Guest post by Paprika Clark
There’s a new tiny house company in town, and our name is Bungalow to Go (www.bungalowtogo.com).
Hi, my name is Paprika Clark, but a lot of folks call me Pepper. Although I only named it a few months ago, I started my house design company in spirit when I noticed an ad for a new subdivision in the newspaper at the age of six. Next to an elevation sketch was a floor plan. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The rooms were named. I could recognize an overhead view of a toilet, and the distinct round burners on the stove in the kitchen. I created a three dimensional projection in my mind and walked around “my new house” picking out my room and figuring out where we would put our couch. It was magical and I was hooked.
I started drawing my dream house then and I’ve never stopped. In the beginning they were huge and often strange, with lavish impossible features. Ponds with lily pads, indoor pools, waterfalls, tree houses, cave complexes, three story libraries with enormous rolling ladders, fireman’s poles, secret tunnels, maze gardens, green roofs, greenhouses, orchards, fire pits, dance floors… my houses had it all.
They’ve been a shifting collage of everything I love; alternative architecture, living close to nature, living an energetic movement filled life, making things from scratch, using local and natural materials, and enjoying life to its fullest.
Stumbling on Tumbleweed
While doing marketing research about five years ago I ran across Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. I had seen plenty of alternative architecture by then, but designs that took dramatic steps toward sustainability seemed too difficult and expensive to approach because of bureaucratic barriers and the cost of real estate, permitting, and construction. They were just too big to fit in my life. Furthermore, while I’d like to say looks don’t matter, in truth they make a huge difference as to whether a house will ever get permitted and built. An earthship home, for example, can be aesthetic and amazingly green, but the idea and the look is very different from the typical house, and scary or unappealing to a lot of people (although I like it). The Tumbleweed idea struck me as an amazing solution that had real potential to be both truly green and accessible to more people financially and aesthetically than anything I had seen before.
Later I came back to the Tumbleweed site and pored over every floor plan and imagined how I would live in one, where I would keep things, what I would own and what I would get rid of. All pure fantasy for a busy working mom with a big family. Eventually, I signed up for the workshop in Sebastopol. There were about 20 of us that day under a soaring tree next to the orchard where Jay had his tiny house parked at the time. We sat in the shade taking notes (I still have mine!) and talking about how to build a tiny house. I could never have imagined that years later I would speak at a Tumbleweed workshop to a group of 80!
Quite some time passed after the workshop before I was able to take some tiny house action. My seven person family is multi-generational and complex. We have two kids, several pets, and a lot of hobbies and trades amongst us – we take up a lot of space. I had very specific ideas about how to interpret the tiny house experience and I desperately wanted to design and build one, but I knew we couldn’t afford to do it just for ourselves. We didn’t have a true need for it, we couldn’t fit in one, and it wasn’t something I could justify – unless I made a business of it. I knew in the long term what I really wanted was to develop a whole community for tiny houses, so when I had the opportunity to invest, I decided to start by building just one.
Developing the Bungalow to Go Style
One thing Jay and Tumbleweed have done is create a unified image of the ideal tiny house exterior; it’s the essence of house-ness in its shape and proportions. It looks like the classic drawings of houses made by children across the world to represent home – regardless of the shapes of the houses they live in. His exterior forms have become the icon of the tiny house movement, so at some level every tiny house exterior is judged by how it compares with Jay’s designs. The interior, on the other hand, is where the world of tiny house building holds potential for a million interesting variations – with parameters so personal there’s almost no wrong way to go. I went with my instincts and made every choice as if I were going to live with it forever.
In touring Jay’s tiny house and looking at endless photos online of his interiors and others, I had developed my interior design parameters; I wanted a bigger stove with an oven, I couldn’t live with metal walls in my bathroom, and I wanted something other than tongue and groove on the walls. I love natural wood, but the horizontal bands on every surface seemed like it would be too much visually, and I wanted to see something more smooth and restful. I also wanted certain built-in “real house” conveniences; more electrical outlets, lighting with wall switches, ethernet/phone jacks, a triple mirrored medicine chest, the ability to take a ten minute shower, and cabinetry with a solid feel, smooth action and adjustable shelving. For each of us the priorities are different; every individual has their own unique preferences and values. For me, over the long haul these interior comforts were a more important investment for my dollar than upgrading the windows to aluminum clad wood.
