Yes, bad timing and cliche to draw on Lance Armstrong, but it fits the story I want to tell.  In Lance’s case it wasn’t about the bike, but about the D’s: drugs, doping, deception, denial, and duping his teammates and fans.  For me, it’s not about the tiny house, but about the C’s: creating community, challenging myself to take risks and learn new skills, creatively finding new ways to live with fewer material possessions, confronting (compassionately and carefully I hope) societal norms and policies that greatly influence how we live, and collaborating with others who are interested in making our cities more vibrant through creative use of urban spaces.

Telling the story of our tiny house community idea - Spring 2012

Telling the story of our tiny house community idea – Spring 2012

Because those are a lot of C’s to cover, I’m going to concentrate on the creating community aspect in this post.  The community building is what inspires me, and it also is something I know a lot of tiny house enthusiasts struggle with when first embarking on their projects: how do you find like-minded people and supporters where you live?  So, I thought I’d share my story with you.

When I decided to take on this project in DC, it wasn’t because of an intense desire to build a tiny house. Yes, I had caught the tiny house bug as many do and spent hours gazing at pictures on blogs and in books.  But what really inspired me was the creative challenge of doing this project in an urban space, especially on the East Coast.  For a while it seemed overwhelmingly difficult, and I thought I would need to move back to the Pacific Northwest before I completed a project like this – after all, that’s where all the tiny house builders seemed to be.

In early 2010, when I first learned about tiny houses on wheels, I started googling “tiny houses and DC” every so often to try and find anyone in the area who was interested in them.  I found Steve who had built one in Florida and now lived in DC (luckily he worked near me and ended up offering me great advice in the early stages of planning).  But for months I couldn’t find anyone else.  Then one day in October of 2010, while sitting on a bus from NYC to DC and feeling optimistic about life, I told myself that I was going to build a tiny house on wheels even if it seemed impossible to do so in DC.  As someone who dreams up many ideas without implementing most, it’s important for me to fully commit to an idea or a project.  Those words, no matter how quietly said to myself on that bus, were still a commitment to this endeavor.  As the mountaineer W.H. Murray said,

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back.  Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.

And something certainly moved.  Excited about the commitment I had made to myself, I once again googled “tiny houses and DC” when I got home that night and, Surprise!, a blog post had been put up earlier that day about two women building tiny houses in DC.  I couldn’t believe it…excited yet disappointed as well because the women (understandably) didn’t want to share their contact information or go public with their projects.  But then a serendipitous moment : the following weekend I met the blog writer at a community bike workshop, and she put me in touch with the two tiny house women.  From that point on I knew my endeavor would be possible.

That summer I participated in a Tumbleweed tiny house workshop and started hosting regular meetups at my apartment with people I had met there.  Twenty of us or so would get together to discuss tiny houses.  Several months later I met Brian, and we started brainstorming and planning the Boneyard Studios project.  We held a showcase with Wangari Gardens in the Spring, where we met Jay, and since then we’ve held monthly open houses and volunteer work days on the Boneyard Studios lot while building our tiny houses.

Recent open house at Boneyard Studios

Recent open house at Boneyard Studios. Photo courtesy of Josh at myclosetgarden.com

I understand the desire of many folks building tiny houses to be private.  After all, tiny houses exist in a grey area of zoning code, and most people who build them do so as a way of designing a life free from many of the pressures of modern-day society.  Many are in rural or suburban areas.   Yet we’ve found the interest in tiny houses in urban areas to be tremendous, and I see a huge gap in the tiny house movement for physical community spaces and showcases.  Sure, we’ve got a great online community with hundreds of tiny house blogs where people share information about their projects virtually.  And there is a great community that comes together for workshops (like Jay’s, Deek’s and Dee’s in addition to fairs like the one that we’ll be presenting at this summer – join us!).  But, if you’re like me, and have wanted to meet people in your area who are interested in tiny houses, it’s not as easy to find a community.

There is a lack of opportunity to actually see a tiny house or help out with one before one embarks on the adventure of building, and I know how important it is to be able to step foot inside a tiny house and learn from others about mistakes or innovations they’ve made.  For this reason, we have made it part of our mission to try and be as open with the public as possible about what we’re doing.

Meetup group volunteers putting siding on my house

Meetup group volunteers help me with installing siding on my house. Photo by Jay Austin.

In addition to the meetup group I organize where you can sign up for a volunteer workday or come to a quarterly meetup event to talk about tiny houses in the DC area, we also host monthly open houses on the lot.  This is a great opportunity to tour the tiny houses, learn about our motivations for building, and talk to our builders and architects about the details of a tiny house project.  While we love to have visitors, we also want people to respect the neighbors and our space which is why we have implemented a more formal visiting process through the monthly open houses and meetups.

Tiny house enthusiasts treat cedar siding

I understand the reluctance of most tiny house owners to open up their projects as it is a lot of effort, time, and can be risky.  On the other hand, our goal is to create community and a space for others to learn about tiny houses and other creative uses of land in urban spaces through the events we organize.  We hope to meet you at one of them soon. And, of course, please email me if you’re interested in discussing anything related to collaboration around creative use of urban space.

~ Lee

IMG_5512

Presenting at Boneyard Studios Open House. Photo courtesy of Josh at MyClosetGarden.com

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Join the conversation! 14 Comments

  1. Wonderful story Lee! And thanks for sharing the quote from W.H. Murray – I agree that as soon as we fully commit, doors begin to open.

    Reply
  2. I am so impressed by your writing, Lee. But then I shouldn’t be as your mother is also a master at it. I am also very impressed by your commitment and willingness to share your talents and dreams with others. You are to be commended, and I wish you continued success in your endeavor.

    Reply
  3. Lovely article, and lovely people!

