Zyl’s Little Bird Vardo

by Kent Griswold on September 26th, 2013. 60 Comments
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Abel Zyl of Zyl’s Vardos sent me some photos and information on his latest build. A tiny house called the Little Bird which resides in Portland, Oregon. I hope to visit it in October as my daughter is a good friend of the owner, so expect another update then. In the meantime, here are some of the details and some great photos.

Able says: I can’t quite believe how beautiful of a little ‘pocket’ in the city this house has become. Credit to the owner for all the surrounding elements.

little bird in Portland

This house is 22 feet long by 8 feet wide. It has a cedar exterior, copper roof (fabricated by Abel from sheet copper), and handmade windows all around. The stained glass windows are restored and set in frames Abel built. It has wood heat, on demand hot water & shower, and a composting type toilet. The owner uses an electric cook top, which she stows away (that is why you do not see it in the photos.)

bed and storage

The Little Bird house cost around $50,000. It was constructed in five months and no plans are available. This is a client design with Abel’s engineering. Abel builds both clients’ designs and he builds his own designs.

As for Zyl Vardos: Abel is booked thru the next year or so, but happily accepting future builds (just not anything run-of-the-mill).

Abel Zyl
Zyl Vardos, Olympia WA

wood stove



french door detail

red french doors

bedroom window


60 Responses to “Zyl’s Little Bird Vardo”

  1. […] 6 mins ago / admin By Kent Griswold […]

  2. Bertha House says:

    Isn’t there a fire concern with the woodstove so close to the wood closet? Otherwise, it’s very unique and beautiful.

    • This stove is installed to current NFPA code! It is a low BTU Jotul, with rear and bottom sheilds, and double wall connectors all around… no problem!

      Jotul makes an excellent stove, by the way.

      • Pardon, but besides NFPA, the stove also meets current residential code for clearances. Maybe the picture foreshortens it.

        Modern design and materials provide for MUCH better clearances than ‘old school’ woodstoves and connectors, which had a ‘bucket’ requirement of 24′ (or more) clearance from all flammable materials.

        If I placed wall shielding, I could reduce all by 2″. Seeing as how it added 1″ itself, it wasn’t worth the trouble.

  3. jimm says:

    The stove is my concern as well. Seems awful close to the wood walls not to have shielding.

  4. Mopsa says:

    How beautiful. Love it!

  5. Steph says:

    So luxurious! I love it.

  6. Rachael says:

    This is really beautifully done, but it appears really expensive per square foot. Not sure I could justify the cost for such a small abode.

  7. Gail M says:

    Simply gorgeous! The only thing it needs is some fire protection around the woodstove. Very sweet little home!

  8. JohnBoston says:

    Is that shower heater…..Great design, no leaks, no mold

  9. gmh says:


    It looks open and airy while being cozy and inviting!

  10. Irene says:

    It’s beautiful.

  11. Curious why tiny house builders are stuck on the 8′ width limitation. I live in an Airstream that is 8′-6″ and the additional space makes all the difference. Transport on the highway could not be the reason as that was relaxed to accommodate shipping containers.

  12. Wendy Bailey says:

    My concern is also the woodstove. It seems like it needs some protection on the walls surrounding- at least that is code in California. Other than that it is just fabulous. The cabinetry and design elements (the chandelier over the beautiful sink) are stunning. Great job!

  13. Maria Hars says:

    It’s darling. I love the eyebrows and coziness of the abode-inside and out. This small home has many architectural details and features-that’s what drives up the cost. Regarding the square foot price it seems fair. We just did a 15×13 sunroom remodel in Massachusetts and it cost close to $70,000.

  14. Valerie says:

    Very lovely workmanship and artistic flair. Having lived in small quarters(not this small) with a woodstove, I agree with the comments regarding the clearance of the stove etc. One would be burning very small fires however, or else be ‘cooked out’ of that small a space. Also this would be too costly for the average person. A portable home can be built on a used travel trailer bed for a mere fraction of that cost.

