Mark’s Tiny House Project

Mark Heffernan contacted me a while back to share his tiny house project. I’m going to turn it over to Mark to explain his plan.

A few years back, a friend of mine turned me on to Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, designed by Jay Shafer, and I fell in love with the idea of living small. I have always been drawn to the idea of low-impact living, having a lighter ecological footprint. I also think there is a fundamental appeal to a small, cozy living space, sort of a human nesting impulse that we lost from a childhood when we were happy to camp out all day in a cardboard box under the kitchen table.

For the past couple years, I have been turning design ideas over in my mind, and over time a design has emerged that I would like to build; I just needed the opportunity to build it.

I recently returned to the realm of higher education to finish my bachelor’s degree after a dozen years of enrollment in the school of life. My education at SUNY Empire State College, it turns out, has become a platform on which I can build my tiny house. My curriculum, an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts in the area of Sustainable Residential Design, is built around lessons derived from and contributing to the design and building of a tiny, energy efficient house. I build my house, and get a degree! Sounds good to me.

I have tried to keep certain principles in mind while designing. I’ve always admired Japanese architecture, and the idea of convertible space: a single room can function as dining room, living room, bedroom, etc. I have attempted to design a space with multiple overlapping functions. For example, the dining room table folds away or turns into a lounge/sleeping area, and the loft overhead is removable.

Another design goal is “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” Everything in its place is easy; the tough part is making a place for everything. I think that this is a key principle to have a clean, uncluttered interior.

I am also considering the sustainability of the project as I go along. Wherever possible, I am considering reclaimed materials, and trying to make choices for maximum energy-efficiency and energy independence. My design will certainly not be the end-all-be-all of sustainable design, but more like a design laboratory with experiments that occasionally blow up in my face or create a bad smell in the room…

Design is hard: everything is a decision, and every decision impacts every other decision. Certain decisions, once I’ve made them, have become commitments. I am trying to retain flexibility in the design process wherever I can; I’m sure that once I am standing in the physical space of my house, I will have ideas that I didn’t have before, and scrap some of my past decisions.

I am looking forward to the process of building my design, and all the lessons that I will learn from it. I’m sure that there will be some head-slapping moments: “Why didn’t I think of THAT before???” But as my ideas become physically manifest, every experience will be a learning experience. And at the end of it, I’ll have myself a little home!

Follow Mark’s build at his blog CubitConstruction.

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Terry - March 24, 2010 Reply

well now looks good make the porch fold up and the shade fold down meet in the middle

Kris - March 24, 2010 Reply

These houses are so unrealistically small…they are beautiful but I don’t get the fad. I understand wanting to live small-ER than we do now but when do you have people over? What do you when it is raining outside and you are going stir crazy. It looks like you have two options stand in your hallway which is your kitchen and your living room or go lay in bed which is 3 inches from the ceiling.

What if you like to draw or paint or sew? Where do you keep your supplies or are these houses just for people who are never at home….or have no hobbies….they just want to be at home and and sleep or sit on a little bench and look out the window that is probably sitting against their nose?

I would love to hear from more people who have actually lived in them.

It probably does not last too long.

    Alfred - March 24, 2010 Reply

    Hi, Kris!

    Let me take a stab at your question.

    I may be somewhat qualified as for the last three years I have lived in small cabin of 392 sq. ft. (plus a loft); and before that in a 28’ Airstream which makes my current digs look palatial. And truth be told, I really like both. I am not looking to move, especially to a larger space

    In a way you are quite right: if you like to entertain, if you have employment or hobbies that require space, have large pets, and/or a host of other life choices, a very small space is not going to work.

    Perhaps most significantly, I think it would be very hard for a couple, and harder still for a couple with a couple of children to do this. But then again, folks do in fact do it. There are couples that live in RV’s full time and families that cruise the oceans in 36’ sail boats.

    I should also mention that for many folks, tiny houses are not their only residence, but may be a vacation home, part-year residence, or just their “room of your own.” Additionally, they may be more appropriate during one time in a person’s life than another.

