As the weather (maybe) cools and autumn quickly approaches, here’s a quick roundup of what’s going on at DC’s tiny house community over the next few months—
Six Playwrights. Five Plays. Three Tiny Houses. One Community. Pinky Swear Productions takes over Boneyard Studios this fall with Tiny House Plays.
Pinky Swear Productions is excited to announce a partnership with Boneyard Studios to produce Tiny House Plays, a series of short plays by six talented local playwrights.
Pinky Swear has long discussed the idea of producing site-specific theatre in an alternative space. So when company member and veteran Pinky Swear director Jessica Aimone read an article about Boneyard Studios, she reached out to the tiny home owners. To our delight, they have enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to turn their tiny houses into tiny stages—and come fall 2014, audience members will join us on a journey from tiny house to tiny house, watching life unfold inside (and sometimes outside) each space.
For Tiny House Plays, Pinky Swear reached out to several local women playwrights and one brother/sister team to pen short pieces on the theme of community, inspired by Boneyard Studios and the surrounding neighborhood. We are excited and proud to now announce our playwrights for Tiny House Plays: Thembi Duncan, Ann and Shawn Fraistat, Danielle Mohlman, Donna Reinhold, and Laura Zam. Together, they will create a shared world in which the characters’ stories are revealed simultaneously in each space.
Learn more at pinkyswear-productions.com. Tickets not available just yet, but stay tuned!
(As always, Boneyard Studios isn’t making any money from this partnership; we’re just looking to do what we can to promote local arts. To support our mission and our plans to expand to a new location where we can do even wilder and crazier things than bringing five plays to three tiny houses for twenty-five plus performances next month, consider donating here. Thanks!)
Two years ago, three tiny house enthusiasts got together on a crumbling alley lot in Northeast DC and built the first intentional tiny house community in America. Since its humble beginnings in early 2012, Boneyard Studios has grown to more than just a few tiny homes: it has become a showcase, a music venue, a garden, a bike-in movie theater, and much more. Over the past two years, we’ve welcomed nearly 6,000 visitors to our lot for tiny house tours, tiny house concerts, tiny house book readings, and community work days, and we’ve kept them always—and forever—free. We want to keep fostering that community, to keep providing a free place for people to create and share, a place for more tiny houses, a place for local art, agriculture, and architecture. We’re going to need more space.
So this year, the Pera House and the Matchbox (and any other tiny houses interested in coming along for the ride) are hitching up and traveling to lands unknown (somewhere in DC; we’re just not yet sure where) to repurpose another unused urban space, and to make it available for everyone to enjoy. But to make that happen (and to keep things free), we could really use your help. Here’s how:
Donate. Here’s a link. Please—if you’ve ever made it out to Boneyard Studios or if you haven’t and just want to support what we’re doing—consider clicking it and donating whatever you can to help us out. As a token of our appreciation, we’re offering the following to supporters:
- Any amount: tons and tons of love and gratitude
- $25: a personal thank-you card from Lee and Jay
- $50: your name (or message) forever enshrined at our new space
- $100: a personal tour of the houses for you and your friends or family (or both!)
- $200: a night in one of our world-famous tiny houses
Help us find land. We’re looking for land within DC to lease or buy under a cooperative or land trust model—community land owned by the community. So please, keep an eye out for empty, unsightly lots that could use a little creative energy, or if you already have one in mind (or if you just so happen to own one), let us know.
Help us find people. If you can’t give money or land or tips about space in the city, maybe you know someone who can. We’d love to borrow your social network—if you wouldn’t mind facebooking, tweeting, or whatever-ing this page to your friends, that’d be awesome. Or if you know someone who might want to be more closely involved in our Boneyard Studios expansion, please put us in touch.
Expect much more in the coming months, and many thanks for two great years of support thus far.
Fine print: Every dollar donated will be spent toward furtherance of DC’s tiny house community, and not a cent will be spent on the tiny houses themselves or kept by the tiny house owners. Instead, we’ll be using the money for things like community-accessible furniture, firepits, tool workshops, art installations, city permits, and—depending on the land we settle on—cooperative land leasing or ownership. For questions about donating, let us know.
Boneyard Studios isn’t just about tiny houses; it’s about bringing together community, a space for builders and artists to create and construct. We do a bit of that through our popular concert series—featuring local musicians playing sets in, on, or outside of the tiny houses—and a bit more with our budding film series (oh, and we also have a big surprise coming this fall). But between these events, we’d like to give you—the artists among or within you—another way to have your work seen and heard.
