Tiny House in Bay Area

Jan Sturmann wrote me recently to share a tiny house he has built in the Bay area of Northern California. I’ll let him tell you about it.

Imagine a house that has everything you need, but nothing more. Walls and a roof that shelter, but do not entrap you with false promises and hidden costs. The Dutch have an untranslatable word: gezellig. The Germans have a similar word, gemütlich. It’s a combination of comforting, welcoming, cosy, and inspiring. I built this house in the spirit of those words, to be efficient, practical, and aesthetically nourishing.

The house was created spontaneously, by hand, and using simple tools. Each piece is imbued with the memory of its making and it cost no more than a few months of work. It contains only objects that give tangible pleasure, or are inherently useful: fire, water, food, clothing, a couple books, and a sharp knife.

It provides space to eat, play, read, dream. It’s a refuge, but not a fortress. It lets the outside in and gives imagination flight. Falling asleep under this curved roof evokes memories of our ancestral cave with lines of sight to the rising and setting sun, and a skylight to the stars. This essential shelter leaves nothing wanting.

Foot print: 49 square feet
Usable space: 98 square feet
Cost to build: $5,286

Time to build: Three months
Location: Bay Area

Design wise, probably the most interesting element is the curved rafters. Basically, six foot 2 x 6’s ripped to 1/4 inch then bent, glued and clamped over a plywood jig. Not wanting to loose the look of the rafters, or the extra space between the rafters to insulation, I screwed 2 x 6 T&G over the top of the rafters for the ceiling, then bent two layers of 1inch rigid foam over that, then 3/8 in. ply, then tar paper, and finally asphalt shingles for the roofing. The skylight of course gives a wonderful sense of spaciousness. The two east and west windows are located to let in as much light as possible, whilst still maintaining full privacy in a dense urban environment.

All walls are insulated and have a layer of soundboard beneath the ¼ in. sheetrock, which are plastered using a mixture of clay, sand, and flour paste with a natural dye added.

Originally, the shack was built off-site as separate panels, transported in a U-hall, then assembled on site, with the idea that it could be easily disassembled should I leave. But now with the complexity of the added roof, disassembling is no longer an option. During the remodel I realized that I can hire a crane to pluck the house out and put it onto a trailer to move to a new location. This utterly changed my attitude about the building from it being just another temporary structure that I leave behind (as I have so many in the past) to my permanent own home that I can take with me.

Except for a couple of back-of-the-envelope sketches to think through ideas, I worked without any plans or scale drawings. Working alone, I’m able to engage in a form of dialogue with the building as it grows, with each element growing on the next. I lived in it the whole time I was building the loft and roof and then slept in the loft as I was building the kitchen/living room. By living in it as it grows, design solutions present themselves in a way that designing abstractly with with pen and paper never can. It helps that I have extensive building experience to draw on as I engage in this improvisational construction dance.

Personally, the most rewarding aspect of this was having my 2 ½ year-old-son participate. To engage in this kinesthetic exchange of learning to use tools, construction, balance, and the danger dance.

Thanks Jan for sharing your tiny home with us.

The Shack from Jan Sturmann on Vimeo.

34 thoughts on “Tiny House in Bay Area”

  1. Hi Jan, I wanted to know the height of your shed. We are not allowed to build a shed in our suburb taller than 15 feet and I wanted to know if this would be a viable option for me.
    Thank you,

  2. Oh God, I think I died of cute. Your son is just too adorable!

    Also, I love that house. I am curious about bathroom commodities (separate building?)but overall I’m in love with it.

  3. I love the house – and your son; he couldn’t be any cuter! – but I thought the narration was pompous and sententious. Lighten up.

  4. I thought the video was well done and I can relate to it… I like simplicity! the only thing its missing is a little bathroom and I could totally live in it. I like the curved roof design, I camp in a tiny gypsy caravan I built and love the look of a curved roof!

    Great Job!


  5. I’ve played and enjoyed this video several times, and sent it to my daughters to watch. The tiny space AND the narrative are simple, poetic, sweet, and demonstrate a down-to-earth knowledge of you and your needs. Thanks for sharing that with us, Jan.

  6. Adorable little boy! ARE YOU NUTS????? Who lets a 4 year old-ish child climb up and down ladders, climb up on cabinets, and generally place themselves in neck-breaking situations? SET DOWN THE CAMERA – help the child!