    • I can build for a fraction of this cost, but it wouldn’t have these accoutrements. I have also built on travel trailer frames… and they typically require improvement to be suitable for building. The ‘improving’ usually makes them cost as much as a new frame. There are a few exceptions to this…

  15. Cedar says:

    Beautiful place and I think reasonably priced for our area and with all the lovely detail.

  16. Peggy says:

    If the stove is gas electric or propane fired, clearances isn’t as much of an issue, but if that’s a wood burner most states require fire retardant walls and differing clearance space.

  17. This is a truly stunning little home, I envy the person that gets to live in such a beautiful work of art!

  18. Very nice and have to agree that the cost seems a bit steep but, it is a beautiful design. Yes the stove seems an issue that could be easily fixed. On the bathroom, love the shower and my question, what sort of toilet is that?

  19. I’m always blown away by the beauty & ingenuity of these tiny homes. This one is one of the best.

  20. connie says:

    How sweet! On my wish list.

  21. Birdie Falk says:

    It is absolutely beautiful…So much care in all the woodwork…That copper roof is just stunning.
    And I agree with the other commenter……The French doors and all the windows make it airy but also very cozy… I want a little bird house just like this..someday :)

  22. This is a beautiful artisan-crafted home. It is one-of-a-kind and I’ll wager its value will increase over time due to the craftsmanship. As for the concerns about the stove, installation of shielding should do the trick.

  23. Swabbie Robbie says:

    I am always pleased to see Zyl’s designs. I love to see tiny houses that aren’t the same pointy roofed designs copied by a number of builders from the early Tumbleweed designs. There are so many configuration possibilities to play with.


  24. deborah says:

    Beautiful, but obviously these are “play toys” for the wealthy at these prices.

  25. Let’s see…$50,000…For that I should be able to get two 400 sq.ft. Park Models with a bath and a half in each….Not that I don’t love the look but really. These type of structures are for people with more money than good sense.

  26. Athena says:

    A different question: Why does everyone I’ve seen (in the pictures ) put the tiny stoves so low? Why not put them higher up, like over a storage for the wood;so you’d be operating the stove doors at about waist level?
    (Of course, add some sheathing behind it.)
    Any comments?

    • This stove is on a short riser. If you place the stove too high, you run into overhead clearance problems, and I wanted to keep this installation to code (and make it safe).

      Some very small marine type stoves can be put up high, because their heat output is so small. I, however, prefer rated stoves like this Jotul for their efficiency, safety, and clean burn. Marine stoves are often pretty inefficient.

  27. Nancy says:

    I visited Abel while this house was under construction. It is worth every penny of the cost and more. This is a completely custom, hand crafted house, not your average cookie cutter structure. The roof is cooper, the windows and doors (and there are a lot of them) all handmade. Did you notice all the drawers? Again, all hand made. This kind of quality is well worth the money.
    Beautifully done.

  28. Joseph says:

    Bill, for some beauty is good sense and less really is more. Park Models are nice, but they really have an air – some might say a stench – of pre-fab about them.

  29. jlbraun says:

    Use of a non-NSF-certified composting toilet is illegal in Oregon.

  30. ET says:

    It’s beautiful. Quality over quantity.

    The landscaping also looks beautiful. Obviously the owner cares about beauty and pays attention to detail.

  31. D. Vande says:

    My husband built over 3,000 square ft house for just under $40,000. That was in 1988 but still this is a little pricey. I think you could do the whole thing for a lot less with a little creative shopping.

  32. Sandy says:

    I guess I should not be surprised by the uninformed remarks of some people but as a seasoned designer it never ceases to amaze me how little people know about construction and how readily they are willing to criticize. This little gem of a tiny home has a great deal of “custom” elements and upgraded features, which are highly labor and “skill” intensive. This is not your run of the mill amateur builder job after a three day workshop at Tumbleweed, which is no reflection on the DIY tiny house build. The price tag is an honest reflection of the extra details and level of difficulty in this build. The woodstove IS code according to the needs of a modern and improved model of woodstove. I say, “job well done and thanks for sharing.”. It was a pleasure to see such craftsmanship.

