I grew up in Anaheim, then moved to Ventura to study photojournalism at Brooks Institute. When I graduated three years later, I knew I didn’t want to go back to Orange County because I liked it here too much to leave. I’ve mostly worked doing web development since graduating. My photography skills I mostly only use to photograph my adorable nephews or product shots for my Etsy shop, which is my creative outlet for my love of Graphic Design. As luck would have it, I currently do web production for a Construction Management Software Company.
The first inkling of a tiny house I remember seeing was a Yahoo article about a student in Texas who built his own tiny house to be able to pay for school more effectively. I thought it was a smart idea and admired his effort, but it didn’t spark my desire at that moment. It would be a year or so later that my desire to go tiny was ignited, but I don’t remember what brought tiny houses back into mind. It was probably Pinterest.
It was the fall of 2015, and I had just finished paying off my student loans, and I was thinking about what was next in “adulting,” and so I started thinking about whether or not I wanted to buy a house. The idea of such a high-cost long term loan really scared me, having just narrowly escaped the clutches of a very hefty student loan debt. In talking with my mom about home loans, she told me that she owed as much on her house as she bought it for… back in 1989, some 26 years ago at the time. That scared the crap out of me. The lower cost and my minimalist nature seemed to all align with tiny living. I also knew that I wanted to stay in the area I was living and not move someplace less expensive so that I could afford a house. At first, I looked at tiny home manufacturers and the layouts they offered. Picking and choosing which ones I thought suited my needs. When I ultimately decided to design and build custom, having studied those layouts gave me a jump start to understand what I wanted rather than just starting with a blank slate.
I built my tiny house as part of a workshop. A construction technology teacher at a local high school was offering a workshop that would go through the process of building a tiny house step by step. I was connected with him through my architectural designer, Vina Lustado because he was offering the workshop near me and was looking for a tiny house to be the “model house.” He ended up picking two houses, mine and other persons’. We started in mid-Jun 2016 with custom utility trailers. We had workshop weekends about 1-2 times a month, where we would do a step in the process as a workshop group. There weren’t very many workshop members, so we were rarely able to accomplish a given step in just one weekend. So after work and on-off weekends, Doug, the owner of the other model tiny house, would work together to finish everything before the next step. We often employed construction students or local tradespeople to assist us further. Initially, I didn’t like that there were two tiny model houses, but having gone through it, I couldn’t imagine doing it alone, without Doug. Not just the labor help but the comrade of going that experience side by side with someone who ultimately became a good friend. We were supposed to wrap up building at the end of November of 2016, but we had to extend our rental of space at a local Adult Education Center to complete building. We wrapped up building in early January and had joint open houses before moving our tiny houses to their first parking spots. I think the biggest challenge was time and money. Doing things yourself, as a novice, takes more time, cheap labor saves money but isn’t always fast or high quality. It took about seven months to build a tiny house. After I moved in, there was still some work to be done. Shortly after moving in, I built a hideaway standing desk, a piece of wall art that doubles as a table. Admittedly there are still some finishing touches that I’ve yet to do, like a shower curtain rod (which has to be custom made) and finishing paint touches.
The layout and exterior elevations are modified from a design I created in SketchUp. I worked with Vina Lustado to refine my design. At first, I thought my design was great, and I couldn’t imagine how it could be improved. But she applied her practical architectural knowledge to really enhance and refine it to it’s fullest potential. The interior design is my doing, and I would describe it as funky Scandinavian inspired with retro undertones, if that’s even a thing.
For the look of the house, I didn’t have anyone’s idea or aesthetic in mind. I kind of wanted to go with what most appealed to me in each area of the house. I would say the impetus of the design for the whole house is my mermaid tile in the kitchen. I love scallops, I think they’re simple and timeless, and I love the teal color. I picked the colors of the kitchen based around that, but more subdued because the tile is very evocative. I really like shiplap (I swear I had never watched Fixer Upper at that point), and I thought it would be a great way to add visual interest to the walls because there are some broad areas of wall and I don’t want to fill every blank space with decor. My accent wall happened by accident. As I was putting up the shiplap, everyone commented, how much they liked the wood grain of the plywood pieces and that I shouldn’t paint it. Rather I decided that I would paint it but leave the end wall as an accent. I randomly saw some block toys on amazon and really loved the color, so I used a picture of those blocks to pick colors out, and instead of painting the panels, I watered down the paint and rubbed it in so the grain would show through. For the bathroom, I really wanted to do hexagon, with a tile mosaic that feels retro. So I went fully retro with a horse trough painted to resemble a claw foot bathtub and sliding door, inspired by noir detective movies, accompanied by vintage security glass. The house originally had a different paint job, that I was actually not happy with how it turned out. I loved the interior, but the exterior didn’t feel cohesive and didn’t satisfy my creative aspirations for the house. After the siding on the house turned out to have been a poor chose, I later had it resided and came across a gradient paint scheme that I was inspired by. Now I feel like the inside and outside are cohesive, and I love my gradient paint job. I would say the gradient paint job on the exterior, the hideaway standup desk, giant projector screen, and the laundry Shute from my loft to a hamper in the bathroom makes my house unique.
I have a piece of artwork that can be taken off the wall and used as a table. My stand up desk has a fold-down desktop that saves space and hides my computer monitors when not in use. Instead of having a TV in my loft, I use an iPad and a magnetic phone mount attached to my skylight to watch shows in bed. My trashcan in my loft has a wood top, so it doubles as a nightstand. My couch folds out into a twin size bed. I have a sleeping loft and small storage loft and a library ladder that can be taken off one track and switch to another, so I only need one ladder. And also I have a 65” projector screen instead of a big screen tv, that saves a ton of space.
