Ocean Cliffside Tiny House

bird house from patio

by Francis E.L. Watson

Twenty-five years ago I purchased an ocean cliffside lot in a sleepy little pacific coast Mexican fishing village. The Idea was to slooooowly build the way the village locals do – as you can afford it! A couple of years went by and I married a tropical woman. We decided to design and build a little tiny house on it. The first decade or so was spent slowly building a series of retaining rockwall terraces on the very steep hillside.

We began construction of The Bird House in 2000, and, finished the first incarnation 7 years later. It is built 70 meters above the ocean beach, straight up! In the photo the place looks huge, but in reality the main structure is only 5m x 6m and a 7.5m inside roof peak. Concrete, brick, stone and palma royal thatched roof construction. It is a ‘breathing’ house using two towers that act like morning and evening wind chimneys. No doors in the passageways, no glass or screen in the windows, only heat absorbing archways that bring in the outside without the tropical heat.

Off the electrical grid with multiple grey water fields that irraigate fruit orchards. Typhoon/storm bunker built into sw middle corner below outside living room. The place is set up for our annual journey south in our vintage motorhome, The Big Fish’. And that’s another story!

bird house

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Bob Bernstein - November 28, 2012 Reply

I’d like to here more about the morning and evening wind towers. My guess it they are east and west of the house, and use the intense horizontal sunlight of early morning and late afternoon to warm the concrete and create a chimney effect. Can you elaborate on their effectiveness?

    fran kohler - December 1, 2012 Reply

    hello bob,

    thanks for the kind words. yep, the towers are situated east and west of the house. the east tower stands about 10 meters off the main house level. solar panels and a 750 liter tank sit on a flat roof. the water tank is a dedicated gravity fed hot water storage. the middle floor has large open arch windows that allow the morning sun to heat a black 1200 liter tank and propane back up hot water system. the bathroom/shower is located on the first floor and is ported on the east and south wall with opening to the main house to the west. access to upper levels is via a 20″x20″ ceiling opening which serves as the wind chimney. the structure is made of concrete and clay brick. all vertical columns are oversize concrete for passive heat storage. by about 11 am on a typical day when the outside temp is around 90deg the wind updraft is strong enough to suck a small piece of toilet paper out access hole.

    the shorter tower on the west side is essentially the same with the addition of a pantry built into the chimney shaft opening to the kitchen, and my tiny office occupies the middle floor. the roof is an observation/solar panel platform.

    the main structure between the two towers is also made of concrete and clay brick, again, with oversize vertical columns designed to absorb solar radiant heat and slowly disperse it in the evening. if it is 95 outside it is a cool 75 inside.

    location is important in the functioning of the door and glass less archways. the house main entry is via a double brick archway set in pentadesic columns at a 45 deg. angle to main floor an is orientated to catch the setting sun on dec 21. only 4 meters from a parabolic cliff face we benefit from near constant ocean breeze. during slow air times we burn sweet dried coconut husks in outdoor brazers for any necessary insect control.

    of course, during the monsoon season it is HOT AND MUGGY. then, tall thatch roofs and lots of overhead fans make life comfortable.

    thanks for your interest.

      Maxwell - May 20, 2014 Reply

      What a beautiful home Fran!
      I’m casting for an upcoming Travel Channel series about expats living on the beach. Would you consider appearing on an episode we’re filming in Mexico and Central America this summer?
      Please email me at maxwellb@sharpentertainment if interested and I can send you more information.

MJ - November 29, 2012 Reply

I notice no shutters? I live in the Caribbean and understand the building process! But I wonder about storms, bugs, etc. I know you mentioned lots of retaining walls, but also wondered about erosion (which brings me back to storms!). Would love to see interior shots, it looks wonderful.

Heath - November 29, 2012 Reply

It looks like good style.
I like it but would like to see more pictures please. Some interior and more exterior.
Well done!

Georgia - November 29, 2012 Reply

What an incredible piece of property! I would also like to see and hear more, especially the wind-tunnels and other ideas you picked up from local construction. How do you deal with insects when there are no screens?