    I think the value of tiny houses and sites/blogs/books about them (and it doesn’t matter whether we are talking here about tiny house plans, kits, pre-fabs, or what-have-you) is to make you think about how you really want to live and what – and by extension who else – is important your life. And thinking can be both an abstract reflection (as in, “Some day I want to live in tiny house that’s….”), or quite concrete, as many ideas in tiny houses are easily appropriated for conventional living quarters.

    I also think that for all this to have any appeal, a certain mindset or outlook is required. You need to get a kick (at least on a certain level) in living with/in less, whether its for aesthetic, environmental, economic, or other reasons.

    And none of this tiny house stuff should be seen as proselytizing or evangelizing. (If it reads that way, you need to tune it right out.) If it doesn’t appeal, that’s fine, its just not for you.

    Hope this helps!

      Margarita - October 25, 2013 Reply

      Loved your reply and respect that you live your words. Very practical and honest answer to someone who couldn’t get past the one size fits all mentality. I myself am fascinated with this blog even though I can’t figure out what or when or if ever I would personally would have any opportunity to live small. But I love the fact that others do and that they are living differently and thinking differently challenges and helps all of us. And when someone such as yourself, answers a question in a thoughtful and respectful way, it brings that movement one step further.

    Brad Carlisle - March 24, 2010 Reply

    Chris , for most people these are too small . But a couple can live very well in 450 to 600 sq ft.and a family of four in 1000 to 1500 sq ft .and not be a slave to a 30 year mortgage.

      Jens - August 20, 2012 Reply

      My family of six lives quite well in a 950 square foot house. After living out of our minivan during three weeks of cross country driving and visiting (yes, a couple of hotels, and staying with friends/family some), I felt that it was at least twice as much as we need! We only used the dining room, kitchen, bathroom, and 1 bedroom, and rarely more than one room at the same time. We spend a lot of time together as a family. When the weather is nice, go out and experience the world!

    Michael Carmack - March 24, 2010 Reply

    Here is how you live like this and stay sane. You build your small home as a place to sleep, contain your personal items, etc. and a place to wash yourself, etc. The way I am going to do it is to design a couple of small homes where when you have guests and / or family members come stay they have their own small home to stay in. These will form the perimeter of the compound. In the center will be a large covered Gazebo like structure with a fire pit with seating, indoor / outdoor speakers, a den area, an outdoor kitchen with dual stoves, refridgerator, sink, grill, etc. so that you can cook and entertain outside but at the same time seal it up and close it off from the elements. I’m also going to have a hot tub sunk into the floor and possibly a pool in the center all incorporated into a garden with paths, etc. so that even when you are inside you feel like you are outside and in nature. Since I live in the south I am going to install a Chrysanthemum misting system to kill and keep away insects, mosquitos, etc. I’m even thinking about building a wall around the entire compound to make it more secure, etc. My vision is to have a small compound of small buildings each with a different purpose or multiple purposes.

    A.M. - January 22, 2013 Reply

    Kris,

    It’s perfectly true that some people cannot see themselves in the tiniest of the tiny homes we often see (eg parking space size)… but I think that if people look beyond the idea of everyone trying to cram into something THAT small (which we can’t), there are some very important things I think the tiny house movement is doing or advancing.

    If you look at the average floor plan for a modern house, especially the ones that don’t have 10×10 bedrooms, the waste of space that you see is frankly galling. You’ve now got master suites taking up literally almost one third of the entire house! You’ve got bathroom ‘suites’ and walk in closets that alone are the size of the massive master bedroom! But the thing that people who are desperately trying to upsize that way, are missing, is not even that they necessarily have to do without the things that they love… but that there is some serious mismanaging in the storage department, if they need a 19 x 27 bedroom with a closet nearly the same size (What is all that empty space in the middle for, anyway?! Of course in that particular case I think anyone would argue there is a little material gluttony going on, but…)

    The tiny house boom is building a demand for smart storage solutions/ideas that everyone could benefit from. It’s showing us life can go on with a kitchen smaller than most people’s bathrooms. That not all appliances need to be space hogs. It’s reminding us that if all we do for bathing is to shower, there’s really no point in wasting a tub-sized space that could be used, say, for housing the towels, instead. It may even succeed in making the Murphy bed popular again… especially if it means the underside of your bed can double as your office!

