LESLIE’S FIRST TINY

Indulge me for a moment and imagine this: deer grazing, wild geese flying above, dramatic wild American countryside and a meteor shower uninhibited by light pollution overhead. Got it? Now throw in a charming, rustic tiny home and you start to get an idea of this little adventure.

This experience was by far one of my favourites while visiting tiny houses in Oregon and, though it may sound dramatic, it moved me. In fact, I felt like a child in a candy shop. I can’t find the words to describe the experience and do it justice, and the fact that it all happened by chance just blows me away.

A few months back, when prepping for the trip, my mate and I decided we were keen to get out of our comfort zones and get to know some of the locals. We signed up and registered for the Couchsurfing network and had a look around for a verified host.  I came across Pab’s profile (not his real name. I don’t want him to be slammed with Couchsurfing requests).

His eyes were kind, he had a warm and inviting smile and his profile was written in such a way that I instantly wanted to meet him in person.  I sent him a request asking if he would have the time and space for a short stay for us in Eugene.  Part of the Couchsurfing process is to let people know a little about yourself and why you are traveling, so I mentioned our tiny tour.

To my surprise, he not only accepted our request and offered us a place to stay, but also offered to get in contact with a friend of his, Leslie, who had two tiny homes up north. Of course, the response was an enthusiastic yes, please! After a few emails and a Skype chat, Leslie, despite traveling at the time, offered us the use of her very first tiny.

After a 4 am start from Coss Bay, we got to Bend, returned the hire car and switched it for a BEAST of a camper van (later nicknamed affectionately Beastie) and headed out in search of Leslie’s tiny home.  On our approach to the property, I’m sure I annoyed Cam with far too many repetitive statements like “Wow!”, “This is unbelievable!” and   “Quick, check that out!”, all in the middle of broken sentences when no words could come out. The drive into this property alone was breathtaking.

When we arrived at Leslie’s tiny, I was out of the van exploring before Cam had even parked. The placement of this tiny was even more stunning than the drive in. And to be greeted by a doe and her fawn calmly eating their dinner seemed so fitting. Their curiosity was endearing (sorry, not sorry), but I don’t think they were half as interested in us as I was by this beautiful tiny house. 

The home looked inviting and I couldn’t wait to get inside for a look. Leslie did warn me that the tiny was “rough”, being her first attempt, but I just thought it was rustic, simple and appropriate for the location it was in. To me, something too polished just wouldn’t have fit with the tone of this wild place.

The interior was painted in a way that brought the colours from of the surrounding cliffs inside, and the exterior colour choice complimented the surrounding plant life. The congruency of this tiny had an effect that I don’t feel that could’ve been achieved with a design that was too crisp, modern or neat and it made the space look much larger than it was. This got me thinking about designing with the end location in mind. Sure, I had thought plenty about a tiny home’s purpose, the environmental footprint, functionality, and style before, but Leslie’s property had me thinking more about how a tiny home can complement its environment.

The layout of Leslie’s tiny was simple but functional. The living area had a lounge that you could sleep on that could easily be converted to a larger bed. The kitchen was a basic setup, with two hotplates, a small grill, and a sink. In the centre of the house, Leslie had created a small music room and office space, which tripled as a closest and storage. It worked for the spaced much better than I’d expected.

This tiny was a dry tiny, meaning there was no bathroom, but it didn’t really need one. For a few dollars, all the bathroom facilities you could need were approximate 200m away on the nature reserve. The bathrooms were clean and well maintained, so it wasn’t an issue. In general, the facilities for the public in Oregon are far better than any I’ve seen in Australia, so if you were traveling in a dry tiny, with some planning, you could get by just fine.

The walk from Leslie’s place to the bathrooms was really a sight to see. The light and colours of the landscape seemed to change colours along the way. I may not be as big a fan of this setup come winter time, but I’m pretty sure I could get myself to adjust if it meant living in a place like this.

Leslie’s tiny is completely off-grid and powered by solar. It is built on a trailer with a deck built on the front, so more of a temporarily fixed dwelling, rather than a mobile tiny.  It had doors on three sides, with double doors opening on the front deck, and one door on the back end. Each of the doors had steps for easy access. I liked that this tiny was light filled during the day, so there was no need to turn on any lights.