Christine - November 30, 2012 Reply

I also am wondering about bugs as you have no screens.
It must be wonderful to live that close to the ocean , you are very fortunate
Thanks for sharing

E - December 1, 2012 Reply

That is one of the ugliest houses I have ever seen

    fran kohler - December 1, 2012 Reply

    to each his own. i will mention your remarks with my pals whilst we are enjoying christmas on the solar deck, our hands filled with tiny umbrellas floating in cocktails, our lungs filled with fresh tropical sea air, our clothes light and comfortable in the 85 degree weather, migrating pellicans filling the coastal breezes, our children laughing at iguanas and caring for nothing more than a tasty meal at sunset. all on 10 bux a day.

      Luci - December 2, 2012 Reply


      Danielle Hogan - December 12, 2012 Reply

      What a classy & very funny retort Fran! (hee hee) I don’t think they’re seeing the same house that everyone else is seeing….if they were, they couldn’t say that it’s anything but beautiful, adorable, innovative, etc etc etc (I have alot more adjectives but I think you get the idea). The person who wrote that comment is, much like anyone/everyone who goes on any site & posts negative & unnecessary comments, envious or just a very negative, bitter person who can’t stand to see or hear about anyone else’s happiness or good fortune. I absolutely LOVE your house & would love it if you would post or send me some interior pics of it. I saw it a few days ago & have thought about it (& this person’s negative comment) ever since, so I had to come back & write this to you. I know it’s a bit long winded, but I needed to say it. I would also like as much info as you can give/send about the construction of the home (if possible; if not, the photos would be more than enough). Thank you again, so very much, for sharing your beautiful home with us, you didn’t have to do so & I for one am honored to have been privileged enough to have seen it. God Bless & I wish you & yours a very Merry Christmas & the most Abundant New Year ever!

      Danielle Hogan

    MsDawn - December 2, 2012 Reply

    We must NOT be looking at the same house. I think it is very cute!

simon - December 2, 2012 Reply

I would love to hear and see more about your idyllic home. I have to admit that the snapshots of your lifestyle are every bit as appealing as those of your house. Both sound like they are perfectly tailored to enjoy the best of where you’ve chosen to live. Well done!

Georgina - December 2, 2012 Reply

“E” must be envious that is the only explanation for the rudeness. It looks like a beautiful place to be

Patty - December 3, 2012 Reply

Wow, that’s gorgeous. Those chimneys are brilliant. As a Floridian, I am always on the lookout for solutions to the hot-and-muggy problem. And I’m curious about the thatch, too. Did you have to treat it with something to keep it from acquiring, um, room-and-boarders? How often do you need to replace it?

Thanks for sharing your house and your story!

    fran kohler - December 6, 2012 Reply


    Thanks for your interest! The thatch roof is a mixed blessing – it does keep things cool and comfortable but it does require maintaince. As far as bugs go, well, when the roof is first constructed it is a good idea to spray the inside with a good quality varnish (which will also make it last longer) and we have found that burning a couple of sweet dried coconut husks inside the house in a brazer) does a great job of keeping the bulk of bugs outside. The biggest help though is just keep the air circulating – a couple of fans when the breezes die down is just the thing.

Rachel - December 3, 2012 Reply

That is amazing. Having seen some of the evolution over the years I have to say I am beyond impressed. The house is absolutely stunning.

Anna - December 23, 2012 Reply

Oh! I second all the “it’s wonderful” comments! Can you say what basic area of the Mexican Pacific coast you’re in? (Not trying to stalk, I just love Mexico and am always curious where other’s favorite places are.) I also second/third/fourth the request for more photos.

In the snowy Oregon Cascades dreaming of Mexico…

Cassy - December 23, 2012 Reply

I love what you have done. I hope you have many peaceful evenings and glorious mornings. Thanks for being an inspiration for an aspiring future tiny home owner. Much love and happiness to you and your family.

Debbie McKinny - July 25, 2013 Reply

The view from that house is amazing. It looks so cozy. The only thing I would worry about is earthquakes.

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