Roughly once a month, we host a free open house to show folks the tiny house community, and between 10AM and 1PM on those monthly Sundays, over two hundred enthusiasts from DC and beyond descend on the little lot with excitement and curiosity: a (semi-)captive audience. That’s where you come in.
Musician looking to share your songs? Come on by with a tip jar and do your thing while hundreds wander about the lot. Painter? Pull up an easel and get to work, and see if you can’t find someone amongst the visitors who likes your style and wants a commissioned canvas. Sculptor with some outdoor pieces? We’d be more than happy to display your art at the Boneyard during the tour, or leave it around for those who pass by outside of open house hours for however long you’d like. Local coffee, beer, kombucha brewer? People love free samples, and our guests are all yours.
We’re not asking anything in return for a little corner of the lot; just a heads up as early as possible beforehand so we know whom and what to expect. We just, y’know, want to support good art, local ventures, and you.
Fine print: Boneyard Studios is residentially zoned, so we can’t have any open selling of goods or services on the lot. But donations are just fine, as is exchanging contact information with visitors for business later on.
Back in February, I shared a tour of the Matchbox put together by Deek Diedricksen, but before I leave for my summer in Europe (today!), I thought I’d offer a video update on tiny house (and community) progress. Enjoy—
We keep most junk around for economic reasons: because we think we’ll use it, because we think we’ll need it, because we can’t accept a sunk cost or because we can afford to buy knick-knacks of no value. The last breed of junk, however, isn’t economic; it’s emotional.
#5: Books (stuff that you’ve [maybe] read once and will [probably] never read again)
I should begin by noting that I am nothing if not a bibliophile, a lover of literature and the limitless knowledge and entertainment books contain. But loving literature is not the same as loving books.
I have great friends with lovely libraries, cabinets and cases of texts and tomes, paperbacks and publications, hundreds and hundreds of bindings containing thousands and thousands of pages. It’s beautiful wall art.
But is it functional? Hardly. Think of all the books you’ve ever read. If you have a library, think of how many books you own. Now think of how many of those books you’ve read a second time. Some? A third time. A few? A fourth time. Maybe two, one, zero? Practically, personal libraries are overwhelmingly underused: a book purchased, read, and then shelved, never to be opened again. With over 130 million different titles in existence, the reader rarely returns to her collection. Rather, she adds to it—buy, read, shelf, repeat—and the library grows.
|Many books, lots of space.|
So what’s the harm? Space, for one—libraries take up a lot of room and are a pain to move. Finances—buying books costs money. And then there’s the environmental cost: books are, well, made from trees, and every new copy of a book requires new pages, new trees. My simple back-of-the-napkin estimate of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, for instance (200 million copies at an average of 500 pages each, with a single sixty-foot pine tree yielding about 80,000 pages), has required nearly 1.3 million trees to produce over its long print-cycle—about 3% of the Amazon’s (the forest, not the retailer) present inventory. And remember, that’s just the impact of one (very high-selling) book.
But space and money and planet aside, perhaps the best argument for ditching the library is sharing. As with just-in-case junk (for what is a library but just-in-case-I-want-to-read-this-later junk?), everything we have is something someone else can’t have. When we hoard five hundred books just in case we want to reread five, we’re keeping 495 books from our community, 495 books that can be read not later, but now—right now. And let’s face it: if we care about a book enough to keep it, isn’t it inherently something we think others deserve to experience as well?
But how do we go about reading without amassing a library? Simple. We begin by donating our books—all those but the few we really, really, really believe we’ll read again—to real libraries, public libraries, libraries with free and open access to all. Or we build a little free library in our neighborhood and stock it with our best. Or we pass on our collection to a used books store, perhaps even sell them on Amazon (the retailer, not the forest) for a fair price. We keep the revolving door revolving.
Then, we get a library card. We check books out and check them back in, or we buy new books and sell them back when we’re done. Maybe we get an e-reader. Me, I’m partial to the Kindle Paperwhite (though I trust they’re all very good), finding it to offer quite a few benefits over the paper book:
- It’s light. At under 8 ounces, an e-reader weighs half of an average paperback, and that weight doesn’t change for the epic novels. Infinite Jest and Cannery Row not only weigh the same, they weigh the same together—8 ounces on a Kindle, 2 pounds in hand. For travelers, e-readers are phenomenal; one can easily pack 100 books for a multi-month excursion, and stuff the whole collection right into their back pocket.
