Central Oregon is brimming with self-starters, alternative lifestyles and every kind of outdoor activity you can imagine. So it is no surprise that the tiny house movement is flourishing here. On our recent tiny house road trip stop to the area, we quickly became fully immersed in Central Oregonian life. Think hikes and brewery visits for days. But the fun all began by first joining a bohemian tiny house commune.
In a rural area, near the quaint town of Sisters and just a short drive to the more urban Bend, is artist Rod Fredrick's unconventional homestead. It is situated in a wooded high desert landscape and has a mystical aura. Overtime Rod has cultivated his patios and gardens, turning them into a henge wonderland. He recycles discarded appliances, glass bottles and other general trash into beautiful stone sculptures used for ambiance and recreation.
These areas are lovingly referred to as "henges". A magical multi-level treehouse towers above the henge garden. Rod, his guests or temporary residents will sleep in the treehouse during the warm months; perfect for enjoying the cool desert nights.
Behind Rod's place are two tiny houses, or "beansy houses", as he likes to call them. The Royal Gypsy Tiny House belongs to Danielle, his niece. A few years back, she was looking for a big change in her life, away to have more time for things she loves. She has since achieved that goal by lowering the financial burden of her housing. With Rod's help, Danielle built her tiny home onsite and is loving the simple life. Jayson occupies the other DIY tiny house on the property and is part of the local Tongue & Groove Tiny Homes team.
During his time living here, Jayson has formed strong friendships with Rod and Danielle, and is now considered part of the family. Together they all form an informal but tight-knit community. Rules are almost nonexistent, though their love for each other has created respectful boundaries and fostered open communication. Danielle and Jayson contribute a modest rent to Rod, including some work trade on a project by project basis. They all help each other with their various projects and often share potlucks around the campfire in the henge garden.
When we pulled in with our tiny house on wheels, we immediately felt at ease. Rod, Danielle and Jayson are the kind of people that are just completely delightful to be around. They excel at enjoying each day to the fullest. The mix of Christian and I arriving and the new Spring weather added another level of fun and free-spiritedness to the commune. One day, our new neighbor and nature-lover, Danielle took us on a beautiful hike along the Deschutes river. Along the way we met Mike, a twenty-something outdoor enthusiast and roadtripper. We all hit it off, and of course, he was invited back to the commune to grill out around the henge garden fire pit.
Not long after that, we connected (via Instagram) with tiny home dweller, Keith who was passing through the area. He ended up parking at the commune overnight, and we all enjoyed another spontaneous evening of storytelling, house tours and campfire merriment.
It was hard to leave, but the time came to head a little further down the road to Bend. This time we were parked on a driveway in heart of this quaint, bustling city. Just across our host's lawn was an adorable tiny home belonging to Cody and Randi of The Best Little House in Texas. We met them a year ago in Texas, just before they took off on a six-month tiny house road trip of their own.
Cody and Randi had uprooted their lives in Dallas, including letting go of their jobs and larger home,to embrace a simple lifefilled with experiences and giving back to the community.
After their extended vacation, they settled in Bend. A city that has held special place in their hearts from years of visiting family here. It's been a tough transition for Randi in particular, mostly because she is back to working full-time. The funny thing is that she truly enjoys her work as a therapist. It's the transition out of nomadic living that's been challenging. The freedom to make your own schedule, the heart-opening pleasure of spontaneous encounters and the wanderlust-quenching ability to just pick up and go, is hard to give up. On the flip side, as Randi would point out, it's not uncommon to become road weary from time to time and yearn for the simplicity of routine, in one static place.
Cody and Randi are some of the most thoughtful people we've had the pleasure of becoming friends with on the road. When we arrived, they became our personal guides to all of their favorite places to eat (my favorite: taco happy hour at El Sancho), to drink (a multitude of quirky coffee shops and delicious pints) and to enjoy, from indie movie theaters to mineral hot springs.
The amount of nature within town or short drive from it, is staggering. Desert, lava caves, forests, waterfalls, snowy mountains. You can hike, rock climb, kayak, soak, and all in one day. It's a true outdoor enthusiast's wonderland.
