Garage Conversion into Tiny Home

Andrea Lippke from the New York Times writes an article about a Seattle women named Michelle de la Vega who takes on the conversion of a 250 square foot garage into a tiny home after a divorce. To save money she takes on the job as the contractor and with lots of reclaimed materials converts this old garage into a beautiful home.

“At that time I was coming out of the ashes,” she said, “and knew I needed to come up with a good survival strategy for starting over as a single person.”

Read Converting a Seattle Garage Into a Tiny Home at the New York Times website.
Photos: Ira Lippke for The New York Times

Michelle de la Vega, a visual and performance artist, turned her garage into a 250-square-foot house for $32,000.

Ms. de la Vega kept expenses down by serving as the general contractor herself and by furnishing the house with pieces she found in industrial salvage yards, including old lockers from a United Airlines maintenance building that serve as closets.

On the wall in the living area are shadow-boxes that hold paper pillows emblazoned with architectural drawings Ms. de la Vega's father made when she was a child. The metal furniture is all salvaged. "I love the functionality of metal," she said. "It's an extreme and exacting material."

The bathtub was found in a nearby salvage yard and transformed by removing its rusty feet and setting it in a wooden cradle that Ms. de la Vega and her father built together. Industrial latches function as towel hooks.

In the small but efficient kitchen, the industrial sink, ceiling lamp and wooden wine crates are all salvaged items; the metal shelves and countertop are new. A raw-food enthusiast, Ms. de la Vega needs only a blender to prepare food and a camping stove to boil water.

A reclaimed ship's ladder leads up to Ms. de la Vega's sleeping loft.

The slate-floored bathroom was added on to the original garage. It is furnished with a combination of salvaged, fabricated and new fixtures, including a red metal locker and a recessed metal shelf above the sink that Ms. de la Vega recently designed, welded and installed herself.

41 Comments Garage Conversion into Tiny Home

  1. Lucas

    There seems to be a theme with these types of homes: build it and then move in to the larger dwelling on the property. I realize she met someone, etc. but it indicates that the house was too small for her, that one can’t live long term in this arrangement, or that small homes are a mere fad in this busted housing market. It would be nice to see these homes rented out after the user has decided to go back to living in their “real” house, but instead they keep their footprint sequestered in a small dwelling hidden out back. If you live in a big house and have 250 square feet behind your house as living space, guess what? You are still taking up more space! I know, I’m naive to think that this tiny house thing runs on people interested in living this way. I realize it’s just a hobby or escape to justify living in your “real” house. I’m sure her raw diet is just a hobby too. Eating uncooked food will last for a while before the hunger for warmth comes back. People need some balance and workable solutions that incorporate realistic, not extremist, methods. This is a great little house and I was thinking that Tinyhouseblog should cover it while I was reading the NYT article. Earthday is every day folks, let’s make sure we can roll for the long haul before we commit to something too far-fetched. Once again, I’ve expired my time on this box of soap and need to step down and let someone else have a go. Good day.

    Reply
    1. momo

      Dude YOU ARE NEGATIVE! stop acting like your s&@t doesn’t stink and allow people to live their lives how they want too – rather than jumping to your ridiculous judgmental assumptions….

      Reply
        1. Ria

          I’d say Lucas is making sweeping assumptions about an awful lot of things he probably knows very little about first hand. That is an assumption. See how it works? I love the house. Way to go! Great ideas.

          Reply
  2. Valden

    Lucas, speaking as someone who’s been a raw-foodie for five years, I doubt her raw diet is just a hobby. It’s also not extreme at all.

    As for more space, it’s obvious she’s not longer living with her now ex-husband. So she’s not taking up anymore room, considering it’s only 250 square feet.

    Reply
  3. Chrystal Ocean

    Have often wished that local homeowners would convert their garages, including the single-car ones, into living spaces. I’d rent one in a heartbeat. One hundred square feet is ample for me.

    BTW, I too am a raw foodie – raw VEGAN foodie to boot! And, Lucas, warming one’s raw food is perfectly in keeping with that diet and works well for those cold winter nights.