    • I loved this and your narration, which I found poetic.

      Of course your child is adorable. But most are.

      What’s truly astounding, you’ve allowed him to be his true competent self instead coddling him to be infantile way past the time that’s developmentally called for.

      Most Americans create service demanding children rather than accommodate their child’s real need to be as autonomous as possible.

      Bravo on your home and family-building skills.

      • “Most Americans create service demanding children rather than accommodate their child’s real need to be as autonomous as possible.”

        … and then when they turn 18, they kick them out of the house.

    • Agreed. He says his son is 2 and a half years old. He’s not old enough to be doing those things unsupervised. And WTF is he doing with a saw? A 2 year old simply does not have the coordination to be handling sharp/dangerous objects. That’s irresponsible in any culture. He could easily slip or fall climbing around like that unsupervised. I notice a lot of the comments on here are about that. “The danger dance”? That’s not cute. Kid must be older now. Wonder if he ever got hurt due to this parent’s negligence.

  7. The kid looks like he was doing alright. He seemed quite well-coordinated and capable of handling himself. Being overprotective sets kids up for more injuries than letting them become accustomed to their environment. I’m not saying you should let them climb up to the second floor on a log house (mine did once) or wander unattended near running water, but this is pretty normal stuff he’s doing. Both of my sons grew up doing lots of stuff like this and are fine.

    • Being female, I’m not up on my roofing joists and would have appreciated more narrative on the subject. This roof is unique and creates a wonderful loft space. I’ve never liked lofts; too claustrophobic, but this is a game-changer.

      As for the child, I lived all over Scandinavia and learned first hand that Europeans do a far better job of raising children than do Americans.

      Outstanding roof! If you add to this clip, please include a verbal and visual walk-through of the construction. Thanks!

  8. This evening I watched a chilling episode of “Hoarders”, where a woman had so filled her 2,000 sq. ft. home, with buys that still had tags on them (or were still in their shopping bags) and garbage -literally, she would only get up from her chair in the living room to GO SHOPPING, but was ‘too disabled’ to properly throw away empty soda cans, food containers or her insulin sharps (I won’t tell you what ‘wasn’t thrown away’ in the bathrooms). I was aghast. Exterminators told her that, for the first time in their business’ history, they would NOT be able to treat her home (for the millions of cockroaches that were everywhere, even clustered by the hundreds behind PICTURE FRAMES on the walls!)…
    And then I watch this little video, with a happy little toddler (though I was ALARMED at how much free access this little guy has to so much potential danger, albeit in a tiny space) and how NEAT and BRIGHT and CLEAN everything looks, and I marvel at the juxtaposition of the two glimpses’ I witnessed today.
    Having ‘too much’ stuff and/or space IS unnatural. Our basic human needs are best served by having ‘just enough’ space and ‘stuff’, no more no less. One good well-loved book is worth a hundred read-and-toss magazines, one good easily-washable comforter is worth a closetful of designer linens.
    I loved this article, loved how well this tiny little house serves its creator’s needs and joys.
    I KNOW the mother/guardian of this little boy was close by, vidding, but I wish we had been able to ‘see’ more of a ‘safety’ angle going on here, too… the sight of the tot sitting on the counter just INCHES from an open flame (stove), of him bounding joyfully onto the mattresses of the loft only INCHES from the wide open (no railing) ladder way, well… my heart kept jumping in fear for him.
    Jan, I’m sure you are a very good mother, but I do hope if this little toddler will be living IN this little home, too, that more ‘child safety’ issues are also addressed, at least for the benefit of other young parents who might watch this vid and, being new at being parents, attempt a tiny house of their own without keeping THEIR baby/toddler’s safety first in mind… Hope I am not offending, just a mother sharing her concerns.
    Overall, though, great job! And beautiful little boy! 😉

  9. Fantastic building, the roof gives it a really soft feel, almost organic or comforting.
    I too wonder about the commode situation(seems the most popular question asked in comments).

    As for the freedom of the boy, I say BRAVO sir! I was raised without hovering parents where we were allowed to be curious and learn through experience. If we got a bump on the head we didn’t do it again. Obviously we weren’t allowed knives and such implements but how can a child learn to respect dangerous things if they are sheltered from them and never see their effects. I actually smiled and felt proud for you when I saw your son climb up that counter by himself.

    To those of you berating him for allowing his son to learn, go climb a tree and get your hands dirty, you have a lot to learn about living.