This is a big factor into why you can find so many small and alternative dwellers, like van dwellers, RVers, yurt dwellers and of course, tiny housers. These folks are minimizing their home space to maximize their outdoor adventures. Also, as you can imagine, Bend is growing and is a touristy town. This means housing costs are high and rising. The backbone of the community, the workforce, including the service industry and artists/makers are struggling to find attainable housing. Yet another reason, tiny houses on wheels are becoming so popular in the area.
In addition to Cody and Randi, new Bend transplants, Rae and Andre also couldn't afford to live in Bend if it wasn't for their tiny home on wheels. Rae is an entrepreneur; she owns Wanderlust Dog Adventures, a dog walking/hiking company. Andre is a digital nomad/ freelance graphic artist. Living tiny has given them the opportunity to do what they love and enjoy what they love, the great outdoors. Rae, Andre and Danielle all connected with Cody and Randi initially via Instagram. It's like Tinder for tiny home dwellers. They all started an informal Bend tiny houser group, and get together from time to time for potlucks and advocacy talks.
During our stay, we held a community screening of Living Tiny Legally, Part 2 at Locavore, an indoor farmer's market where Cody works part-time (one of the benefits of lowering his housing costs). It was a full house with about 40 attendees. At the end of the film, my partner Christian asked the audience to raise their hand if he or she lived in a tiny house. About a third of the audience raised their hands.
We were completely blown away. Never have we encountered so many tiny dwellers at a small event like this.
The best thing was that many of them didn't know each other, and now they had the opportunity build community with one another. There's a wonderful thing that often happens with tiny housers meet; they are able to quickly create a strong, intimate connection over shared values and lifestyle choices. The reasons to go tiny are plentiful, but more often than not, you have one or more of those in common with other tiny people. Also there are not many Americans who can relate to the issues related to tiny house dwelling, like the search for a secure parking spot or how to best level the house, etc.
After our screening, the new tiny housers were all invited to the next local dwellers meeting.
This included Logan, a DIYer in the process of building his own tiny home. Besides his yurt and teepee dweller neighbors, he hadn't meet any other local tiny folk, and was thrilled to connect with them all. Logan is living in his SIP tiny house, as he trying to finish it which can be quite challenging and downright inconvenient. On the upside, he's had the opportunity to really live with the available floorspace. It's helping him come up with a more efficient and comfortable layout.
Another new face was Cathy, a semi-retired single lady living in her custom hOMe tiny house with her teenage son (he splits his time with her and his dad). She lives outside of Bend in more rural country, and has had to move her house three times now due to neighbor complaints. While this has been upsetting, Cathy is 100% happy with her choice to go tiny. Her space is simple and just-right for her. Cathy's independent lifestyle has proven to be incredibly freeing physically and emotionally. Currently she's investigating how to get farmhand housing status for her tiny house to give her more legitimacy and security.
Farm employee housing is permitted as accessory use to commercial agriculture in certain zoning districts, and can sometimes be non-conforming structures, such as old cabins, or recreational vehicles.
We were fortunate to attend the Bend area tiny house dwellers meeting. It was wonderful experience and almost felt like a support group. What kind of compositing toilet? Have you had X issue with your hot-water heater? I'm looking for parking; do you have any leads? One of favorite moments is when we went around the circle sharing why we went tiny and how it's positively affected our lives. It was beautiful to be amongst a group of people from very different backgrounds, intimately opening up to new friends, almost strangers really.
What it would be like if we could have more person-to-person dialogue with all of our neighbors? We might just discover that we have more in common than we realized...
Bend will always hold a piece of our hearts. And in case you are also starting to fall in love with Bend too, you should know it has many great building resources to help make your tiny dream, a reality.
Want to learn how to build? Sign-up for a Central Oregon Community College continuing education class on tiny house building, taught by Jesse Russell of Tongue & Groove Tiny Homes. Need a place to build? No problem. Join the happening DIYCave, a makerspace with an impressive stock of tools and plenty of space for building projects of all kinds. This is the kind of maker community where you can find help, advice or just moral support from fellow members of all backgrounds, hobbyists to professionals. At least two tiny house builds have come through this lively, charming makerspace, and the owners are eager to welcome more DIY builds.
Bend fun fact: home to Kent Griswold, founder of the Tiny House Blog!
Christian and I have hit the road again to explore the many other tiny wonders Oregon has to offer.
-Alexis Stephens, Tiny House Expedition