Nate and Lisa’s Tortoise Shell Home

Guest post by Lisa

When my husband and I first moved to the country after 20 years of living in the big city, we talked a lot about the different possibilities for housing. We were both sick of apartments. We fantasized about the different natural building techniques like cob and straw bale, but worried about exorbitant land prices here in California.

About five or six years ago we stumbled upon Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed website and were completely charmed. This was pre-Oprah, before he was so famous. We had a free private consultation with him within the first few weeks after he moved out to California. A couple years later we went to one of his open houses, and recently went to his first showing of his new Craftsman style cottage. We love his work, but his prices were too high for our budget. Building it ourselves seemed too difficult, though I’m sure it is possible for some people.

The tiny house bug had us. We now knew how we could own our own home without land or a mortgage, but we needed a place to put the house.

After a couple years of searching we found a lovely RV park that would take us as long as the house was an RV. We knew Bill Kastrinos at Tortoise Shell Homes usually builds his as RVs, with the DMV doing an inspection and giving a license plate. For a time we were also looking at Little House on a Trailer in Petaluma, and Molecule Homes in Santa Cruz. Both of those guys also do lovely work. But we finally decided on Bill.

I spent long months designing my floor plan. Bill was kind and built me a custom house. The build was exciting. We were close enough to him to be able to visit every weekend and watch the progress of the build. My husband got lucky on his commute home from work on delivery day, and ended up driving behind our house as Bill hauled it down the highway to our RV spot at the campground.

We have now lived 3 months in our new home and have loved every moment. It being a studio and only 150 sq. feet (8’ x 18’), we wouldn’t recommend this size for couples that don’t get along really well, or for those with complicated hobbies. For us it has been wonderful though. Our main hobbies are watching DVDs, reading, and hiking. We are using our computer as our TV to save space. We don’t feel claustrophobic, having a view out our great-room window of the rolling hills of a horse pasture. We can’t really see other dwellings or people for the trees. Our first utility bill was only $28.00. Our house is all-electric, we use a little space-heater to heat the house.

At night we like to look out our big window at the constellations. I’ve never had such a view of the sky at night before, it’s quite magical. Our loft we only use for storing all our stuff. We bought a very comfortable futon couch which we convert into a queen-size bed at night, and that seems to be working for us. For those that don’t want to negotiate ladders, we recommend futons. My husband does have a camping pad up in the loft and likes to take naps in the daytime once in awhile, he calls it his ‘man cave’.

Here are pics of the loft, and my hubby having a nap in his ‘man cave’. Also, the closet which covers the whole end-wall by the door. We were originally planning on having enclosed his and her closets on either side of the window. But changed our minds once we moved in. There’s still a window behind all those clothes, so if we decide someday to have enclosed closets we could still do that. It’s messy now, but very easy access which we like.

Here is a pic of our little kitchen which has granite counters that I absolutely love. The other pic is of our recessed shelving, which was one of my best ideas. It is built into the interior wall between the kitchen and bathroom, next to the bathroom door.

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CG - February 10, 2012 Reply

Amazing how you fit so much into such a small space! Love the view too.
May I ask the approximate cost to build and the cost per month for your pad?

    Lisa - February 10, 2012 Reply

    Our monthly rent here is $650 a month, so a bit expensive for a campground. There are much cheaper ones in other counties, ours happens to be a very expensive county.
    Bill has his prices listed on his website About 50% less than Jay’s Tumbleweeds.

      CG - February 11, 2012 Reply

      Thank you Lisa! I think your lot is phenomenal. $650 is a bit more than I’d like to spend but that’s the beauty of a mobile house. You can find another gorgeous lot for less if you want to. As could we all. Or you can stay. It’s still less $ than the average mortgage payment and your payment won’t be going to make the mortgage companies richer. 😉

Christina Nellemann - February 10, 2012 Reply

What a wonderful place with a great view! What do your other RV “neighbors” think of your tiny house?

    Lisa - February 10, 2012 Reply

    So far all responses have been very positive. How Cute is the most common comment. The receptionist did gag at how small it is inside, but then she lives in a big house in town, not at the park in an RV like the others who have seen it.

Liz - February 10, 2012 Reply

Wow, you found such a great place! I also live in California and want to find a very similar spot. How did you do it? Does this park have any more spaces? It doesn’t fit my idea of an RV park, that’s for sure, and I had kind of despaired of finding something that isn’t a trade-off between lots of money to own the land (and the resulting legal hassles) or cramped quarters with ugly trailers. If you don’t want to say more publicly, my email is “tamgoddess” at the google email.