- It’s … light. Speaking just for the Paperwhite here, it’s an absolute pleasure to read in the dark. With a soft, adjustable backlight that’s easy on the eyes, reading lamps, flashlights, and strained lenses are a thing of the past.
- Books are affordable and available for all. With thousands of titles in the public domain—and many more free to download if you know where to look—e-readers have the potential to truly close the literary gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged. Growing up with neither the money for books nor someone to take me to the library regularly, it’s heartening to see such open access to literature growing and evolving, but it depends on the support of all of us to continue doing so.
Of course, I’ve heard the arguments against them—but I love the feel of a book!, they smell so good!, or the entitled and illogical ramblings of Jonathan Franzen—and for a while, I believed them too (maybe not the Franzen bit). But the truth is, first you try an e-reader, then you get used to an e-reader, and then you prefer an e-reader, and the bookworm inside of you thanks you for it. The minimalist in you does too.
|Many books, little space.|
#6: Sentimental junk (stuff that we may or may not hold dear)
I won’t ridicule sentimental junk as I have junk’s other five forms, for our sentimental items are often those we’re most sensitive about. We give them value that transcends currency; often, we consider them irreplaceable. These treasured bits of our very selves adorn our home and warm our hearts—the very type of thing I’ve advocated for keeping around in the past—so I want to be clear that what I’m talking about here is not the urn or the photo album, nor the old rocking chair passed down through the generations. Sure, these are sentimental, but they are not sentimental junk.
Sentimental junk are those items we keep because we feel they should have value. Old holiday cards with more matter than message, ticket stubs we plan to scrapbook one day but never do, letters from lovers long gone, a final draft of a senior thesis or a diploma itself. In my own downsizing journey, these were the most difficult items to part with. But after the hesitance, recycling my diplomas and burning old correspondence felt cathartic, freeing, leaving my past alive in the only place it really exists and the only place it can be truly treasured: my memories.
And then, of course, there’s digitization. Yes, we can burn our letters and toss our photo albums and discard our physical encumbrances, but that needn’t be our only option. For we live in the digital age, an age of uploading and archiving, an age when the contents of a shoebox or a trunk can be preserved on a chip smaller than a fingernail. Perhaps flipping through digital albums isn’t quite the same as passing an afternoon in the attic perusing old photobooks, but hey: at least you don’t need an attic.
This post is the fourth of a series on living simply. More to come soon.
Cross-posted at Adventures in Simplicity.
The Matchbox, like nearly all tiny homes, saves on space with a sleeping loft: forty square feet elevated roughly seventy-eight inches off the ground, just enough room for a mattress and its occupant(s). Having spent my fair share of nights in the Matchbox’s queen-size loft, let’s take a look at the the good, the bad, and the ugly of loft living, from safety to sustainability to sex—and everything in between.
|The Matchbox and its spacious loft, with the skylight adding a feeling of great openness.|
To begin, lofts are cozy—like, really cozy. When designed right, with ample headroom and a generous skylight and soft linens, the loft is a lovely place to read, rest, or watch the clouds drift by. A hideaway flatscreen (like the one featured in the Matchbox) can transform the space into a tiny cinema, and the removable skylight provides quick egress to the roof—important for safety, but also a lovely place to sit and contemplate on those warmer summer nights.
The loft does great in the cold as well. Because hot air rises, a loft will always be the warmest place in a tiny house, so running the fireplace a short time before bed is typically enough to keep one comfortable for hours: no need to use electricity the whole night through. And when things get a tad too toasty, easy access to the skylight allows for heat to be vented up and away at will.
Then, of course, there’s the space savings: forty square feet elevated means forty square feet of surplus down below, or forty square feet less altogether, allowing for a tinier, simpler, cheaper, greener home—though one not without a few admittable tradeoffs.
Brian designed Minim House without a loft, as he found the elevated bed useful only “if you’re young, don’t drink much, can handle rain noise, and don’t get too creative during sexytime.” Some fair and very valid points: loft ladders are more physically taxing then simply rolling into bed, for starters. When I had surgery last year, I had to spend a week away from the Matchbox because I couldn’t make it up the loft, and after a long run or a full day of rock climbing, lifting myself into bed is something of a chore.
