Like most people building tiny houses, I had limited options when purchasing plans for a tiny house over a year ago (up until recently there were only a couple options), and none of them fully met all my needs.*  So, I did what I saw others doing and bought the Tumbleweed Fencl plans, knowing that I would significantly alter the interior.  But unlike most people building tiny houses, I was fortunate to be able to spend a lot of time in the Fencl this summer while it was sited on the Boneyard Studios lot.  While there are many things I like about Tumbleweed’s design of tiny houses and I have benefited from their expertise, I quickly realized there were also many aspects of the Fencl that didn’t work for me very well.

Fencl getting moved from the Boneyard Studios Lot

I think it’s necessary to follow plans for a project like a tiny house on wheels, but there is also a benefit to leaving some room to change pieces of the design as you go along.  The typical tiny house look – traditional wood siding, pine interior – just looks too cabin-like for our urban location. Nothing against the cabin-in-the-woods aesthetic, but in an urban environment I wanted to try something a bit different.

So, what a relief and joy that now – six months into this project – I finally have architectural plans being drawn up for my house.  It makes brainstorming about design issues and implementing those ideas much easier – very helpful since the design has changed considerably from when the little house first rolled up from South Carolina.  Here are just a few of the changes we’ve made:

Exterior look: A four-foot locust porch attaches to the trailer and can be removed and stored inside when ready to move.   The extra foot of porch space (a lot of tiny house designs just have 2-3 feet) makes a big difference…you can actually sit on the porch without your feet hanging off of it.  Two boxes at the front of the trailer (back of the house) will store my water tanks and serve as extra storage, but they will be wrapped with cedar siding in a way that doesn’t make them look like boxes hanging off of a house but rather integrated into the design of the house (pictures to come when completed).

Locust rain screen siding and deck

Locust rain screen siding and deck

Deck in construction

We are implementing a rain-screen approach on both the house and roof. To get an idea of what that looks like, here is a rain screen design on a much larger house.  We are using locust and cedar from a local lumber mill in Virginia that sells sustainable rough-sawn lumber (from already-downed local trees and construction sites). Stay tuned for a future post on the benefits of rain screen siding approach and more on working with rough-sawn lumber as siding.

Rain screen siding going up on tiny house

Protohaus Sink/Kitchen

Kitchen: As someone who enjoys cooking and conversing with others while cooking, I didn’t like the fact that the Fencl’s kitchen is so closed off – if you’re cooking you can’t see or interact with anyone who may be in the main room.  Pictures of Fencl kitchen here.  Jay even mentions in his Tumbleweed workshops that he doesn’t do much cooking, so it doesn’t surprise me that he would opt for a small kitchen space.  However, I wanted my kitchen to feel more open and be multi-functional – something similar to the Protohaus kitchen pictured here.  By having a stool or two that can saddle up to the countertop, a friend can sit and chat with me while I cook or with someone seated in the main room.

View of Protohaus open-style kitchen in back

Loft:  The loft in the Fencl felt too claustrophobic to me. I knew this just from seeing pictures, but being able to hang out in it confirmed it for me. So, Tony built dormers and a new roofline on my house. The difference is huge – it feels so much more spacious and the light coming in from the dormers creates a lot more natural light in the whole house. We also plan on creating a little platform off the loft and a ladder that will be counterweighted to raise up when not in use.

Hanging out in Fencl loft

Loft from inside with dormers and shallower pitched roof

New roof, EPDM rubber roofing on (preparing for rain screen siding over it), and new dormers

Size of features: The proportional aspect of features should be taken into account in tiny houses, but it doesn’t need to inform every decision.  I got a great deal on some large windows on Craigslist, but when I taped out the dimensions on the tiny house I realized they would look goofy on such a small structure, so I opted to spend more for smaller, custom windows that fit the dimensions of the tiny house better.

However, not every feature in a tiny house needs to be small.  While originally I thought I would opt for everything smaller inside the tiny house, I quickly realized a lot of the tiny features just annoyed me.  For instance, I couldn’t easily walk through the small door of the Fencl with a couple bags of groceries. The entrance between the kitchen and main area was also too narrow for my tastes.  I tested out washing a soup pan in the small sink and was frustrated by its size. Thus, I’m doing some things differently like putting on a regular-sized exterior door.  Furthermore, by creating a countertop/cutting board (made from paperstone) that can sit over my sink in the kitchen, I can use a larger sink without sacrificing valuable counter space.

Again, being able to try out the space in an already-built tiny house was very informative and made me rethink some of my initial ideas on how I would build my interior, opting now for creating features that are multi-functional, but not necessarily always tiny.

For those of you who have used Tumbleweed’s plans as a basis for your projects, what are some of the design modifications you have made?

*I really wanted to purchase plans for the The Protohaus, but after waiting many months hoping they would be done, they still were not available when I needed to purchase mine. Had I known about Dan Louche’s plans when I began, I would have purchased them since his are the only available plans I’ve found that include dormers and an open kitchen design spanning both sides of the trailer). Once completed, my tiny house plans will be available as well.  As someone who has shopped around for plans and drawn inspiration from many resources, I think having more options rather than fewer is a good thing.

Design, Lee, The Houses

Join the conversation! 11 Comments

  1. You have hit the nail on the head with my concerns too. I have loved the ProtoHaus from the moment I saw it, but despite a couple of mentions of plans for it, I had the same experience as you… they aren’t available yet. Best of luck to you with completing your home!

  2. I absolutely adore your new plans….especially the kitchen and porch. I understand about claustrophobia and your loft! What a long process you have been going through, but your final house will be just perfect! :-)

  3. I am really interested in any info you can provide regarding your offset scaffolding holders. I haven’t seen anything like them before.

  4. Love the dormers idea and will suggest it to my student!

  5. This was a great post about design considerations – thank you! The rain screen is a new concept to me – I’d love to hear more about that. I will begin designing my house in earnest in January, and I’m a little nervous that I’ve never set foot inside a tiny house; this post confirms what I already knew … probably a good idea to track one down! lol Thanks for sharing all your learned knowledge. Your house is going to be so amazing! I can’t wait to get to that stage myself.

    • Hi Catherine,You’re right, building ahtnying non-standard is tricky. The short answer is that if it can sit on a trailer and meets the road size limits (13.5 tall and 8.5 wide) it typically is labeled a custom RV trailer and no subject to codes. It will be subject to ordinances, like camping on private property, which is not always allowed. If it’s on a foundation codes do apply and the square footage minimum can be tricky to work around.You could also find a place without codes, or few codes. Here’s a great ebook that can help point you in the right direction: Thanks!Michael

  6. My husband and I are in the process of building our Fencl and will be making several modifications to the plans as well. The most recent design change followed after seeing the Protohaus. We will be taking out a few of our rafters that have already been installed and will be doing the dormers instead. We will also be doing an open style kitchen as we love to cook and want the main area to focus on the kitchen. Keep up the great work; I’ll be following!

    • Hi there! I saw your blog before and have been following it. Good luck and if you’re ever in the DC area, please be in touch!

      • Oh, and instead of hainvg a built-in closet maybe have one that is on wheels so it can be moved at night to accommodate unfolding the sofabed or Murphy bed. (Or doing away with it entirely. Most people living in tiny spaces like this probably don’t have a lot of clothes that require ironing and probably only need drawers and shelves to stow their wardrobe. Maybe have two old chests/trunks on casters, filling one with bedding and the other with clothes.)

  7. Is it possible to get a copy of your plans? Yours is the best design I have seen by far.



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