Diana’s Innermost House

Diana’s Innermost House


Guest Post by Diana Lorence

*New photos added below of loft, kitchen and bathroom

This is Innermost House, my home in the coastal mountains of Northern California. It is the latest of many very small houses my husband and I have occupied over twenty-five years, all for the same reason–to make possible a simple life of reflection and conversation. I am delighted now to be a part of Kent’s public conversation with others who share my love of tiny houses, and I’m grateful to Michael Janzen of Tiny House Design for introducing us.


Innermost House is about twelve-feet square. It faces directly south beneath an open porch that shelters our front door. A hill rises to the north behind us and the forest lies all around. The house encloses five distinct rooms: to the east is a living room eleven feet deep by seven feet wide by twelve feet high; to the west the house is divided into kitchen, study, and bathroom, each approximately five feet wide by three feet deep, with a sleeping loft above the three of them, accessible by a wooden ladder we store against the wall.

The living room is the heart of the house. It is where my husband and I spend most of our time, and where we receive our guests. On the east wall of the room is a small fireplace set a foot above the floor, with a hearth extension of bricks projecting a foot and a half into the room. On the west side is a wall of books four feet wide and seven feet tall. Between these walls of hearth and books, our two low chairs sit facing each other a couple of feet apart. Everything about the space is conceived to make a harmony of conversation possible.

I know that sounds strange in a world where conversation seems to go on all the time every day. But pause for a moment and try to remember the single most moving and meaningful conversation you ever had. Perhaps it was with your mother or father in days long past, or with your husband or wife when you were first in love. Perhaps it was when you said goodbye to someone for the very last time.

Now, how would you design, build and furnish a place so that those conversations could happen every day? That is the question we asked of every detail of Innermost House, and we are still asking it.

The fireplace is where our conversation begins, just as it began a million years ago when human language and domesticated fire were born together. The fireplace is the original tiny house. After all, what is a cave or a tipi or a wigwam but a big, enclosing fireplace? The fire is our link with the wild. Gazing into the fire seems to release our dream life into words.

The books complete the circle of conversation on the other side. They are our link with the world. All of our books have been carefully chosen over the years as contributing something essential to the Innermost Life. It is strange that it was not until I saw them all together, illuminated by the fire at Innermost House, that I realized nearly every one was first written by firelight. In some way they represent the last light cast from that first fire at the mouth of a cave.

We do not have electricity or power of other kind, so we warm the cabin and cook our food and heat our water for bathing all over the fire. Our firewood comes of local orchard prunings that would otherwise be burned as waste in the field. In the summer we cook over coals and wash with cold water. We light our home with beeswax candles. After examining all the options, we installed a conventional septic system, though we use very little water.

The house is of mixed post and beam and stick construction. Our floor is of yellow pine tongue & grove planks, our ceiling of fir planks and rafters and beams. Our interior walls are of plain white lime plaster applied by hand over blue board. The exterior walls are clad in rough-sawn redwood board and batten. The roof is of cedar shakes. Both the redwood and the cedar are naturally resistant to rot, fire, and insects–all important considerations in the woods. The house is constructed of natural, simple materials, with a lot of care taken to render them neat and plain.

Real wood, real plaster. The real things really do make a difference, at whatever sacrifice they must be had. It’s worth waiting and saving for if you can.

The building project required the better part of a year for two men working part time. A good deal of that time was spent in familiarizing ourselves with the traditional building language of the region. We would have built a rather different house in New Mexico or Massachusetts or Virginia. My husband always limits himself to the vernacular of a region so that, as he says, nature can have a hand in the building.

This kind of life has been made possible for us by living in partnerships of one kind or another over the years, often in guest houses. We have moved many times, and have never owned a home. My husband is a private confidant and friend to people in public positions. Men come to him for the special kind of conversation he makes possible. Innermost House was built for us on the land of such a partner and friend. Many local building ordinances allow for small guesthouses.

I have loved our small houses, and I love Innermost House most of all. There are many reasons for wanting to live in a tiny house. A simple life of high conversation is my reason. I could not live any other way. Visit another post by Diana here.