    Reply
  4. LeeAnn Balbirona

    Lucas, you misunderstood. After the homeowner finished her garage conversion and lived there a short while she remarried and moved into the big house. So the tiny house-garage is not her primary residence, more of a back yard retreat.

    Reply
  5. Lucas

    Sorry to step on toes, I knew my comments were a lightning rod, but I stand by them. I would define extreme as anything that isn’t observed by a healthy majority. For example, I follow a vegetarian diet 95% of the time or more. 3.2% of America define themselves as vegetarian, what I would also label extreme. Vegans are estimated at .5% and I couldn’t find numbers for raw, but I would guess it to be considerably less than .5%. If that offends you, again I’m sorry, but the raw numbers are pretty objective there. Did I say it was wrong? Of course not, I think everybody should try a mix of every diet some of the time. (i.e. vegan, raw, vegetarian, pescatarian, et al) But standing by some rigid standard just leads to frustration and ultimately failure, for many who try it. If you have the fortitude to “tough” it out, great. But again, I say the majority don’t and that’s where we have to find some moderation of consumption in food, housing, financial resources, etc. Food and housing are hugely political and are used as leverage points for control over our minds, finances, and political will. Wise use of our land for housing and food will teach us a valuable lesson. It’s our choice whether it comes the hard way or not.

    Reply
    1. Nathaniel

      Your straw man argument is exceedingly weak. It’s cute though: step1) throw out some nonchalant atitude directed at hurting people’s feling and shaking up their conventions.. Step 2) use large words to make yourself feel better and to confound some people that don’t care to read through your verbose manner. Step 3) when someone calls you out for being a typical internet troll you backpedal and sidestep and don’t stand your ground as a jerk. Step 4) (pay attention) you spin another argument that is similar to the original but with enough bulk that it sounds similar… And in this NEW argument it’s easier for you to win as it is not the original argument which you have no legs for.

      Reply
    2. James

      Are we just talking about a living space or political agendas about what people eat. If you don’t like a small house then don’t live in it. There are actually a lot of studio apartments that small. It’s not weird or strange to live in a place like that. It’s just a choice. We all should have a choice to live how we want.

      Reply
  6. Valden

    Lucas, I’m sure you realize the majority of American’s are not at all very healthy when it comes to food. So the 3.2% would be closer to be the “healthy majority”
    No one is offended. It’s just not extreme. The Raw Food diet is also not very rigid. I’d say those that fail are simply lazy, as it’s very easy to do it. I’d also say that the only reason not many are Raw Foodies is not because it’s “extreme” and “rigid” but because many don’t know about it, or don’t understand it and are just used to what they’ve been eating for their entire lives. For some, change is scary and hard.

    Reply
    1. Tammy Bridenbeck

      The raw food lifestyle is NOT hard to do. I hear people all the time say they WISH they could do it. WISH?

      Reply
  7. Alex

    This is a beautiful conversion. It’s incredible that simple conversion like this still costs over $30,000. I guess it always looks simpler than it really is.

    Reply
    1. rich

      Tx for bringing this conversation back to the subject of this garage conversion. I agree that it is simple and beautiful; it’s not cheap to build anything using quality materials unless you’re willing to put a lot of sweat equity into it and spend full-time searching curbs and craigs list etc. for other’s waste products.
      I agree with those who have commented pro/con about the unfortunate presentation by the NYTimes and most of the American press re: these great little residences when many or most are second homes or garden shacks for people to get away from their families. Some people are desperate for a place to live having lost their dream houses but they’d go back to them and their large cars and….. well, you get the point, as soon as this little financial crisis blows over. I think it’s here for a long time and the sooner people begin to change their thinking and live more sustainable lives happily, the better. Consider living in an existing bungalow on the near fringes of most cities. They’re not tiny, (probably < 1500sf) and does it really stunt children's growth to share a bedroom or one bathroom? We are really spoiled folks.
      I hope that the owner of this garage rents it to someone in her former circumstance. Hey at least it's not storing a car or stuff that doessn't fit in the house anymore. Tx for reading. Rich

