When the term “tiny home” started surfacing online, the idea of hyper designing a small space was quite appealing. Paired with the opportunity to create a home that was more sustainable than traditional homes in the city, it took little thought before we decided we were going to do it.
My wife Rose and I are designers, artists, and environmentalists, part of an art studio called Make Good Studios based in Toronto. We also run our own design business called The New Beat. We built the home ourselves with the help of 2 friends and had no experience with home design, woodworking, electrical, or plumbing, so we had to learn as we went along.
As environmentalists, Rose and I are on a quest to continually minimize our carbon footprint in search of a sustainable, if not regenerative, lifestyle. We’ve also been experiencing the rising prices of the city, and we knew we might not ever be able to afford a home, so the concept of something we could afford to own and design ourselves was very appealing. I personally was also frustrated by the fact that I didn’t know how things worked in the home we rent. I knew nothing about plumbing, electrical, or heating, so building our own home seemed like a meaningful way to learn those skills.
– In terms of layout, we brought ourselves through the same kind of process we use when designing websites. We found inspirational examples, analyzed what we liked or didn’t like about them, made rough mockups, and then consulted an architect to help us with the structural layout. We’re both Photoshop professionals, so we put together countless mockups to help us feel our way towards a final layout.
– The build took us about two years, mostly on weekends, with a few full-week sprints as well. The process was challenging because we’d never built anything like this before. And we wanted to be as responsible as possible in terms of the waste we created. It took a lot of research and trial and error, but the learning process was priceless, and I would highly recommend it.
– We used a combination of new and repurposed materials. All of our windows are from reclaimed houses, except the skylight, which we had to purchase new. The foundation of the home, a motorhome, is from 1988. We did purchase new wood from a local lumber mill cut to our specifications, and bought our faucets and sinks new as well. We crafted as many items as we could, including the pullout bench/bed, kitchen countertop & cabinetry, eating table, and bathroom cabinetry. The most unique feature in our tiny house is the insulation. We insulated our house entirely with wool we cleaned ourselves (that’s why we named our house the Woolly Mammoth).
The design of our house was inspired by a treehouse we rent in Mexico, as well as a few beach houses in the same town. We noticed that these types of structures were made in harmony with nature. We decided to use wood as our primary material, clear coated so we could still see the grain. When you look around our house, every inch of every surface has unique patterns and details from the grains, which makes it feel alive.
– Other than the fact that our tiny home is built on a motorhome chassis, a few unique features include a fully accessible skylight positioned right above our bed so that we can see the stars at night, a full bathtub, a rain collecting roof, 100% DC electricity powered by solar, and 14 windows to let all the natural light in.
– In terms of saving space, we have a bench that pulls out into a double bed with storage beneath, two lofts, a trap door in the floor that lets us access firewood outside, and a custom bathroom with a cabinet that contains our laundry and our cats’ litter box, with 12v computer fans that vent to the exterior.
– Our favorite part of the house overall is the amount of windows, which make us feel immersed in nature. Otherwise, the skylight has to be our favorite single feature. Seeing the stars from bed is a peaceful experience we get to do every night. If you were to ask Rose, she’d say the bathtub.
Our tiny home is located on a 200-acre farm, so we do have a ton of privacy, though, inside the house itself, we decided to keep it open concept. There are no doors in the home, except to the outside, and we live in it with two cats. We’ve honestly never felt cramped, it’s been an unbelievably positive experience. The house itself can sleep up to 5 people, and we’ve hosted a party with 20!
The overall cost, including the solar setup, came to about CAD 40,000. We didn’t have to pay for work since we were the builders, along with 2 friends who agreed to build the entire home with us as part of the journey. We’ll be helping them build their tinies too!
The downsizing process was not challenging at all. We’ve found much more satisfaction caring for a few items, and enjoy looking after them. We still rent an apartment in the city, so we’re in the midst of selling our old possessions and downsizing. The transition has been nice and slow.
The best part of living in the tiny home is our new and strengthened connection to nature and our slower pace of living. We also cook 99% of the meals we eat when living in the tiny, and get a lot more natural exercise maintaining the home and surrounding property (chopping wood, composting our food & biowaste, collecting water, etc.) The worst part is probably the slower internet connection, haha, though we’ve adjusted to it already.
If we could start over, we wouldn’t have used a motorhome trailer as the foundation since it was quite challenging. Otherwise, we’re quite happy with how things went!
Learning all the skills, it takes to build a home has been priceless. We did everything ourselves without a single tradesperson, with exception to the welder who helped strengthen our motorhome chassis. We’re also so thankful for the slower-paced lifestyle it has brought us. Honestly, days feel twice as long in the tiny in comparison to city living.
My advice to anyone considering building a tiny would be to take the risk and just do it! We spend too much time thinking about things in this day and age, and not enough just doing them. You can think yourself out of any scenario, but until you try, you won’t actually know what it’s like. Deep down inside, I think a lot of people want to be a part of these kinds of experiences, and my guess is that you’ll be surprised by how much your community gets involved once you start!
Our house measures 29’ from end to end, and is the maximum height of a trailer in our Province, so 13’6”. And we have about 200-250 sqft of space.
We have an Instagram account where we document everything. If you start at the beginning of our account, you can see the whole process from the day we purchased the motorhome. We treat it like a blog, so we often write lengthy descriptions.
Feel free to reach out with any questions too!