    Lisa - February 10, 2012 Reply

    Actually, there aren’t any really nice spaces left at this park. We did get very very lucky that someone happened to be leaving right when we asked about placing this house. There are some free spaces, but they are in a circle of 12 spots only 8 feet apart (though they do have a view, being at the very top of the mountain). Three-quarters of this park are permanent residents, mostly retirees. Out of 43 spots, only 5 are park-model cabins/rvs, the rest are fifth-wheels and a couple motorhomes.
    We found that some mobile-home parks will also take tiny-houses as long as they are real RVs. Campgrounds will need them to be RVs too. We didn’t have anyone with a back-yard for us to park the house in. The mobile-home parks we talked to needed the house to have tanks. This RV park didn’t though, since they do have some park-model RVs here (which always have residential toilets, no tanks). So thus we chose not to have tanks, and have a regular toilet. They have a septic field I think.

Marla - February 10, 2012 Reply

Was wondering where they found such a nice campground out here, as I also am looking and not finding anything like that , that will accept me.

Mark E Tisdale - February 10, 2012 Reply

Beautiful little home! I love the shelf next to the bathroom – great idea to make use of all your space in a small space.

Mary Jane - February 10, 2012 Reply

I too would love to know where this RV park is located, and you could respond privately to sosweety1011 @ hotmail dot com.

I am thinking ahead to when my son goes off to college, and would love to scale down to a tiny home similar to yours. Your location is what is selling me! I can’t afford to buy a piece of property, so your solution sounds like a good one. A cozy little home tucked in the rolling hills somewhere – who wouldn’t love that?

Beverly - February 10, 2012 Reply

I’m interested in a smaller home. This might be too small for us, but I find it amusing you have the same bathroom tissue holder we have in our master bath and we have the same dream catcher in the hall. Love your place. PS we also have a great country view.

Emily - February 10, 2012 Reply

What a lovely little house with a stunning view. Thanks for taking so many pictures; it’s always nice to get ideas from others who have been there! Good luck!

Shane - February 10, 2012 Reply

Have any of you considered leasing land to place your tiny/transportable house?

I’m planning on using Google maps to find some nice places near creeks or mountains, and ‘cold mail’ the farmers in the area. Just drop a note in the mail box or something.

In New Zealand, where I am, if the farmer has over a certain acerage they can legally put a 2nd dwelling (as big as you want) and lease out the land. I’ve already been into the local council to ask. Even with small lots (in town or wherever) you can have a seperate dwelling under 80m sq (roughly 800 sq feet).

I figure that if you had a 10 or 20 year lease (max is 30 years without having to subdivide), the cost for a septic field and drilling a well or rain water collection would be well worth the trade off. As for power, I’ll be going off-grid. I suppose this cost could prove high if you’re too far from services.

Has anyone else looked into this?

    Ross - September 8, 2012 Reply

    Shane, different districts around the country have different rules about dwellings. Up here in Northland there is no minimum house size, although thereis a rule about where you put it!
    I asked the Whangarei District Council about putting a tiny house on my 10 acres, here is their reply:

    Hi Ross

    There is no set minimum size for a house size, and you can build 2 little dwelling next to each other i.e. not more that 15m apart. If you would like to build them further apart you are required to apply for a land use consent to get the permission from the Council to do so. You can also go onto our website to check out our district plan rules and check out more information on your property in the environmental rules section.


    Whitney Manjala
    Customer Services Representative – Forum North | Whangarei District Council
    Private Bag 9023 | Whangarei 0148 |
    P: 09 430 4230 ext 8778 | E:

Shane - February 10, 2012 Reply

I thought it worth adding – that the value that a farmer gets out of an acre of land for pasture for animals is very small. Even giving the farmer a multiple of 4 or 5 times that value would be cheap and pretty good leverage for your pitch.

With a formal lease agreement, drafted by your lawyer, you could have all sorts of guarantees (and responsibilities).

Moontreeranch - February 10, 2012 Reply

$650 a mont…Ouch…I’m assuming that covers your sewer, water and electric too?

One of our big drivers in our small cabin project…is reducing overall living expenses. A little up front covers the “solar”, water is brought in a little at a time…sawdust compost’r takes care of that side.