    I perfectly understand about the hobby problem. I’ve got almost nothing but hobbies that are necessarily (intrinsically) space hogs. Art, sewing, writing… there’s a lot of people who would argue you can’t fit that kind of life, even into a 10×10 space. But facing the loss of my current home has forced me to get honest with myself, and ask myself whether or not that’s really true, or if it’s just a misconception I have because I don’t know how many ways there are of storing all that stuff in so efficient a way that even 10 x 10 might come to feel roomy. The answers I’ve thought of have surprised me, and my inspiration has been the ingenuity of the “little house people” … and seeing by example that, for instance, a staircase can double as a dresser, and that if people can find a use for a space that bizarre, there must be other spaces going to waste, too.

    The tiny house movement is a creative explosion in this regard, and I think that if we look at it this way, we can see how the things these people are doing, can benefit even those looking to build a home that is larger than a tool shed.

    But there are more important things the tiny house movement does. It also addresses the question of allowing people who can’t afford a 6 digit price tag on a home, to have more dignity and privacy and control of their lives, than they would in an equally tiny one-bedroom apartment (which ironically is not even cheaper than a house payment anymore). It shows us that, for instance, for the price of a do-it-yourself tumbleweed, and a little hard work, the relative who says “sorry, we can’t afford to support you, and we have no room to take you in” might be able to at least keep one person off the streets by giving them a place in the back yard. And for a person whose alternative is a pest-infested (literally) homeless shelter, that “wooden tent” (tumbleweed) is going to look pretty good, even with that microscopic loft.

    Finally, if we say that we could never downsize into a smaller home with family, we must at least wonder why that is, especially when there are still much smaller 3 or even 4 bedroom housing solutions that aren’t small mansions. When everyone DOES get their own space, but it’s just a small space…. THEN what is our reason? And asking that question requires looking inside of ourselves, and dealing with the selfishness whereby we can’t bear with each other’s faults or quirks in close quarters… or… whereby we believe that it doesn’t matter how we treat others, or what we expect them to deal with on our part. After all… it’s possible to blast music into your ears just as well with headphones as with a big stereo. (With the right headphones, of course.)

    Of course it’s true that families where the children hate the parents and hate each other, and everyone thinks only of themselves all of the time, and all that matters is having more and more and more things you don’t even care all that much about… it’s not going to work. Not only won’t it work in a tiny house, but in fact, it’s going to be miserable in ANY house! There is no house large enough to house the unbridled selfishness of multiple people. Perhaps that’s why mansions are so popular. If you have a home big enough that you can live in it with a space practically the size of a whole house all to yourself, so that you only rarely encounter other people who happen to live with you, I suppose you can pretend you are living alone, and just be selfish. The rest of us aren’t that unfortunate. Once in a while it does all of us good to do some soul searching and wonder whether we aren’t being a little unreasonable, or a little more selfish than we need to be. And if we don’t love the people we’re with, we’ve got much bigger problems than the size of our homes.

    I think a lot of people bash the tiny houses and the tiny house life, because they see it as a proposition that every person is supposed to fit their lives into a parking space. And they know that such an idea WOULD be ridiculous, because obviously, not everyone (especially families) could possibly do this. And again, no one is suggesting this! But if those same people would just take a step back, I think they might begin to see that there are ideas and innovations going on here that can be applied on any scale, and that there is a possibility for more benefit here than just the ability for modestly wealthy people to downsize because they want to change their lifestyle. The benefit, for instance, of innovations in disaster and homeless relief. And if homeless people’s relatives would give their homeless kin the space of a tool shed in the back yard to live in, it might also help ease the burden on the taxpayers. It also raises some very important questions for all of us. Am I a shameless glutton for things I don’t really need or care about? Am I too selfish to put up with others’ faults, or do I expect people to put up to an unreasonable extent with my own? Can I focus on my love for my family more than I focus on what bugs me about them? Can we build relationships with each other that are positive and mutually fulfilling, rather than just selfish and self serving?

    In other words, I think the whole tiny house thing is a lot bigger and a lot more important than many people see at first glance. They see, “you’re asking me to cram my family into a parking space… which is impossible!” Which in fact no one is asking them to do at all. But the reality of the thing is that you’ve got concepts and ideas and philosophies that can be scaled up as well as down, to fit the needs and circumstances of anyone, and to benefit all of us. In my opinion, it’s this bigger picture that is what we should be looking at, and I believe that frankly, it’s a thing worth not only following and benefiting from ourselves, however we can, but also that it’s a step in the right direction worth celebrating.