Diana Lorence is an inspirational speaker on the pleasures of the Simple Life. Innermost House was designed by Diana’s husband, Michael Anthony Lorence. More photographs of Innermost House and stories of Diana’s life in the woods may be seen by visiting her website www.wordsfromthewoods.com.


    • Dear Chris,

      That is so kind of you to say.

      Your namesake in the architectural world wrote a book thirty years ago called The Timeless Way of Building. In it he seeks for a word to describe what has been lost to the modern built environment, and the word he chooses is “aliveness.”

      That is the difference, and what a difference it makes.


  1. Diana, You have been so gracious to share so much of your time with us. We must have drawn you out of your quiet world for quite a while to answer so many of us personally.
    I assume you have to leave the woods and go some where to access the internet and write to us. That makes me feel a little guilty. In a way we are disturbing the very thing we admire.
    I love your web sight, I have recommended it to many people. It is enough that you do what you do and allow us to be aware of it. thank you again.
    Liz from west Virginia.

    • Dear Liz,

      Being in the world is different when you know you have an Innermost Life at home. When I go out I take my woods with me now.

      You are so good to concern yourself for me, and I am very grateful to you. But it really is my pleasure.


  2. Oh, this is one of those inspiring moments that makes my life seem foolishly complicated and expensive. This is radically simple, yet expertly and artfully executed. Now, what shall I do with this?

  3. Diana –
    I ADORE your home and am in awe of your lifestyle. I have daydreamed often about living so simply without electricity.

    Could you be so kind as to answer how you accomplish some modern-day tasks?

    1) How do you do laundry? Is it a daily or weekly event?

    2) How do you maintain a website and answer emails?

    3) You mentioned a diet primarily of fruit, vegetables and cheese – with some nuts and grains. And that you cook in only one pot on the hearth. Do you eat any meat? Does your stew recipe vary other than by the variety of the vegetables? What grains do you eat and how do you cook them? Porridge?

    4) Do you each maintain cell phones?

    Thanks so much!

    • Dear Cheryl,

      You are nice to ask. These are the kind of practical solutions we have worked out over time:

      1) We use a local fluff-and-fold service.

      2) Since I began speaking last year we had to get an automobile, and now I have taken a little writing office nearby.

      3) Like Siddhartha we eat whatever is served to us away from home. Our stew and salad vegetables vary with the season, as you say. I use a variety of small grains and baby legumes because they cook quickly.

      4) We have a cellphone we use for business when we are out.

      You are very welcome!


  4. Diana,

    What a treat to see your beautiful home. It is like the two of you pristine, elegant, excellent, uber simple and totally unique. You belong to our earliest times and bring all the history with you to the present and you make sense of it all.

    Wish to see you again soon. A conversation is wanted.

    • Dear Kathy,

      Yes we share a history together, you and your husband, Michael and I. Innermost House is our link between the days.

      It would be lovely to see you again and resume our beautiful conversation. I am so glad you wrote.


  5. Diana,
    For those of us who have always been drawn to living simply and in a minimally obtrusive way, you have thought through every detail and made every square foot work for you. Your house in an inspiration to me and I thank you for sharing.

  6. […] crème de la crème of food blogs. An online magazine to inspire your parlor decor. A tiny house to live in, until you make your millions and turn it into the guest house. Links Riley on 11 March 2011 View Comments blog comments powered by Disqus […]

  7. Diana you are the NEW HERO of the simple living movement! Can’t wait to see and hear more from you soon…

  8. This is one of the most beautiful houses I’ve ever seen- of any size. Thank you for sharing with us.

  9. […] What’s wonderful about these tiny houses is that they appear to be small and unforgiving but, when you step inside, they’re surprisingly spacious and they often include all the necessities. This is the Innermost House, a 12 sq ft structure in Northern California. It has an open porch and five separate rooms: a kitchen, a study, a bathroom and a the sleeping areas above, accessible via a ladder stored against the wall.{found on tinyhouseblog}. […]

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