Having had many years of experience building trailers, Cam was my go-to for trailer info while we toured Oregon. His experience was invaluable in spotting the differences between US trailers and what would pass as legal here in Australia.

Leslie’s tiny measured 6.3m in length and was just shy of 3m wide, so it was larger than what could be towed by a standard vehicle here in Australia. Cam informed me that in addition to the base design of the trailer, this one had 8-meter lengths of steel that had been bent and welded from the tow hitch through the chassis to add strength, but it would have also added a substantial amount of weight.

The trailer had a truck hitch, but the trucks in the US are massive compared to ours. If this tiny was built here, it would require extra services to move. Although possible to be towed by a larger vehicle, the design of this tiny would not be roadworthy here in Australia without an extra permit.

The external features of the tiny home, the size, and the weight, although beautiful and well made, wouldn’t wash with Australian road laws at all. The only way I could see this tiny being legally moved in Australia would be to load the whole thing onto the back of a truck to be transported, and that would most likely be a substantial expense. Certainly, something worth keeping in mind if you plan to move your tiny home often.

After a day of sightseeing, meeting deer for the first time, a fright with a snakeskin (Cam is a brat!), and a wonderful tiny home, I crawled into bed and watched a meteor shower, blissed out, exhausted and content.  What a day! One I won’t forget anytime soon.

Big shout out to Leslie for sharing her tiny home with us, especially given that we didn’t meet her in person until the day after visiting her home. So kind! That day was a standout in our Oregon adventure, and it wouldn’t have been possible without her generosity. Thank you, Leslie! Cam and I greatly appreciate having had the chance to experience, not only your home, but your hospitality. I hope our paths cross again soon.

Happy building, tiny lovers!.

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Title image credit: Designer Eco Tiny Homes

Source: Tiny Houses

A TINY PORTLAND GARAGE

 

Earlier in the year, I received an invitation to meet with friends in Oregon, USA to see the eclipse and attend a music festival. Given that tiny houses are very popular in that area, and that they had a tiny house model that was working better than any we have here in Australia, of course, I jumped at the opportunity to go and do some research, see the eclipse and have a holiday with some friends. I mean, who wouldn’t right? Three birds with one stone. Brilliant!

 

Once we had made the decision, it was time to get to work. My friend Cam and I started planning. I began looking up what tiny house resources that would be in the areas we would be visiting and started writing to a bunch of people who I had never met. Thankfully, and surprisingly, this strangers’ messages and emails were well received, and we found a great group of people that were more than happy to help in the research goals. I even had a few strangers reach out to me and offer their assistance and extend invitations. It’s amazing how things, with some effort, just came together beautifully.

 

So, after months of planning, on the 7th of August, Cam and I excitedly jumped on a plane bound for Portland. The journey wasn’t without it its hiccups. A couple of delays getting into LA, luggage transfers, issues finding suitable SIM for data to help us get around and blog with ease (what the heck did I do before mobile phones and the Internet? I vaguely remember getting along just fine without it. May be time to unplug for a bit). Despite the challenges, we made it, exhausted but happy to be there.

 

First stop, a tiny house Airbnb in Portland to rest, recharge and recover from our trip.  Before I go into too much detail about the tiny house itself, I’d like to explain why tiny houses are working better in Portland than here in Australia.

 

Compared to Australia, America has more flexibility when it comes to tiny house design. This flexibility is due to things like towing rules, building codes and the size of the trucks allowed on the road (that had Cam drooling like Pavlov’s dog every time a Chevy truck went past. ?), but I’ve spoken about those things before. I won’t bore you with them again now.

 

In 1979 Portland adopted an urban growth boundary (UGB) to control the use of land, protect forest and wildlife and limit the impact of urban sprawl into the surrounding areas. Since adopting this policy, the boundary has been amended 35 times to cater to the growing city, but the population is booming. Despite these changes, the UGB has meant Portland locals have needed to use a limited space to house the population and has led to more creative solutions to cater for the growing requirements of the city’s residents. From the conversations I’ve had, there are many mixed views on the UGB.

