Johnny’s Hawaiian Small House Story

Johnny’s Hawaiian Small House Story


My story. I’m a self employed housekeeper/gardener/painter. Back in the 1990’s I set about buying a house. Can you guess what sort of reaction I got from mortgage bankers when I told them what I do for a living and how much money I earn?

I did all sorts of research with many weekend field trips and after a few years I found a piece of undeveloped property that I could afford with cash. I then I had plans for my home drawn up for a few hundred dollars.

I saved up for a septic system, a foundation, and then a shell, etc. I scavenged furniture from thrift shops and pulled things off the curb on bulk trash day. I’m not too proud for that. No Sir. It’s been twelve years now and the place is about as done as it’s likely to get. Looking back I could have made do with less space, but I love my little 480 square foot mortgage free cottage.

All those people who thought I was crazy for not building a “real” house? A lot of those folks lost their giant homes to foreclosure…

The cottage is located on the Big Island of Hawaii. The house was built over a period of several years beginning in 1999, but the cost for the house itself was about $31,000 – not including the land.

Other costs include $2,800 to connect to the electric grid and about $5,000 for a septic system. It’s impossible to drill a well in the area due to the brackish water so close to the ocean so the cottage is on rain water catchment from the roof. I started with a 1,000 gallon water storage tank for $800 and recently added two more larger water tanks for a total of 6,000 gallons at a cost of about $4,000. This was all done on a cash basis over a twelve year period.

The furniture is all second hand and objet trouve (trash sounds better in French…). I don’t think I spent more than $15 on any one piece besides the mattress which was bought new. Of course, there was a lot of time spent cleaning, sanding, staining, and painting the stuff.

Thanks Johnny for sharing your story and pictures, if you have a small house story of your own please email it to


  1. i love seeing everything in this little neat house; the paint, furniture, arrangement,photo frames, even the fruits ooh, the simplicity of the entire house is sooo calming. Its home! Great job, great saving!

  2. Very nice job everything is really nice you’ve done great job. I’m wondering if the government charges you lots of money for property tax. I’ve heard living in your area is expensive that no one can afford to live there except the military or other government employees. Is that true?

  3. great story and house…please don’t apologize for recycling things left on the curb – it is creative and keeps objects out of landfill! besides maintaining a small footprint – recycling is the next best thing!

  4. I watched the interview and this is an amazing house for $30,000 plus $3,000 for the land.

    I would love to buy a house like this in a few years and take a few years off.

  5. I own alot in LA County, and need some help in building
    a Tiny House on the lot!
    Who can help me getting all the formalities and
    the construction work done.
    I am willing to pay a good price!
    Any help will be highly appreciated!
    Thanks in advance

  6. You say you could have done with less space … so why did the shower get relegated to outdoors. I love the idea of an outdoor shower, but I am not sure I would want all my showers to have to be outdoors!

    A really beautiful job and a beautiful story. Best of luck with your rightsized life and thanks for sharing this story.

  7. My friend and I often talk about doing something like this but we doubt we could jump through all the hoops & rules put in place. Congrats on finding a way through the codes & permits and getting yourself a sweet spot. I also have my the bed as the most important feature of my small apt.
    I’m wondering what that plot of land is worth now.

  8. great inspiration to me! my wife and I recently bought in hpp and hope to build something small and not so uppity up. have some fruit trees and chickens etc. I love it!

  9. Johnny, As I am readying to build on my lot in Honokaa, I would love to ask you a couple of questions. My email is if you would email me, I would love to email or speak with you directly. Beautiful little home you built! I hope you’re very happy and living the Aloha dream! David. (direct). PS, I will be back on-island Jan 5 2015 for a couple of weeks.