      Reply
      1. Lynne

        As a 55-year-old woman who has never in her life had a room to herself, has raised and homeschooled four kids, taught piano and worked as an accompanist (needing a ‘regular’ piano, not a keyboard), harvested and preserved much of our food for over thirty years, and does homecrafts for fun and relaxation, as well as to augment our income – all in less than 1200 sq. ft. – I don’t believe I should feel guilty for enjoying to the fullest the little 196 sq. ft. cottage my husband is building for me. It will contain all my crafting supplies in one place, will have a hidden bed for our oldest son when he’s here for a visit (he already ‘camped out’ in it for two weeks recently), and is far enough away from the ‘big’ house to feel like the getaway I sometimes need. It will be used every day, no doubt about that.

        Also, we’re building it using as much reclaimed materials as we can, and with the idea that we may someday either live in it ourselves, or rent it out.

        Reply
  8. -billS

    the problem with renting is local codes often restrict such things. you would have to check your local zoning ordinance to make sure. if you do turn it into a rental there are tax and safety liabilities especially if in a city. (you could probably get away with this in the country) many areas require fire suppression and if that detached garage is converted to living space, it will most likely be taxed as living space. then can it be insured as living space, does it meet the parking requirements, so many things to consider. I do agree with Lucas, many of these backyard getaways are just that, a grow-up clubhouse. And building one in the backyard of your 2500+ square foot house is not reducing your footprint by any means. Oh,and I like steak!

    Reply
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  10. Davidrc

    Am I the only one idly wondering why a New York paper would do a story on someone in Washington? Glad to see folks getting back on subject in comments as well. It IS a nice workover on the former garage, good job.

    Reply
  11. mdlv

    Hi folks, what a lively discussion.
    I’ll answer a few misconceptions. The main house is only 850 square feet (not 2500+ as someone here said). So me, my husband and 13 year old step daughter only occupy an 1,100 sq. ft. footprint. I think we would be a little uncomfortable trying to squeeze into the 250 sq. ft. house alone. The other thing is that I DO live in the mini house every day. All of my clothes are in it, my personal bathroom and all my bathroom things are in it. My juicer is in it, which I use every day, much of my food etc. In fact I’m in it as we speak, and my husband is sleeping away up in the loft (I’m the early riser). We sleep in here quite a bit. In many ways it is “my” space and my “retreat” but it is extremely well used and lived in – daily, weekly, yearly. My home is my retreat from the goings on of the world. It is my sanctuary, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t lived in. Quite the contrary.
    As for raw food, whether or not it is extreme is an individual matter. I used to be a professional dancer, and 10 years ago I was in Ecuador on tour. I picked up a parasite and was never the same after that. It started a strange inflammatory response in my body that no doctors could figure out. I went on a search for healing that lasted an excruciating 5 years. I ended up having to leave my dance career and it was a dark period. My body was freaking out. I saw just about every kind of doctor there is, from the shaman to the traditional rheumatology expert and everyone in between. Finally I stopped all that craziness. About a month later I randomly decided to do a juice fast and began reading about the raw food diet. It quite literally gave me my life back. So the only extreme thing about it for me is my extreme gratitude for happening to find something that really worked for me and restored my life. Is it challenging sometimes? Yes, but what in this world is worth doing that isn’t? And it’s quite a bit more challenging to be sick in my experience.
    Anyway, thanks for reading my story in the NYT and for discussing it.
    Cheers!
    Michelle

    Reply
  12. Benjamin

    Very crafty and artistic. I like it a lot.

    I don’t think my tender feet could take going up and down that ladder though, and I’d hate to have to put on shoes in the middle of the night just to go to the bathroom.

    Reply
  13. alice

    I love the metal and wood framing at the loft, gives me ideas and hope for creative woodworking that doesn’t involve complicated joinery but still looks good.

