It took about two years and three months to build my tiny house, working part-time between a full-time job and through slow, cold, Upstate, NY winters.
I grew up on Honeoye Lake in the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate, New York. After graduating from high school, I went to RIT to pursue a fine art degree. Following college, I moved to Rochester, NY, to live with my twin sister and begin what ended up being a rather lengthy career in retail management.
When it came time for my sister to buy her own house, I started to think about what I would do next. I was beginning to think my only option would be to keep my retail position that I was unsatisfied with, purely for the sake of making enough money to pay rent on an apartment by myself. I certainly wasn’t ready to commit to buying a house just for me.
I saw a documentary on Netflix about a young man that decided to go for broke and build his own small house. In watching this documentary, I realized maybe there was another option. The people in this film detailed their experiences on living with less and therefore having more time and money to pursue travel or careers that they could be really passionate about. When the film was over, my sister looked at me and said “You could totally do that!”…. and the seed was planted. A few weeks of thinking it over and a phone call to my parents sealed the deal. I would quit my job when our lease was up, move home, and begin building my very own tiny house on my parents’ property with the help of my experienced father.
I spent quite a long time thinking about what kind of space I’d want to live in. About how I’d want to move around. About how much “stuff” I owned and where it would go. I looked at a lot of photos and watched videos/tv specials about what other people were doing. Eventually, I sketched up a rough floor plan, taped it out on my sisters new living room floor, and that was it. I bought a trailer and got started with my fingers crossed.
The biggest challenge for me in the building was my lack of experience and lack of confidence in myself to figure things out if I was alone. Just because a tiny house is tiny, doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with all of the typical big problems. When my dad wasn’t around, I struggled to learn to use tools I didn’t have experience with, second-guessing measurements, questioning if I was purchasing the right supplies. I began to question whether or not I was just completely throwing my money away on a crazy idea that maybe wouldn’t even work out. But little by little progress was made, and even small victories helped build my confidence that I was beginning to work it out and a house was actually coming together. Thanks to the patience of my family and friends, and their willingness to help (especially my dad) both physically and mentally), I was able to come out the other side feeling pretty proud of what we had accomplished.
When I started out, I was naively under the impression that I would be able to save all kinds of money by repurposing materials. However, once I began feeling the pressure of my time constraints, I wanted materials, and I wanted them ASAP. Especially the basic construction materials, for precision and safety purposes, I wanted to have new, such as lumber, hardware, and windows, etc. When it came to more of the aesthetic work, I got lucky. My dad has spent years collecting beautiful woods, hardware, and other items that he’s stashed around our property that he very generously offered up to me. My black walnut countertops, front door, shelves, and slab table all came from his collection, as well as some beautiful rough-cut butternut that we milled into panelling for my living room wall and bookcase. My closet and bathroom doors were liberated from years of storage in the wood-shop and basement. My little kitchen stove was even given to me for free by a neighbor with an old, out of commission, Shasta Camper. The exterior of my house also came through connections that my dad had with some of his contracting clients in Rochester. That gave me paneling from their own businesses that were being remodeled.
The design of my house is fairly simple. It’s made up of a living room space, kitchen, and bathroom ‘downstairs,’ with a roomy sleeping loft above the living room area, and a small storage/sitting loft above the bathroom. The living room has a built-in convertible storage couch that folds out to a full bed. I have a small bookshelf and a drop-leaf table that can be folded down when the couch is opened up. I also have a nicely sized closet separating the living room area from the kitchen. The paneling on the living room wall is different than the rest of the house, giving it a feel of being a separate room. The double front doors open up to a wide 4ft opening, onto a large deck, making the space feel even bigger in the summer. From the living room, there is a step up into the open ceilinged kitchen, which makes the room feel pretty spacious despite counters on both sides. The bathroom at the back of the house is small but has 6.5 feet of headroom. As does the living room, so even my tallest friends don’t have to crouch. The sleeping loft is comfortable at about 3.5 feet of headroom, meaning I can fully sit up or even kneel on my bed without having to duck. The sitting loft holds a small bean bag type chair and a desk that covers my small on-demand water heater and also holds all of my art supplies.
The main goal for my house was to build a space that could be lived in comfortably and easily. I didn’t want myself or my guests to feel cramped. I didn’t want to have to bend down or squeeze in anywhere. And more importantly, I didn’t want always have to be moving things around or out of my way. I wanted to be able to live effortlessly in the space without feeling confined. This included not making any design decisions that would force me to move around my stairs or a ladder, or my bed or anything like that.