We are only using Our place part time at present…but currently there or no utilities…no rent…and taxes are very low ( less than $50 a year)

jean - February 10, 2012 Reply

how do you cook a meal, all I saw is a hot plate.

    Lisa - February 10, 2012 Reply

    Hi Jean,

    That little hot-plate is a very high quality one from online. I tried a 2-burner from K-Mart, but it didn’t work at all. I’ll admit it takes some patience with only one burner, but we aren’t gourmet cooks anyway. Tonight I cooked spaghetti, and the hot-plate boiled the water in no time at all. I have to do one thing at a time of course, unlike the old days when I could be working on the sauce on a second burner. When I was done with the pasta tonight I then cooked the sauce.
    We have a little toaster oven in the corner, it’s in the photo. We use that for toast in the morning, and we are able to cook meat in it for dinner sometimes, by wrapping it in aluminum foil. We used to use our toaster oven all the time even before we moved into the tiny-house.
    I will admit the kitchen took some getting used to. It was the biggest adjustment we had to make overall. We only down-sized our clothes a little bit. But the kitchen we had to downsize 75%.

Walt Barrett - February 11, 2012 Reply

You did a great job. I really like it!
Walt Barrett

Victoria - Ozarks Crescent Mural - February 11, 2012 Reply

I love everything about your story! What a lovely life and a beautiful tiny house. I like how you’ve come up with something creative. You’ve provided inspiration for so many others. I live on one level of a gorgeous mountaintop lakeside home for only $440 a month inclusive (all utilities, sat TV and DSL Internet) and I’ll be buying another parcel of 2-6 acres for $5,000-$10,000 (no bldg restrictions) on down the road when I go to build my tiny log cabin. So, of course, $650 sounds like a fortune to me for only a leased parking space. Please know that I intend that in no way offensive because you are thrilled with your arrangements and that’s what is absolutely essential and the most important consideration of all. We each have to find what suits us best and it is clear you have done that and you deserve much credit for creating your dream and living it.

Mandy - February 11, 2012 Reply


I love this little house. I am moving up to Sonoma County. Would it be possible to meet with you both to talk to you about your experiences. I can treat you to lunch!


Mandy. please respond to

-billS - February 11, 2012 Reply

What a GREAT job. I am planning my tiny on a trailer and will surely move the door to the side. I can’t believe how much MORE space you have by doing this. Very luxurious. Nice work!!!

Monday Grab Bag of Links … | The Pretense of Knowledge - February 13, 2012 Reply

[…] 13, 2012By adminArchitecture / Design. Montblanc House by Studio Velocity Grandiose Vitra House Nate and Lisa’s Tortoise Shell Home 12 Norman Bel Geddes creations 150 Square Feet: Modern, Modest & Cozy Finnish […]

Bob H - February 14, 2012 Reply

Great looking RV, fantastic location.

barb - February 14, 2012 Reply

Your home is absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing those inspiring photos! I think your lot rent is more than reasonable, given your gorgeous, private location. Congratulations on a beautifully designed home – enjoy!!!

Lisa - February 17, 2012 Reply

It would be nice if we had a directory of hot prospects for RV parks or available leasing land. Finding a place to live once the tiny house is finished is a problem. I couldn’t afford $650.00 a month. Another thing is where to locate a tiny house (on wheels) that is safe. I’d like to see a directory for established parks for people with tiny houses, RV’s or trailers that is dedicated to this community alone. (Maybe this is a good idea for a new magazine).

Lisa - February 17, 2012 Reply

I can’t afford $650.00 in park rents alone. I’d like to see a directory of parks and leasing lands. Maybe this is a good place for a magazine on tiny houses and park rentals where people could advertise for anyone with a tiny house on wheels.

AnthonyRizzo - July 10, 2012 Reply

I’m not quite sure I understand what the difference is between an RV and a little house. Aren’t little houses automatically classified as Recreational Vehicles because of their diminutive size? If so wouldn’t they automatically have access to campgrounds? A Mobile home parks is a whole other story since RV’s aren’t mobile homes and most Mobile home parks shy away from RV’s. BTW: Wouldn’t it be relatively easy to buy an acre or less of land, build a concrete parking slab on it and parking it there permanently since it is your own land? I can’t imagine any zoning violations there.

john b - October 4, 2012 Reply

Guys, just get a copy of the annual Good Sam Guide to RV parks and campgrounds. I’m sure AAA has good info too! Membership in those two organizations, is the most prudent money you’ll ever spend!

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