    Reply
  14. Mark Kerrigan

    This is so cool, especially for Seattle. I actually live very close to Top Hat, and one thing I can say, Michelle is very lucky to live there. It’s a convenient place to live, close to downtown, but with a suburb feel, and recently, some of the area just became the city of Burien, but most of Top Hat is still unincorporated. She’s also lucky because she is not really in the city of Seattle, and I do know the zoning codes are very specific on these types of dwellings, casually referred to as a mother in law apartment. That said, I think this idea of buying a piece of property, remodeling the garage, and then renting is an economically savy way to get into real estate, as long as you can find renters. I would love to have a set up like this for my tiny house.

    Top Hat is an interesting neighborhood. She’s right, it’s a extremely diverse neighborhood, with many, many, nationalities living there, so there’s a large demand for affordable rentals, and many low income people. There is a tremendous amount of low income housing in the area, and one particular project that’s interesting is the High Point development and the replacement of Park Lake homes. These project are new mixed housing developments with houses for both for low-income and high income people. The High Point neighborhood is one of these completed projects, with low-income homes available, but also more expensive property, the idea is to mix people of different socioeconomic backgrounds together, as if this will be good for the neighborhood. According to the developers…

    She’s rather lucky to live in Top Hat, because the lot sizes are somewhat on the large side compared to the rest of Seattle, although there are few sidewalks. The garages tend to run larger in Top Hat, as compared to most Seattle homes, where most garages are little more than a concrete shell meant to protect the car or no garages at all and parking is all on street

    But less I digress. The use of reclaimed materials, especially from the industrial areas is just plain cool. I would love an opportunity to view the property.

    Reply
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  16. Miranda Vallejos

    What a gorgeous home. This give me loads of great ideas for the tiny two-room cottage I have just bought. Is there any chance of seeing a Floor Plan, to see exactly how everything fits in?

    Reply
  17. di

    An existing garage offers a perfect shell. It’s close to existing electrical and plumbing. It would also be great for a newly married couple – cheap rent would help pay bills at both houses. As we age, it’s always great to have family nearby.

    Glad to see some new ideas!

    – A bowl rather than a set of dishes. Look at the space it saves.
    – No dining area or dining room set.
    – No kitchen cupboards.
    – Pull-out boxes rather than kitchen drawers.
    – Stacked boxes rather than kitchen shelving.
    – A daybed, with an underbed storage area, rather than a couch.
    – A box or basket rather than a bureau.
    – Recycled lockers rather than closets.
    – A towel hook rather than a towel rack.
    – A recessed bathroom cupboard rather than a medicine chest.
    – Unframed interior windows and handy, deep window sills.
    – Window placement that provides privacy and daylight – without curtains.
    – An outdoor sitting area without a porch or deck.
    – Two entry doors make it easy to bring in a wheelbarrow of wood.
    – I love a home that looks out onto a peaceful backyard!

    Recycling is definitely the way to go! What’s that expression – IT’S ALL AT THE DUMP! There have been many times where we would be wishing for something, and within a month or so, it would appear at the dump. I love making something new again…

    Actually, Natural Hygienists prescribe a blended, raw vegetable diet. It retains more enzymes and vitamins, lessens the amount of energy needed to digest – thus having more energy to heal. Check out their websites – very interesting reads about health!

    As a society, we really need to be more open-minded – to change our concepts and behaviors – if we wish to live healthier lives on a healthier planet. Try it – you may like it…

    Reply
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  20. deborah

    This is lovely! I think more people would do this with their garages #1 if it were not so expensive to accomplish and #2 if zoning laws were not so ridiculous.

    Reply
  21. Sandy

    Nate. Stop picking on Lucas. Both of you go out and do something constructive that helps others not fortunate to have the choices you both obviouly do. Enough already.

    Reply
  22. Shayne76

    The space is beautiful, the beams, ladder, stainless, and tub are all great accents to simple architecture that has feel of an old ship. I love it. I think that anyone who says the space isn’t livable is just trying to justify their own inabilities. just my opinion. extreme? not at all. the only slightly negative thing i will say is about the 30k. its crazy-town. I am assuming it was all done by contractors, so that IS what i would expect…. but it is expensive since the structure was existing. I am a huge fan. ps I love steak.

    Reply
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