My favorite feature in the tiny house has got to be the wallpaper mural of a large world map that covers my loft ceiling. My sister gets all the credit for that genius idea of how to cover the ceilings unique angles. I also have a gorgeous stained glass window at the foot of my bed that was custom made for me by an artist named Derek Schmid in San Diego. My tub is a built-in galvanized steel water trough that sits beside a hand-thrown ceramic vessel sink and hand-built composting toilet. I also chose retro appliances to add color to my kitchen.
I live in a tiny house, but I would not consider myself a minimalist. People always say, “I’d never be able to fit all my stuff in there!” to which I reply, “I have 35 pairs of shoes, and you’d never know it”. Years of work in retail resulted in a pretty large wardrobe. I have a two-foot by 3-foot closet that stands 6.5 feet high that fits a good amount of clothing and shoes. I also have a large storage space under my kitchen floor that lifts up to expose even more clothes. My kitchen cabinets and drawers are adequate to hold all of my kitchen tools and pots and pans, while my couch storage holds bedding, towels, my large outdoor hammock, and other everyday items. As stated earlier, my desk upstairs in the storage loft holds my art supplies and important paperwork, while my book collection fits nicely on my bookshelf. The remaining socks, underwear, etc. are stored in small side tables in my sleeping loft.
My house is set about an acre behind my parents’ house right near the lake. It’s close to my neighbors’ house, but they only live here seasonally and aren’t around often, so it’s usually quiet. I have large windows to let the light in, and I don’t have a blind or curtain on anything but my large glass doors because generally, I just don’t need them!
My couch folds down to a full-size bed that can sleep one or two people comfortably. House parties are hard, but I can easily host dinner for 3 or 4 people, and when the weather is nice, the deck and accommodate fairly large parties and bonfires in the nearby fire pit.
The downsizing process wasn’t too bad. I walked around my apartment before I left taking an inventory of my stuff, and then designed a house to more or less fit it. Moving from my apartment back to my parents’ house first was a good opportunity to asses what I really needed, and get rid of a lot of clutter. I still have some items that I couldn’t part within the storage. It also really helped out that my sister was moving into her big new house as I was moving out, so she was able to take most of our furniture and electronics that I would no longer need.
One of the best things about living tiny is that at 33 years old, I’m debt-free, and though I spent years of my life working on this project, I have something really beautiful to show for it. I pay more attention to the seasons, to what’s going on outside this box that we so easily get trapped in when we walk inside our homes. I worry less about how much stuff I have, and more about how I’m spending my money and time on experiences and people that make my life worth living. It sounds cliché, but it’s just so true. I was able to quit that job I hated, and find new work with amazing friends for a much lower salary than I would’ve been forcing in an unfulfilling career. One of the worst parts about living tiny is the occasional feeling that I’ve made the wrong choice. While most of this lifestyle seems dreamy and happy, I’ll get real here for a second. It’s hard to be my age and see everyone around my buying big houses and starting families. And while deep down, I know I don’t really want the ‘norm,’ it’s hard to shake the feeling that maybe I could be doing more. I don’t see the tiny house as the forever answer for my lifestyle, but I know right now it’s the perfect solution for me, and I’m comfortable here.
I don’t know if I’d honestly change much about my design, but I sure would’ve given myself more time to buy a trailer and therefore saved a lot of money that I could’ve put towards bigger/better windows. Both of those purchases were way more expensive than I ever planned. My trailer alone cost $10,000, and because of the last-minute purchase decision, I wasted money and started late.
I’m very proud of what I was able to accomplish, even when I wanted to give up. I’m also very thankful for the time that this project allowed me to spend with my dad and to be home with my family. Not all adult children are lucky enough to have those relationships and get that time, and I’m very happy to have had it and to have learned all that I have from him.
If you are interested in going tiny first, commit to the research. Commit to the savings and planning time it’s going to take to be able to afford to do what you want to do, how you want to do it. Commit to your dream of actually getting it done, and to the idea that you can, even when everything in your mind is screaming at you that you can’t.
The overall cost of my tiny house was about $35,000
It’s located in Honeoye Lake, NY on my parent’s property at my childhood home. So I don’t have additional costs, though I do kick in for utilities and help my parents around our property and at home in any way I can.
House dimensions 8.5’W x 20’L x 13.5’H (almost the exact measurements to be roadworthy). It’s 162 sq ft with a 63 sq ft sleeping loft and a 24.5 sq ft storage loft.
Check out my tiny house specific Instagram account: @thesunchaser521