    And as a little icing on the cake, many of these tiny dwellings are little artistic gems, too, reminding us that home can be more than just a plain box to sleep in. The amount of artistry that used to be present in the exterior design of homes, that we have now all but lost, is a tragedy in and of itself!

Michelle - March 24, 2010 Reply

Kris,
I have lived in such small situtions and loved it. I have lived in a small cabin in Alaska, summer and winter. It may be an adjustment but many people can thrive. I also lived on a cruise ship for 6 months in a small cabin along wth my fiance. And then another 6 months in a FEMA trailer ( although ours was a well built model).
It takes a certain type of individual to want to live in a small space. There are different motivations for doing so from wanting to be more green, reducing your carbon footprint, frugality,wanting a moveable house but not a trailer type dwelling, etc.
But I think we all appreciate the freedom of having a smaller home because it costs less to maintain. There is usually not a mortgage and utilities are quite cheap. Upkeep of the home is a breeze compared to a normal 800+ sq. ft. house. You have more freedom to do the things you want and are not a tied to a mortgage and the contstant maintenance and upkeep of a typical house. Less stress.
I’m in the process of renovating my own lil house ( less than 200 sq ft.) and can’t wait to have it ready to move it.

alice - March 24, 2010 Reply

Sometimes it’s as simple as choosing between a tiny house or no house at all.

-billS - March 24, 2010 Reply

yeah it looks a little small to me. and i don’t think the cardboard will hold up well in the rain and snow. if you could make it a little bigger and out of wood you might have something there…..lol

Char - March 24, 2010 Reply

I lived and worked on boats for many years. Then I raised children in a large house. The large house and it took constant attention to maintain it and the yard that came with it. Now my children are grown and I live in 380 sq ft. Now I have the TIME for hobbies, I am no longer a slave to the house.

kk - March 24, 2010 Reply

Interesting discussion about living small. I have always had small apartments or shared apartments, so the idea of living small is not new. I’ve always done it, but simply have not had a house of my own. I’m the closest I’ve ever been now as I found a 300 square foot inlaw cottage. Having my own 4 walls is awesome and space is not really an issue. I simply don’t buy large furniture and most pieces are unique with extra storage built in. The design is most important. Making use of the floor to ceiling storage area in shelving is important. Keeping things neat and orderly is important.

The only con I’ve had is related to storage. The same issue that applies to apartment dwellers. Having some kind of unheated storage is almost necessary, so a shed, or tent; somekind of water-tight place to put those extra boxes, arts, crafts, etc, that don’t need to be in a climate controlled area.

Otherwise, there is plenty of room to do arts and crafts and hobbies. You just have to either pick-up afterward or get a heavy duty tent/yurt/yome/dome as a artist studio space that you only heat or cool when you are actually in it.

Enjoy Living!

Aaron - March 24, 2010 Reply

I’m glad someone joked about the construction materials and scale to steal my thunder. On a serious note. It looks too tall to be road transportable without some sort of roof magic. I don’t know what exactly the scale was, but it looks twice as tall as trailer width. I do like the contemporary style of the single roof plane with tilt outs providing interest and shade. The simplicity also lends toward owner build.

    Mark Heffernan - March 31, 2010 Reply

    Aaron –

    the height of the roof is 13′, under the 13′-5″ maximum road height. I do see how the perspective of the photo makes it look taller…

-billS - March 24, 2010 Reply

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
-William Morris

That quote is something I aspire to achieve. Someday…

Kris - March 25, 2010 Reply

I have always lived in small-ER spaces as well,,,,I have never lived big. When I was single I lived in a 400 SQ foot apartment, and now I live with my partner in a 900 SQ foot place. I would love to sell it and go for a small home(700 sq feet or so) outside the city on a piece of land…which is why I am always looking at these homes. I think we will end up going with a small straw bale, as winetrs here in Canada can be quite tough. It would seem the whole small house idea is not quite catching on here yet.

Alex - March 25, 2010 Reply

Great discussion here and the cardboard blueprint of the house is really neat. That would be a great looking house.