  33. Valerie Goodness says:

    Usdi Tsiskwa means little bird in Tsalagi, which is my Native name. I love this Usdi Tsiskwa house. When I graduate and come back home to the PNW, I hope maybe this place will be available. In peace and beauty…

  34. Bearded Joe says:

    Very beautiful detail but $50K/176 = $284/sq ft illustrates that beauty costs. There should be a less expensive way to achieve artistic creativity with lower cost, such as recycling.

  35. Minty says:

    magnificence at a great price

  36. John says:

    As a career carpenter, I can both professionally and personally deeply admire the house. I really love the curved gables, and the eyebrow gable and window over the door. Simplistically beautiful!!!

  37. Laird says:

    Nice job abel – as a fellow tiny house builder I admire your work! And I can attest to the true costs of building these little houses – my experience is that $50,000 is very fair. Great work!

  38. Brenda Winters says:

    every eloquent but too expensive for the size. no sitting area, no table space to eat from, no refrigerator space,

  39. Brenda Winters says:

    also no A/C availibilty space

    • People in the Pacific Northwest rarely need A/C.

      I DO acknowledge its desirability in other parts of the country…. and a small ‘split’ type unit could be really nice for a house this size, with a minimal interior presence.

  40. ET says:

    Brenda, not everyone wants what you want.

    Isn’t that part of the beauty of a diverse house movement? You get what you want and need, I get what I want and need. They might be two very different things.

  41. Katie says:

    Sure, you could recycle a bunch if pallets and scrap wood and make a cheaper one, if that’s what you wanted. This person obviously wanted, and could afford, to live in an Abel Zimmerman custom work of art. I am jealous, and it sounds to me like some of you are too. Nyah

  42. Russ says:

    I live in Olympia and have been a vessel repairman for 35 years and I know custom craftsmanship when I see it and the labor required to achieve it. Compared to marine related costs VS the custom work exhibited in this piece of incredible functional art, I think the price is right in line if not low. VERY nice work Abel.

  43. Jennifer says:

    very nice! enough room for my pets (dog,hamster and hopefully soon..guinea pigs.

  44. D. Whit says:

    The design, carpentry and finish is first class in my opinion.

    Any price can be attributed to what the contractor feels is a fair return on his labor and what the market will pay.

    Side Note: An individual wanted a custom boat dock and boat house and I met with him and reviewed his plans and material lists and when we finally came to the finance details of the project, I asked him what price he felt his finished project should command and he replied with a figure that was ten thousand MORE dollars than what I had in mind. What would you do ?

    Consumers control more costs and prices than most will acknowledge, they are just unwilling to do what is necessary to support their decisions.

    Smaller does not have to be spartan and uninspired.

  45. Toni says:

    Gorgeous craftsmanship. How long does it take you to build one of this design?

  46. Lilly says:

    Beautiful! I feel positively inspired on my own building project just looking at this. Abel, do you do anything special to the antique windows to insulate them?

    • No, leaded glass windows don’t work well with extra panes of glass on either side of them (much condensation occurs because the leaded glass is permeable). Just cover with drapes at night if extra insulation is needed. The woodstove more than makes up for the couple leaded glass windows around the place. So easy to heat with just a tiny bit of fuel.

  47. Carolyn Waedlich says:

    Beautiful! I love all the wood and metal. How do you reach the shelf over the sink?

  48. Bunny says:

    I love everything Abel does. My son is a cabinet builder so I understand the difference between a craftsman and someone building to just make money. This is a beautiful house. When I think of tiny houses, I think of Zyl’s Vardos. My dream is to someday have him build on for me. Now if I can just figure out how to have enough room for my sewing business and living space…..and a bathtub…I want a bathtub.

  49. cathy says:

    my big concern are the bathrooms, most look like outhouses or close to them.

    I want a house this small but want a real bathroom.

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