Jan Sturmann wrote me recently to share a tiny house he has built in the Bay area of Northern California. I’ll let him tell you about it.
Imagine a house that has everything you need, but nothing more. Walls and a roof that shelter, but do not entrap you with false promises and hidden costs. The Dutch have an untranslatable word: gezellig. The Germans have a similar word, gemütlich. It’s a combination of comforting, welcoming, cosy, and inspiring. I built this house in the spirit of those words, to be efficient, practical, and aesthetically nourishing.
The house was created spontaneously, by hand, and using simple tools. Each piece is imbued with the memory of its making and it cost no more than a few months of work. It contains only objects that give tangible pleasure, or are inherently useful: fire, water, food, clothing, a couple books, and a sharp knife.
It provides space to eat, play, read, dream. It’s a refuge, but not a fortress. It lets the outside in and gives imagination flight. Falling asleep under this curved roof evokes memories of our ancestral cave with lines of sight to the rising and setting sun, and a skylight to the stars. This essential shelter leaves nothing wanting.
Foot print: 49 square feet
Usable space: 98 square feet
Cost to build: $5,286
Time to build: Three months
Location: Bay Area
Design wise, probably the most interesting element is the curved rafters. Basically, six foot 2 x 6’s ripped to 1/4 inch then bent, glued and clamped over a plywood jig. Not wanting to loose the look of the rafters, or the extra space between the rafters to insulation, I screwed 2 x 6 T&G over the top of the rafters for the ceiling, then bent two layers of 1inch rigid foam over that, then 3/8 in. ply, then tar paper, and finally asphalt shingles for the roofing. The skylight of course gives a wonderful sense of spaciousness. The two east and west windows are located to let in as much light as possible, whilst still maintaining full privacy in a dense urban environment.
All walls are insulated and have a layer of soundboard beneath the ¼ in. sheetrock, which are plastered using a mixture of clay, sand, and flour paste with a natural dye added.
Originally, the shack was built off-site as separate panels, transported in a U-hall, then assembled on site, with the idea that it could be easily disassembled should I leave. But now with the complexity of the added roof, disassembling is no longer an option. During the remodel I realized that I can hire a crane to pluck the house out and put it onto a trailer to move to a new location. This utterly changed my attitude about the building from it being just another temporary structure that I leave behind (as I have so many in the past) to my permanent own home that I can take with me.
Except for a couple of back-of-the-envelope sketches to think through ideas, I worked without any plans or scale drawings. Working alone, I’m able to engage in a form of dialogue with the building as it grows, with each element growing on the next. I lived in it the whole time I was building the loft and roof and then slept in the loft as I was building the kitchen/living room. By living in it as it grows, design solutions present themselves in a way that designing abstractly with with pen and paper never can. It helps that I have extensive building experience to draw on as I engage in this improvisational construction dance.
Personally, the most rewarding aspect of this was having my 2 ½ year-old-son participate. To engage in this kinesthetic exchange of learning to use tools, construction, balance, and the danger dance.
Thanks Jan for sharing your tiny home with us.