    Reply
  4. The community aspect of Tiny Houses is something that I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately. Conceptually, each tiny house is a small reflection of the owner’s dreams and ideals and so incredibly personal and unique. It can make it hard to see how such individualistic creations can fit together.

    But *practically*, each tiny house is… well, TINY. Which can make it ideal for living in an urban area. Yes, your neighbors might be much closer by than out in the wilderness, but you already have encapsulated your own little haven.

    And regardless of where you place your house, you always need to be conscious of your surroundings, be they the ebb and flow of the seasons on your remote plot of land, or the thrum of humanity in the urban neighborhood in which you live.

    Reply
  5. The community aspect of Tiny Houses is something that I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately. Conceptually, each tiny house is a small reflection of the owner’s dreams and ideals and so incredibly personal and unique. It can make it hard to see how such individualistic creations can fit together.

    But *practically*, each tiny house is… well, TINY. Which can make it ideal for living in an urban area. Yes, your neighbors might be much closer by than out in the wilderness, but you already have encapsulated your own little haven.

    And regardless of where you place your house, you always need to be conscious of your surroundings, be they the ebb and flow of the seasons on your remote plot of land, or the thrum of humanity in the urban neighborhood in which you live.

    Reply
  6. [...] community. Lee Pera, one of the founders of Boneyard Studios, just wrote a great post titled it’s not about the house…, in which she discusses what motivated her to become part of the tiny house movement and what the [...]

    Reply
  7. There is something in the tiny home movement that makes a psychological connection in certain people…they may all come from different backgrounds and places, but it’s there, that thing that draws us to those tiny homes…i’m not talking about finances, or rebelling against a system, or a culture, but the idea of day to day life in a small, self contained shell…
    I read a blog post that claimed many tiny home builders have given up and now rent out their tiny homes, or have sold them…i’m interested in the reasons they gave up…was it addiction to possessions, giving up on the zoning battle, image problems with others thinking them poor…or was it that dreams and reality rarely mirror each other…whatever it was it concerns me as a future tiny home owner.
    I don’t have the issues i mentioned above save for potential/probable zoning issues, fortunately i’m not tied to a location and like the country, even if it means an RV park of some kind….in fact, the utilities an RV park offers are quite attractive, and offer some solutions i need for standard plumbing power supply issues.
    So…why the failure of those who give it up?
    Narrow trailers…8 feet wide, 7 feet after the walls go up, is probably the biggest reason for many. It’s hard to imagine a room with furniture being so narrow as livable. The solution? Easy, go 10 feet wide, sure you’ll need a permit to move it, but not a chase vehicle or a moving company, you can tow a 10 foot wide load yourself and a permit is a simple and cheap thing to get for just a 10 foot wide trailer, and honestly how often are you going to move it? once or twice a year would seem frequent to me…I’ve towed wide trailers myself, the permit process takes an hour in most cases, requires a ‘wide load’ banner and brake lights, and in the recent past (in my city) cost forty dollars, that’s it…simple. The gain in space/dimensions of a tiny home are so worth the trades.
    A 10 foot wide tiny home will give you 9 feet of width after the walls go up, allowing for more standard sized furniture and a much better ‘feeling’ room…i say ‘feeling’…like it or not, we are all programmed psychologically to perceive certain dimensions as livable/comfortable, or not…psychology is the number one factor in ‘feeling at home’ in a space, everything from tents, to hotel rooms, to mansions have been studied for, or built with the psychological effects of space in mind…even a carpenter unconsciously understands what he’s building needs certain dimensions for practical human use even if he doesn’t understand the psychology, human instincts are unavoidable especially in how we relate to living spaces.
    Go outside with a tape measure, a roll of masking tape, and find an empty parking space to measure and layout in tape the dimensions of your tiny home…this is deceptive, the mind has a hard time visualizing empty spaces, but you will see a much more pleasing room size and shape…
    Sorry to post such a long diatribe…but i felt it would make sense to a lot of people who might need the information before they build….

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment. The Minim House I’m building at Boneyard Studios is 11′ wide, 22′ long, as I had some similar concerns about tiny house livability. More information at minimhomes.com, and on this website. Brian

      Reply
    • Hi John,
      I think one of the biggest problems for real small living is storage of some things. I have thought about living on a boat that I have, with a storage unit near by for seasonal and “occasional” items. I think it requires a very organized individual to downsize to next to nothing and be prepared to acquire, borrow, rent everything as needed. Food alone is a big issue. It is not practical to shop every day unless you live near a good source of food. When I saw the Whole Foods Market on Columbus Circle in NYC, I thought, “Wow, now you can build apartments without kitchens!” But who wants that? I want some cookbooks – on line provides a great solution – but ingredients can start to take up a lot of room. Do I have to give up baking bread? Sewing? Printing my photographs? etc? There are a lot of decisions to down-sizing that are daunting. I have bought a Scan-Snap scanner in an attempt to convert papers to an all digital filing system. Even downsizing is time consuming.
      Having said all this, I love what Boneyard is doing, and I for one would welcome developing a piece of property to accommodate a mini community. I think another issue may be that folks who downsize are not necessarily looking for community. And just because you have community in common, does not necessarily guarantee other commonalities. I’m the middle of six kids, so I’m pretty flexible. BTW, my partner and I are presently living and working from home in a 600 square cottage. It is quite doable.
      That said, I can’t wait to come visit and see what you all are doing.
      With very best wishes,
      Trina

      Reply
  8. This is great, I’d love to start a tiny home community in the Rockies outside Denver. Planning to start building this year with a friend, hope to find the land for community!

    Reply
  9. [...] community. Lee Pera, one of the founders of Boneyard Studios, just wrote a great post titled it’s not about the house…, in which she discusses what motivated her to become part of the tiny house movement and what the [...]

    Reply

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