Some people make a conscious decision to buck the American standard of living and shoehorn their lives into a tiny home. It didn’t happen to me that way. I ended up building a small home through a series of bizarre circumstances. I started off with a career in Software development at the age of 23. By 26 I had saved some money and I attempted a retirement stunt that went sideways, leaving me penniless. That’s when I began living out of my car and decided that instead of returning to software, I would test my aptitude as a carpenter.
While living out of my car I discovered that I quite liked the sport of compact living. I was in Whistler at the time and although I didn’t own a home, I enjoyed one of the biggest backyards in the world. I even began sleeping outdoors and got a kick out of finding places where no one else had slept before. I called it sport sleeping and it led me to the believe that my home extended far beyond the confines of my car.
That fall I decided to build a treehouse in my spare time. It was meant to be a simple sleeping loft that I could use as a secret camping spot on crown land in the woods. I felt compelled to build something more elegant than the average treehouse so I began consulting a couple of friends who were recent graduates from architecture school. Together we conceived of the egg-shaped treehouse.
Being a fledgeling carpenter, I had no idea about the technical and logistical challenges of trying to build an illicit orb on a steep slope in the woods, with no electrical power. Enthusiasm and naïvety were the two key traits that pulled me through. Within two months, I had finished the skeletal structure and I had my little sleeping loft in the woods. But it wasn’t long until I wanted more.
I couldn’t help but feel that my the egg house would take on a new personality if I could transform it from an al fresco deck into a cozy little home. The only problem was, I had already spent $6500 on the structure and the most expensive part was yet to come. I was no longer living out of my car and I was finding it hard to justify going into debt over a treehouse on crown land, that I technically didn’t own.
The cost of finishing deterred progress for nearly two years until one evening I made a pivotal discovery. While searching the free section of Craigslist-Vancouver for a couch I found bounty of interesting items popping up. People were giving valuable things away for free! The good items were usually gone within moments of coming online, however, I was a little more determined than my competition. Within a couple of months, I filled every nook of our suite, from floor to ceiling, with building materials.
In the meantime, I had also met my soon to be fiancee who was a natural born carpenter, good at visualizing things in three dimensions, and most importantly, not afraid of heights. By the next spring, we were off to a fleet start, packing all the materials I had scavenged over the winter up to the treehouse before the snow gone. At the same time we were also building a house for a German fellow in Whistler so our days consisted of mostly of carpentry. However, it was exciting to be making such fast progress.
Heidi and I worked efficiently together and we could visualize and revise the design of components in our heads before making them come to life. With all the free materials at our fingertips, it was just a matter of putting them together in a creative and coherent way. I spent many evenings thinking about the ergonomics and interior layout of the space. With little more than 100 square feet, plus a sleeping loft, there wasn’t a square inch to waste. However I loved the challenge and I couldn’t wait until we could wait until we were done construction so we could try living in it.
By mid July of 2011, the tree house was complete. Since it was built around a hemlock tree, I called it the HemLoft. It was a small space, but somehow felt grand in its extension into the outdoor world. We had included a plethora of windows including hatches that opened up from the loft, a tall vertical window that nicely framed a neighboring tree only four inches away, and a sliding glass window onto an outdoor covered deck, with a breathtaking cliff-side view over the valley.
That summer we only had a week to live in the treehouse before beginning a cross country trip to Nova Scotia. The stay was short lived, but magical. Although we were living in a small space there was a sense of grandeur in our immediate connection to the outdoors. It was that experience that made me realize that I would much rather have a modest home in a luxurious setting than a luxurious home in a modest setting.
Please visit Joel’s website: http://thehemloft.com/