A Bountiful Beginning
I was blessed in my journey with several important gifts; great neighbors, a bigger than average yard, a circle of friends in various building trades, a supportive spouse who could both help the construction process and back me up by caring for us domestically while I devoted my time to building my company, and my meticulous next door neighbor with 30 years building experience who was looking for work. My small business and marketing classes grounded me in start up fundamentals, while my background in landscaping prepared me with some important tools as well; drafting, plan reading, some general construction knowledge and experience of how complex projects get done. In August of 2010 I took a deep breath, shook hands with the neighbor on a deal for his labor, and bought a trailer.
Over the following months we worked together at least a little bit every weekday (and some weekends). I researched every purchase exhaustively and still the house came together with amazing speed at first. We framed it up, got the exterior finished, put the roof on, and then in early October I ran out of money for several months. I worked on other projects and used the down time to spin my mental wheels doing ridiculous amounts of research on everything I still had to buy. In late January we started back up again, and the last items on our punch list were finished this week. The project has been visually complete since around June, but there was a long list of subtle tweaks and additions right at the end, and by then we were starting on our second house so our attention was on that for a while.
Where We Are Now
The journey has been thrilling and I’m very happy with our progress so far. Now that we’ve been in business for about 15 months, we’re ready to sell our first completed house, a variation on the Tumbleweed Lusby plan. We’ve hosted a couple very well attended open houses at the Windsor Farmer’s Market to satisfy local curiosity and to generate a little awareness of the tiny house concept in our neighborhood.
Our second tiny structure is a more budget conscious interpretation and the exterior is almost finished. A buyer could have some influence on what goes into the interior if they wanted to commit to it at this stage, and it will be priced more affordably, depending on options possibly as low as $30,000.
This fall I was invited to speak briefly about my company and my house to the audience at the Tumbleweed workshop in Santa Rosa. It was an honor to talk to such a great group of people, and a delight to be able to surprise the audience by saying I had my tiny house in the parking lot for everyone to tour. Excited people rushed out to see it, and I had a wonderful time talking to different folks from all over as they waited in line to get inside.
Since then, I’ve been talking with Steve Weissmann of Tumbleweed and have agreed to present workshops for them. My first one is scheduled for March 24-25 in Asheville North Carolina (http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/workshops/asheville/). The next will be in Phoenix the 21st and 22nd of April, and after that I will head to Santa Fe for workshops on May 5th and 6th. I feel privileged at the opportunity to meet and support the tiny house community through these workshops and honored to be joining some of the most creative and influential members of the tiny house revolution, Jay Shafer, Dee Williams, and Deek Diedrickson.
At the Santa Rosa Tumbleweed workshop I also met Erin Axelrod of Daily Acts (http://www.dailyacts.org/), who invited me to teach a session on alternative housing and bring my house to show to students at Sonoma Academy (www.sonomaacademy.org), a local college prep high school. That was a wonderful time, and the students could not get enough of the tiny house. At one point, there were about 12 sophomores sitting in the sleeping loft chatting with each other at close quarters! When it came time to give them an overview of sustainable housing choices we had a lively discussion, and the kids asked challenging and intelligent questions that gave us all inspiration and food for thought.
I look forward so much to meeting more people in the tiny house community and seeing what the year ahead brings. The need for feasible solutions to our housing challenges is undeniable, and the voices for alternatives grow more numerous and insistent all the time. Someone, somewhere will be the first to achieve a legal, sustainable, itty bitty house community. A tiny house trailer park, if you will. Perhaps 2012 will be our year!
View some new interior photos at a recent Tumbleweed blog post. http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/see-a-tiny-house/see-peppers-house/