but I do demand enough room for my drum kit, several guitars, two parrot cages (with parrots of course), multiple bouldering pads for climbing, touring and mountain bikes, skis (downhill and cross country), Dawn’s keyboard (we already had to say no to a real piano), golf clubs, every tool known to man, etc. Having a basement may seem like an easy solution, but this comes at a large cost and would be near impossible to keep dry since we live?about 12’ above sea level and already utilize (quite regularly) an existing French drainage system in our crawl space. Also keep in mind that we only have minimal storage in our eaves. So to answer your question, given our list of interests and related equipment…. We feel a bit stretched with our current living space, but wouldn’t add-on anything too drastic, if we ever did. For example, a larger kitchen and additional storage areas would be appreciated and could happen within 300-400 additional square feet. I also would like a screened-in porch to bring most activities outdoors. I, of course, could go smaller, but growing into a space and finding what makes you comfortable is such a great thing.

At the other extreme… people may think that this house isn’t nearly small enough to warrant any praise or medals of Honor. We never anticipated any additional attention as we see our smaller-than-average home as no sacrifice to what we truly want. It is quite amazing though to find two people/partners that can agree on living small; especially one that grew up in a 5,600 square foot (SF) home with a 30’ tall solarium, a 1,000 SF game room, and tennis court (to name only a few luxuries).

Deek: What, no butler chamber!?

If it were just me out there…. I could see myself living a more Bohemian lifestyle and being able to live in something much smaller (200 SF?) with lots of land. In fact, there is one common factor to those living extremely small: they are almost always single. A family definitely requires something larger than 100 SF to remain sane (in my?opinion). It is also important for us to live in a stable town with abounding opportunities; these towns usually have unfortunate ordinances against anything too small (i.e. “unsightly” by some standards).

Deek: Now since you bought your place, you’ve done many fairly major tweaks,
remodels, and reconfigurations to the overall layout and set-up of the home. I know the scope and specifics of what you’ve done since I was involved with many of them, but enlighten the rest of the “tiny housers” out there…

We re-supported the flooring with numerous columns. The original cottage construction had floor joists set at about 30” apart. The floor was like a trampoline when I walked over it (they do call him “Dr. Demolition, after all [Deek]). Structural improvements also included new collar ties, which were mostly removed during former construction of the loft and cathedral ceilings (resulting in a slight swayback of the roof). Ceilings were refinished with local tongue-and-groove cedar and new insulation was added to both walls and ceiling in several areas. We also repositioned almost every interior wall to allow better space efficiency and better “flow” to and from?areas. A TV went over the mantle and we got rid of the original “master” bedroom, which was about 8’ x 11’ with no closet. This changed up our living space and made the fireplace a focal point (with?the TV over it). This change resulted in our “temporary” sleeping arrangements in the loft (i.e. 2 years). We just finished partitioning off part of our common living space to include a second bedroom (about 9’ x 10’), but we still enjoy sleeping in the loft.

Photo by Bruce Bettis

Deek: On a less serious note, I’m sure you’ve heard some “I can’t believe you live this way”- type comments- do share, and how do you normally respond? Punch to the throat, followed by a quick Schwarzaneggar-esque comeback? Or by more subtle means?

Those comments typically come from people who live in large box homes that I have no interest in. Some people take pride in maximizing their home size, whereas we take pride in maximizing the coziness. Positive comments have so far outweighed those that might be negative. People feel more “at home” and conversations take a more casual tone from our visiting guests. A defensive and kidding response from myself often is “I can’t believe you don’t have ocean views, or even beach rights!” Others seem to think that we don’t have the money to make our house any larger; it’s hard for them to realize that we just like saving money for other interests, and are perfectly happy with our home at this instant. We don’t want to grow into our home, but rather have our home grow with us in terms of beneficial layout and/or size.

Deek: With the arrival of a newborn recently, how, home-wise. have things changed for you? Are you still satisfied that your current situation?will continue to be sufficient?