I also like the idea of tiny houses in addition to a larger community center. If I lived in one of these *tiny* (100 sq ft or smaller) houses there’s no question I’d eventually need a cargo trailer or shed so I can store things like my kayak and bicycle.

My happiest times were living in a 500 square foot apartment three blocks from the beach with my girlfriend. But we could easily go a little smaller and it’s still practical.

But I can definitely see how people see these 65-100 square feet tiny houses unrealistic.

jenine alexander - March 26, 2010 Reply

This looks superb Mark!!!!

Ketdryn - March 27, 2010 Reply

Looks great Mark. Your project and some oft he comemnts here are reminders that there is no such thing as “one-size-fits-all” housing. So many factors impact people’s choice of housing – climate, family size, previous living experience, available local materials, municapal bylaws, etc. The great thing about the small and tiny house movement is that it helps all of us see how many housing possibilties there can be. Good for you for contributing to this!

Mark Heffernan - March 31, 2010 Reply

This is indeed an interesting discussion on living small. I don’t know yet what it will be like to live in such a small living space, but I DO know that most of us could certainly live with less. In my travels around the world, I have seen many different living situations, most of them involving LESS: less space, less money, less stuff…

I don’t live in a house; I live in the world. I sleep in a house, I eat in a house, sometimes I work in a house, but I LIVE in a big wide world. I intend to take advantage of that: outdoor living when climate allows, outdoor bathing, and I do intend on having auxiliary storage (maybe a 20′ shipping container, which can double as a shed/workshop.)

I look forward to learning from my experience. I look forward to the lifestyle change that comes from living with less, and the freedom that comes with it!

Tiny House Talk » Blog Archive » Tiny Interior Design – Modern Miniatures - April 15, 2010 Reply

[…] I know that there’s been one person known to do something like this within the tiny house community: Mark’s Tiny House Project. […]

Nerida - September 12, 2011 Reply

I realise this is an old thread but what the heck.

I had similar thoughts to Kris when I first saw the Tumbleweed type homes but at the same time I was looking at Gypsy vardos and realised whole families lived in vardos for their entire life.

Now I dont want to be walking the highways while a couple of shires tow my home from one hamlet to the next but still, I would like to have the option of moving about for work or taking my whole home with me when I wgo on holiday.

For me I work outdoors and really want to live indoors. I have a hobby (quilting) that takes up a lot of space and yes I would like to entertain, occassionaly at least.

So I have spent many months really looking at how much space do I need to quilt. How can I entertain? Could I provide a bed for a friend an emergency.

I have come up with a design that provides me with sufficient space to quilt/sew as long as I stick to one project a time. At the moment things are inclined to grow to fill the space available.

I am a landscape designer, the same table I use for quilting will double as a drawing table. I have designed drawers and cupboards specifically for holding my paraphanalia. By having one cupboard for each of my 2 main activities I have created ‘zones’ as opposed to rooms.

I can rotate the lounge to give me different ‘space’ for different purposes. I hand quilt more often now than machine quilt, which I find almost meditative and I can sit anywhere to do that.

I know a sewer who bought an old treadle machine (woman powered for those who dont sew) so she could sit outside and machine sew – no electricity required. Treadles can double up as small tables.

I thought about how much do I actually entertain at home. Most of my friends do physical work, and we are whacked by the end of the day. However, we are inclined to catch up mid-afternoon when we know we will be on a ‘break’. Those who farm have early evening chores and early starts,so dinner is generally out of the question.

Entertaining for me has really become afternoon tea. I love baking on days I am at a loose end. So a get together for tea/coffe and great cake will do me and my friends just fine. And I can take it all outside on a fine day. IF they dont come to me I take the cake to them. It works for us.

While I do have the space for dinner/lunch guests I am disinclined to go to that effort very often these days.

As to the garden shed my current idea is to store my tools of trade in the wall space accessed from an outside wall that hinges up.

The lounge can double as an extra bed in an emergency. I am past wanting long term guests so why encourage them. They can bring their own tent and camp out which we are inclined to enjoy anyway.

As said its not for everyone. But if you really look at what space you actually use rather than just fill with clutter you can pare it down.

You can only park your butt on one seat at a time.

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