Oakland Tiny House

by Matthew Wolpe

So, I’m designing and building a tiny house. Last year one of my students showed me a picture of the Tumbleweed houses and said she wanted to build one and wanted me to help out. I laughed and thought it was funny and intriguing, but inside I was like “Are you serious, you’re gonna move into one of those?” Okay, so fast forward six months, and the New Yorker article came out and I was reading it in bed. It was a rare moment of epiphany, aided by some lovely company.

It was the ideal next step for me.

There were a few considerations:

  1. I loved my housemates to death but don’t love my basement room, particularly in the winter
  2. I’d been building chicken coops for the past year, something I’m a little tired of, so it was like a giant chicken coop with new challenges
  3. I had been trying to buy a house with friends in oakland for over a year and am convinced this is my only way towards home ownership in the bay area, and
  4. After finishing the manuscript and seeing my sweetheart leave the country for a long while I had the compulsion to throw myself into a giant project.

Some people do drugs, some people drink, I do really ambitious projects I suppose: an attribute and sometimes a flaw. So, I designed it in August and started building on August 30th. I am using our advance from the book to finance construction, but being as thrifty as possible. I bought the trailer used, most of the lumber is salvaged, along with all of the doors and windows, and the siding is all reclaimed redwood fencing I am re-milling that were only $1 a piece!

The final design will have a full kitchen, composting toilet, outdoor shower, sleeping loft, living room, fireplace and eventually a porch swing.

The next phase is doing the interior finish work and custom furniture, that part I’ve been looking forward to most.

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Luke - January 17, 2012 Reply

I like the original 3D plans. But your mostly finished photos looks like you’ve took out a door and have forgone the stairs.

I do like the sleeping loft with foot of bed at bottom slope.

alice h - January 17, 2012 Reply

That staircase idea is pretty cool. Incorporating storage makes sense, wonder if you could work out a way of having the bathroom under the stairs and still have decent head room. You could also work out some kind of counter that sits across part of the stairs and flips out of the way when you need the stairs. If the stairs replaced some of the other storage perhaps more space could be left open elsewhere to compensate.

    Krystal - January 17, 2012 Reply

    I like the idea of maybe having a bathroom under the stairs leading to the loft. I thought about the same thing after viewing the plans up there. It could probably fit depending on the size of the stairs. Having stairs, I think, is a great alternative to ladders. Then there’s always the choice of having bed space on the main floor for those who can’t do ladders or stairs.

      alice h - January 18, 2012 Reply

      Actually I’m in the difficulty with stairs and ladders group too. There’s just something special about sleeping up high though. I still hope to figure out a good ‘elevator’, some version of a bosun’s chair like someone else mentioned, or some kind of step-in loop arrangement, run by a hand crank. Also need one for a treehouse. The main problem is making a safe self-braking system in case of something going wrong. If anybody out there has this perfected please let me know! There are some similar things for worksites but they’re a bit clunky and really expensive. The tree climber solutions seem to all be for really fit people.

        Abel Zimmerman Zyl - January 18, 2012 Reply

        Ok, this could get a little Rube Goldberg-esque, but: if, for example, you were using a gear reduction to turn a spool to climb a cable. You could put an old school speed governor on the quick turning shaft (hand crank). These are the things with two weights on them, and a brake of some sort driven by centrifugal force. Simple… Or not… Depending on who you ask. But fun!

        Good luck with your project. I like that youve incorporated so many practical elements of a house into it.

        And good luck putting standing room under the stairs. My sleeping lofts are usually just high enough to clear the hair on the top of your head. I have to make them extra height for the over 6′ 2″ set. There just isnt much headroom when you build on a trailer, put in a loft, and have the overheight restriction!

          alice h - January 19, 2012 Reply

          Being 5’4″ helps!

Nhuly - January 17, 2012 Reply

I live in the Bay area and would love to come and see your place and even help out. Although it looks pretty finish from the pictures above. Awesome home!! Where are you going to park it?

Veronica - January 17, 2012 Reply

I also live in the bay area and would love to see your home once it’s finished. I feel the same way about tiny homes and want to build one for myself someday. Cost aside, I can’t figure out where I would be able to park it in this area! I live in an apartment now and don’t know anyone with space in their backyard. What is your solution?

Amy Turnbull - January 17, 2012 Reply

Where is it sited? How are you getting around code?

jack burgess - January 18, 2012 Reply

putting 2 joists from edge of sleeping loft to wall and installing a pull down stair will give you more room

Carol - January 18, 2012 Reply

Check out this guy’s design. I have taken his design and modified it a little to include two lofts and two full baths. He has a full website where he sells his houses too.


froogs - January 21, 2012 Reply

Great post, I agree when you laughed about living in a Tumbleweed house. Who wants to climb up a ladder to bed unless you are a kid. It is quite a common idea to build stairs as a storage unit. Much better though as a ladder.

Glenn - January 22, 2012 Reply

What are the dimensions of the house if you dont mind me asking?

sesameB - January 23, 2012 Reply

Wonderful. I just love the visuals.
Barefootin’ in rural Arkansas

Dan - February 4, 2012 Reply

Nice work, thanks for the share

I’m doing a very similar project also in the East Bay http://tinybackyardhouse.blogspot.com

liza - November 11, 2013 Reply

I was wondering if you know of any other people you know who own a home in the East Bay that would be open to someone building a tiny home on their property.

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