It’s really hard to decide which is my favorite part of the house, but it would probably be my movie projector, I love that I can have a home theater experience with such a giant screen in such a tiny house, but it still stows away so neatly that you don’t know it’s there. I can even accommodate up to 2 people. When I had my tiny open house, I didn’t have my bed in my loft yet, and at one point, I counted 20 people in my house! But I would say 1-2 is ideal. I have a deck which expands my hosting space, but I’ve yet to really utilize it. Seating is limited. I learned over Christmas that I couldn’t do a regular size Christmas tree and host. I had a friend and my mom come over during that time, and it made it very challenging to watch a movie (have to turn my couch sideways) or eat at a table with a Christmas tree that stuck out 2 feet.
My budget was $40K, and at first, before we started building and I was buying a few things here and there, I kept great track, but when we started building money started flying out the window. A pretty strong estimate would be about $50K. Currently, I’m parked in Somis, CA in Ventura County. My old boss’s friends own the property. I’m parked beside the main house (not terribly close though), and have my only little fenced-in area. It’s quite nice and rural. The previous private property that I parked on I found by dropping off flyers to an area in Oxnard that had larger lots. But I recently got a job that’s 45-60 minutes north, so I’m looking to relocate to nearby Ventura or Oxnard. I’ve lived in both places and love both towns, and living there would cut down my commute significantly. I pay $500 in rent, including utilities. That’s also what I paid at the previous private property. However, the RV Park was a whopping $850, plus electricity and internet, and the price has gone up since I left. Spoiler alert, there’s nothing fancy or special about this RV park.
Once I signed up for the workshop and cemented my tiny future, about three months before I actually started building, I started the downsizing process. It helped to know that I literally wouldn’t have the space. Nature and space are like a vacuum. If there’s space, it will get filled. I don’t think if I had stayed in the same house, I would have been able to get rid of as much.
The best and the worst things about living in a tiny house. I enjoy having my own space for such an affordable price. I’m more of a one-on-one rather than a big group hang type person so the limited hosting abilities suite me. In a tiny house, you don’t have room for stuff, so the minimalist in me appreciates that most people don’t try to give me STUFF for birthdays/holidays. But some people don’t get that I don’t have space. It’s hard to know what to do with all that stuff, and how to explain that I truly don’t want anything. One of the hardest things has been finding a space, I really didn’t anticipate it being as hard as it has been. My first parking spot didn’t work out because I stood out too much, and they had an HOA that wasn’t on board with a tiny house. Then I went to the RV Park for 11 months until I found a parking spot. That spot was geographically in a great location, but it was behind a house on a dirt lot, next to a backyard that closely resembled a junkyard, and there were always the landlord’s friends, their kids, their kids’ friends passing through the backyard, so I didn’t feel like I had privacy. Last year I moved to a nice spot but that was geographically undesirable, got a job that made it even more geographically undesirable, then the landlord sold it after getting a job out of state. All that to say, it’s hard to find stability in a tiny house if your at the mercy of the strangers you’re renting from. It helps if you know someone that has a place where you can park rather than discovering the local community for a spot to park. I’m currently saving for a house in my area that I can park my house in the back and rent out the main house. I think this set up would make tiny house living a much better experience.
Doing a DIY build was definitely strenuous, and I don’t know that I would do it over again myself. There are things about it that I think if it wasn’t a DIY build that it wouldn’t be the same or as good. But I discovered two leaks shortly after moving in that because it was DIY, and it was a mistake either I made, or student laborers made, there isn’t any recourse for the damage, I just had to incur the costs. Thankfully insurance covered the major leak. Features wise, I later saw an “elevator” bed that raised up to reveal a sitting area and lowered to be a sleeping area with plenty of headroom. Although I actually like the coziness of my loft, it’s a bummer to have my closet there but not really be able to dress up there and descend and ascend up a latter I the middle of the night to use the restroom isn’t a joyful experience.
Now that my tiny house is paid off, only having to pay to park my house (it’s usually been around $500/month), I’m paying an insanely low rent for this area. A one-bedroom apartment would be at least $1,700/month. Even though it was grueling, I’m thankful for what I learned while building my house. It’s tough to be a homeowner, I feel better prepared after that experience. I was able to pay off the $27K personal loan I took out for the house in only two years, which is thanks in part to my lowered cost of living. I’ve since had to remodel the exterior due to a poor choice in materials the first time around. I’ve been to Europe once since I built my house, and hope to do more traveling the future thanks in part to living simply.
If you’re considering building a tiny house yourself, definitely do your homework. Considering that your time is valuable and consider that when you are estimating your budget. It’s nice to have help from family and friends, but you can rely on or expect them to give up the amount of time involved. Get your floor plan nailed down, and imagine yourself living out your daily routine in that space and ask yourself, is it conducive?
It’s a 24’ x 8’ trailer, plus 3 or so feet on lengthwise for the tongue. And my deck is 16’ x 8’. It weighs a little over 11K pounds.
The bottom floor SQ ft is 192, but loft space (sleeping and storage) is 138. Altogether 330 sq ft.
Check out My tiny house insta account, which is pretty much my blog @tiffs_tiny_house, and my personal website www.tiffanyisrael.com
I also have an Etsy shop where I sell my designs, including some tiny house ones. https://www.etsy.com/shop/SpiffyBee?search_query=tiny+house.com