 

Now, I must be clear that I don’t have enough information to speak of all the pros and cons of the UGB (but I’m happy for someone to sponsor me to go back to do further research. Just saying. ?). I can only speak from a visitor’s perspective. I understand that this model creates higher density and drives up living expenses for those living in that area. Although the cost of living is far lower than here in Australia, the minimum wage is also far lower, so there are many factors to be considered before I could come close to claiming to have a well-versed view.

Personally, I like the idea of capping urban growth to protect the environment and farmland, slow sprawl and encourage urban density, by surrounding an area with a preservation ring of large-lot agricultural zoning. When speaking with tiny home owners, I found out that Portland is not without its own set of tiny home challenges, but the UGB combined with the sheer determination and persistence of tiny home owners has helped push through some tiny homes as legal builds in the city of Portland. I also found that not all tiny homes are constructed legally, and many people are banking on flying under the radar, so it’s not all smooth sailing. Still, tiny homes are more accepted and get the relevant approvals far more easily than what we do here in Australia.  Another plus that kept coming up was that the UGB does seem to challenge more people to live with what they need, rather than what they think they need, and from my perspective, that’s a significant side effect. Don’t get me wrong, consumerism is still at a CRAZY level, but those living in a smaller environment tend not to purchase as much stuff to fill the space as someone occupying a larger property (minimalists living in larger houses being the obvious exception). It just makes sense to me that more people living in smaller environments cannot consume as much unnecessary stuff and are forced to think more about their purchasing habits.

 

Anyways, I’ve gone off on a tangent. Now you have a little bit of a back story, back to the tiny home.

 

This place was cute! A converted garage in the backyard of a property, not too far from a lovely little shopping district in Portland. I would consider this Airbnb to be more of a short stay granny flat/guest house than a home that could be comfortably lived in the long term.  The tiny consisted of two main spaces, a general living area (lounge/bedroom and kitchenette), and a bathroom area.  Power and plumbing supply for this tiny house is hooked up to the main house systems, and it had all your basic creature comforts that you would expect to find in a holiday unit.

 

The living area had a bed that could be folded up to make a lounge if you wished and a fold out table big enough for two people to share a meal. As much as this was functional, I didn’t feel it was a great use of space. I wouldn’t want to fold a bed up daily, and having both the table and the bed down at once did make the living area feel cramped. Opening the doors to the patio did help the area feel less congested, but personally, hating the cold as much as I do, I don’t like the idea of the sense of space being compromised by the weather. Also, general storage would be an issue if you were to be living in this tiny full time as the only storage was bathroom storage.

The bathroom was nicely done, and it had a great feel to it. A full-sized shower, a standard flushing toilet, and well-designed bathroom storage. When the door was closed, you could almost forget that you were in a tiny house.

 

The overall design was contemporary, clean, light-filled, and charming. I especially liked the skylights, the exposed beams, the design of the kitchenette and the French doors that opened onto a covered patio area. However, any stay for an extended period would require a much more thought-out design and the addition of some smart storage solutions.  Still, this tiny was well-crafted and well suited to its purpose as a short stay Airbnb.

 

Would I stay again? Oh, hell no! Although the tiny home was charming, our host certainly was not. Well, she was fine at the start, but overall our experience with her most definitely soured the start of our trip. That’s a whole other story, and I’d rather not waste my energy or focus on that. I’ll just say that if you are thinking of going down the Airbnb road, then having a high level of professionalism, crystal-clear communication, and warm hospitality is a great place to start. People are paying for an experience, and I don’t think the host should carry themselves in any way that takes away from that experience. Thankfully, every other host we encountered while in the Oregon was delightful, and the bad experience we had had with our first host was quickly put behind us as we moved on to the next part of our adventure.

With the tiny house movement gaining steam across Australia, places such as Melbourne are also starting to realize that tiny houses could be a viable part of the solution to density issues here as well. Personally, I’m excited to see how the movement is unfolding, and, from what I’ve seen in the last 12 months, there looks like there is going to be a lot of tiny house action over the next few years.

 

Happy building, tiny lovers!.

 

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