They also, indeed, require more sobriety to climb. I’m a responsible drinker, so I’ve yet to find myself in a serious liquor-versus-ladder showdown, but loft safety more broadly is a serious concern. In testing a (failed) method of securing my ladder to the loft this winter, I fell off it twice while climbing, fortunately making it back to my feet with only a few bruises. And while my memory foam mattress and calm sleep demeanor protect me from rolling right off the bed while asleep, most tiny house lofts do lack railings, and thus are a terribly dangerous idea for he-who-tosses-and-turns or she-who-sleepwalks.
To Brian’s third concern—rain noise—I can’t say I ever recall being bothered by the crash of rainfall, but perhaps my fondness for nature’s dearer sounds leaves me biased. I won’t, however, rebut Brian’s final claim: a loft does, indisputably, limit your intimacy options.
I’ll admit that in designing my loft and choosing its height, “maneuverability” played a key role. I’m quite satisfied with the way the loft turned out; I find that between the queen-size mattress, the flat ceiling, and the raised skylight, there’s more than enough space for a roomy romp. But there are limits, of course: prohibited positions and the occasional bumping of the head and a mild awkwardness that demands that one, well, have a little familiarity and shared sense of humor with one’s loft guest(s). It’s a tradeoff, sure, but one with a simple solution, if need be: just take it downstairs.
Getting downstairs is, in itself, something worth noting. Life with a loft means no more rolling out of bed. Waking up and descending into productivity becomes a careful, deliberate action, and when really tired, it truly is the last thing you want to do—when the loft is nice and warm and the space below cold and unforgiving, even more so.
So there’s the good: lofts are simple and cozy, they take advantage of thermodynamics to save energy, they provide easy access for escape (essential or otherwise), they save considerable space, and though the athleticism required to climb in and out of one daily is sometimes a pain, there’s something to be said for a loft doing its small part in keeping you young, both at heart and in body (the edge of the loft also serves as a perfect pull-up bar, I should add).
And then the bad: they’re not the safest sleeping solution (a fall or two is to be expected), and they are a bit of work to climb down from after a long night of slumber. They limit sex—not prohibitively so, not at all with a little creativity, a well-placed skylight, or a descent downstairs—but they do, incontrovertibly, make some of its manifestations a touch inconvenient (I won’t argue that Bob Dylan’s “Lay, Lady, Lay” wouldn’t have quite the same ring to it were that big brass bed switched out for a tiny house loft). And they do bite a chunk out of ceiling height in the bathroom (atop which they’re usually placed), perhaps making it difficult for the taller among us to shampoo and lather without bumping a hand or elbow against the bottom of the loft.
Finally, I haven’t forgotten the ugly. Up to this point, I’ve been discussing a well-designed loft, a loft like the one with in the Matchbox (exact size 66″ x 88″ x 39″), with a flat ceiling and a wide skylight and a queen-size mattress and three-and-a-half feet of space to sit up in. Or like the one in the Pera House, with shallow dormers and loft windows and lengthy dimensions. Most tiny house lofts, however, are designed with little thought toward livability, a casualty of a gabled roof design that looks cute on the outside but feels like a coffin on the inside.
|A typical tiny house with a gabled loft—cute, but not necessarily comfortable.|
I spent a few nights in the loft of a Tumbleweed tiny house—thankfully, before I began constructing the Matchbox—and reacted so strongly to the claustrophobia of a gabled loft (that is, a pointed roof with a thirteen-degree pitch on either side) that I changed the Matchbox’s roof design to a flat one the very next day. Yes, they look mighty spacious when photographed at the right angle with a wide-angle lens, but sleeping in a steeply gabled loft is a bit like camping in a tent: fun for a few nights, but clearly not built for long-term comfort, and certainly not built for two.
|Richie Tenenbaum’s yellow tent, which affords more space than the typical loft (though, presumably, the same level of discomfort).|
Of course, there’s no right answer here: for some, a gabled loft will do just fine; for others, any loft whatsoever would be absurd. For me, I’m more than happy with the Matchbox’s loft—despite its drawbacks, it’s the best thing for the space and for my needs. And as always, for a chance to check out a variety of tiny house sleeping solutions in person, where you can get the truest sense of scale and suitable sizes, feel free to come by any of the upcoming tiny house tours at Boneyard Studios.