As I somewhat mentioned, we reconfigured our open living area to?include an additional bedroom (approx 90 SF) so we can more easily attend the baby sleeping in the other downstairs bedroom (about 70?SF). We dreaded the idea of climbing up and down the ship-galley?stairs multiple times in the middle of the night. However, now that the “larger” downstairs bedroom is finished, we find ourselves switching sleeping quarters on a daily basis. We can’t move away from?the fun feel of sleeping in the loft.. or the better Tempurpedic mattress up there. I also make a decision based on which book I would like to continue reading each night as I have several ongoing books at each bedside table. I am a fanatical reader. (Interviewer’s note: Right now Dustin is deep in “Archie Comics #32”- kidding…)

So for now we are perfectly content with our current square footage?and are trying to rearrange living areas to better fit our needs. A small addition may come later to accommodate a larger family, but this would only include a tiny bedroom, bathroom, and perhaps a screened-in porch (my favorite living spaces).

Deek: And since you have hidden nooks and built-ins galore- tell us the reconfiguration you’re proudest of.

A raised, hollow storage bed. It is a super simple solution for extra storage and does not sacrifice any additional floor space. This is common practice for storage solutions because it works! We store out-of-season clothing inside our bed and reconfigure our shared closet frequently. If an article of clothing goes through an entire season without being worn (or seldom worn), it is donated without regret.

Deek: And lets end with something benign, yet “fun-formative”- Your favorite housing book? AND the coolest/best tiny house you’ve ever seen?

Favorite housing book?

Micro Green by Mimi Zeiger – It features the VT cabin my brother and I built, which is icing on the cake. It just has lots of great colored photos too that make for easy and fun viewing.
The House You Build by Duo Dickinson – Written by an architect-hero of mine from Madison, CT, where I grew up. I get inspired by his coastal designs and use of standard building materials for cost savings. I’m too cheap to hire him, or too proud I guess.

There’s a Porcupine in my Outhouse: Misadventures of a Mountain Man Wannabe by Michael Tougias – Not necessarily a book about housing, but takes place around a simple cabin in the Northeast Kingdom (NEK) of Vermont. This book is eerily similar to my experiences with building a cabin with my brother a couple towns over in the NEK. And sure enough, there were several porcupines living in our outhouse as well-?note the past tense.

Earthships: How to Build Your Own, Vol. 1 by Michael Reynolds – Great  ideas for sustainable living and stick-it-to-the-man tactics for going against typical building codes. I am hoping to visit Taos, New Mexico in the near future (good skiing too!)

And of course… Humble Homes, Simple Shacks…. etc. by Derek Diedricksen – I can’t even remember the appropriate title because it is so damn long, but it is a great conveyance of my bro’s crazy ideas that have been shot across to me for the past 15 or more years. He is also paying me to answer these questions. [Derek’s Note: In small installments of Bazooka Gum (I found a stale box of it on a curb in Boston).]

Favorite small house?

Coolest cluster of tiny homes would have to be the gingerbread cottages in Oak Bluffs, MA (Martha’s Vineyard). Pride in ownership is always on display all summer long as families gather on front porches and tend to their beautiful gardens. These homes never come up for sale because families hold on to them forever; it’s good to see that some homes don’t have price tags.

My best buddy also has a cluster of small cabins on a private 10 acre island in Vermont. If I told you the location I would likely be executed. Family dinners around the central “lodge” are followed by people retreating to their own private cabins with gorgeous water views. One of my favorite places I’ve ever been. Time seems to move backwards when you’re on the island.
The Vermont cabin my bro and I built is beyond amazing…. I may be?really biased though.
——————————————————-
Dustin is an Environmental Scientist/Project Manager for Fuss & O’Neill, Inc., a full- service engineering consulting firm. He works?out of their Boston office and specializes in remediation design of hazardous materials in the built environment, indoor air quality concerns, and groundwater and soil remediation work. He graduated?from McGill University with a B.Sc. in Environment and received a Masters of Liberal Arts in Sustainability and Environmental Management from Harvard University. Dustin likes to build all things during the free time he wishes he had. His wife, Dawn, is a high school science teacher and shares his love of anything outdoors. His newborn son,? Neveck, has made living in a small house more challenging, but all the more enjoyable.

Check out Anklelock’s new tune on cdbaby.com (and itunes.comamazon.com, etc) featuring Gary Cherone on vocals (Extreme frontman, and one-time Van Halen frontman!). http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/anklelock

-Derek “Deek” Diedricksen- Host of “Tiny Yellow House” TV….-My Micro-Housing book is OUT NOW! http://www.relaxshacks.com

23 Comments From 5600 to 800 Square Feet- And Lovin’ It!

  1. brook

    I like the custom matching fingerboard. I hope you are using your saved money for extended climbing vacations.