    • Just to add a comment about the toddler, I was more afraid he would knock the milk off the counter when he climbed up. He just carefully moved it out of his way, though. This kid has been climbing around in this place for a while, obviously. We also aren’t seeing everything that was filmed. I’m sure there was a voice saying, be careful, don’t get too close to the ladder-way, that was edited out. I also noticed that it took a striker to even light that ‘open flame.’

  10. I have the same question about the bath room, but also about power and water.
    Also, this is not a parenting forum.Just like its not a place to talk politics.People have widely divergent ideas about parenting, but we all love tiny houses.

    • You’re absolutely right, Liz.
      I should have taken some time to edit my comment, take a deep breath and RELAX.
      It is hard for parents not to notice, let alone say something about, instances like these, however, and though it may be annoying it is NORMAL.

      I do apologize, however, for my part in the child-rearing/safety comments… they were unnecessary and, really, pure opinion more than anything else. I hope the writer can forgive my parenting-pompousness. 😉

      In all, a tiny house such as this will truly be wondrous place for a child to grow up in, and I am happy for the family.

    • No apologies from me. I’m comfortable adding “try to protect your child from a 12 foot fall through an open hole in the floor” to the proscription against playing near open water. It’s not a parenting forum, but the video speaks for itself. I dont hear a single helicoptor hovering overhead.

  11. Considering the insane cost to rent in the bay area (a 1 bed room apartment in San Jose could amount to what this place cost to build in just 3 months) I would ONLY consider something of this nature over rent or buying a home. Love it! Where in the bay area?

  12. I adored the kid and the home and also had no problem with the man’s voice. I do not think critiquing voice quality is a reasonable thing to do and those who are concerned with such may have deeper issues. I also must say that I DID have a problem with the safety of said adorable child as, noted elsewhere. Love this home and I would really like to see how this could be used in a different setting and if it could be adapted to wheels.

  13. Thank you! Really adore the concept. A few tweaks and it’s perfect! Your roof joist concept is great and I can take it and run. Peace to you.

  14. I enjoyed the entire video. The voice over commentary, the adorable blonde climber showing off Dad’s refuge, the features… I didn’t even notice we were missing a bathroom.
    FYI, I love it when contributors are able to post their videos along with the written blog. Seeing is sometimes better.

  15. Love this little house/shelter! The roof design is beautiful…I can imagine some very restful sleep under the skylight. As for the little boy, I find it such a relief to see other parents letting their child explore. Our culture has become one of heightened fears and control. Each generation seems to become more and more tight, unyielding and fearful. For those that are interested in another way, check out The Continuum Concept. I feel it’s better to trust children to know themselves and their own limitations. Let’s stop with the “Be Careful” every couple of minutes. Saying that sets the child up for doubt in themselves and greater chances of failure in their explorations. Let’s also trust this father to know his son.

  16. I really appreciate the simplicity of this tiny house. 🙂 Perfect space for a kid. 🙂

    My parents had a wood stove and I have burned myself many a time in the open flame and on the hot stove. Now I pay attention when I’m around stoves and fire. My parents also have several outbuildings on their property, one of which we affectionately call “The Baby Barn” due to it’s small barn-like structure. It has a cement floor with a loft approximately 8′ above with an open end. Yes we jumped and played up there and knew our limits. Only 1 of us (there’s 4 in total) fell off once and was lucky enough to not break any bones. In fact, we have played tag on the beams in the barn and yet the only one of us to break a bone was my brother. He broke 3 bones in his foot while kicking off his shoes in a temper tantrum.

    I think as adults we often assume children are as unaware of the physical world as we (adults) are.

  17. such a beautiful little building, though I too wonder about the bathroom facilities. lovely, confident little boy, behaving much as i did at that age. there is a similar word in Welsh also – cwtch, meaning “keep safe” or “cuddle” – it’s hard to translate! I am surprised we have no Word in English like this.

  18. hi jan! it’s been quite a while since i took the cob workshop with you at sirius. your son is amazing, and i love your tiny house! i’m still in vt–with a 7yo son now. he’s totally awesome and was climbing stairs and everything else, competently, practically since he could crawl. i’ve always loved your life philosophies–definitely noticed the timber-frame details, the path that the light traveled, and the sourdough bread in your video!
    take care always!
    love, 🙂 kim


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