    Reply
  2. Heather

    Awesome place and I think I spy a Jotul wood stove in the FP. Very nice indeed. It’s so refreshing to see someone who realizes the value in a small place and eschews the large box, shall we say, “house with attached garage”. And it sure is cozy.

    Reply
  3. frank

    It is a very comfortable looking house. Not too big and not too small.

    I was wondering, what is the rise and run of the stairs, and how easy or unnerving is it to use them?

    Reply
  4. Alex

    Great interview you guys, and the home is beautiful. Looks cozy and looking forward to meeting with you all soon. And meeting Dr Demolition. I hope he doesn’t hurt me.

    Reply
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  6. Dom

    I love that this guy is a professional (with fairly impressive credentials), and shows how “normal” people can have values that encourage a better quality of life, rather than a quantity of possessions. Lovely little home, and great town to live in!

    Reply
  7. Julie

    I’d really love to see pictures of the kitchen and the bedrooms! I adore the spaces that we can see. Fantastic!(Fun interview, too. :) )

    Reply
  8. Kate Down Under

    Gorgeous house.
    Love the youtube chanel – can we get a film of this place on there?
    Totally love reading/watching you two.

    Reply
  9. Deek

    Thanks Kate….

    A ways back we actually began shooting his (Dustin’s) place, then ran out of time, etc- but we DO plan on finishing up the shoot at some point, once things get a little “less crazy” with the “Tiny Yellow House” house (we have FOUR all-new unedited episodes all waiting to be finished right now), the stuff we’re building, and our upcoming workshop in MA, etc…

    http://www.youtube.com/relaxshacksDOTcom is the channel if anyone else wants to check it out.

    Thanks!
    -Deek

    Reply
  10. Julie

    Okay, I can’t get this house out of my head!! I love it so much. Is there anyway we can see more pictures, and maybe a floor plan?

    Reply
  11. Lester

    This is a very nice house, and I really like it. I have a question about that multi-slotted wooden protuberance, located just to the right of the top of the ladder. Is it some sort of exercise device for rock climbers? I had not previously seen anything like it, so I am intrigued. I would appreciate receiving a response from anyone who knows what it is. Thanks.

    Reply
  12. Brian Vree

    My home is 840 sqft and we house two adults and five children. So it can be done – but having a nice back yard and good weather certainly helps!

    Reply
  13. Mike

    If you switch to more appropriately-scaled furniture in the living area, the space will feel much larger.

    Reply
  14. Lester

    What is that multi-slotted wooden protuberance, located just to the right of the top of the ladder. Is it some sort of exercise device for rock climbers? I had not previously seen anything like it, so I am intrigued. I would appreciate receiving a response from anyone who knows what it is. Thanks.

    Reply
  15. Al

    I would love to see the floor layout. This place is very cute! I also love the stairs. I have a feeling though, they wouldn’t pass “code” here in Nova Scotia.

    Reply
  16. deek

    Yes, its a rock climber’s finger board….

    And agreed, (mike, I think…) the furniture is a little big, but Dustin’s 6′ 5″ and wanted large enough furniture to sit and lay down on comfortably.

    A video tour of this place is still being planned….

    -Deek

    Reply
  17. Kate Miller

    Hi My mom had a house on East Wharf, I remember you guys,even though I’m retired. Also a Duo Dickinson admirer. I wondered if you could explain the pitfails of land use in the northeast kingdom of Vt. I have a home builder in mine, but it isn’t set in stone. I just want my tiny house back in the area where I went to boarding school, where I still have friends, does Dustin rent to tiny housers in Barton? Is zoneing a problem up there? Barton, Barnet, and Peacham top on my lists. Congradulations on you new child, enjoy the cape its fabulous. Warm Regards, Kate

    Reply
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  19. Tamara

    I managed to get a few fantastic outdoor shelves from
    Proper Job recently and they are fantastic! I am able to set plants on top of or
    plastic boxes of the kids toys as well as placemat settings for the patio table.
    Love my Tamara.

    Reply
  20. Laura

    I absolutely love the layout! Although I would want to add some kind of banister to the stairs as a safety precaution.

    Reply

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