The Search for Space: where do you park a tiny house?

How do I find a place to park a tiny house?  After two years of talking with thousands of people about tiny houses at our monthly open houses, workshops and conferences, that is the most common question I get asked.  Therefore, as Boneyard Studios has started our quest for the next location where the Matchbox and Pera houses will move later this fall, we realized that we should be documenting the process of searching for new space.

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Exploring DC’s alleys

Thus far it’s been an exciting, although exhausting, endeavor as we’ve been having multiple meetings a week with vacant property owners, homeowners, city officials, and community organizations.  Friends and a real estate agent have been sending me ideas for properties.  Of course, most of these leads will not become our next location, but it’s still been fun to explore the city’s alleys and vacant properties and start paying attention to spaces that I have previously never noticed.  As a geographer, I can’t neglect to bring mapping into this quest, so we are also working with a GIS student who is doing an analysis for us using city databases of vacant and blighted properties and alley lots to help narrow down the properties we consider.

Private lot with a shipping container and truck

Private lot with a shipping container and truck

 

The potential properties are everything from backyard space to vacant, very urban (and visible) properties to huge lands that have yet to be developed.  The ownership varies from private homeowners to developers to city-owned property, all of which will affect what we can do with the space.   Both Jay and I have a preference to partner with the city and/or a community-driven organization/business, and we just had a great meeting discussing this possibility and some potential properties. As we continue with this search for new space, stay tuned for posts on the process.  To the extent that we can share our process publicly, we will and hope it can serve as resource to others, both individuals in the tiny house community and to organizations in other cities who are working on similar initiatives.  And, of course, if you have ideas for locations or would like to chat with us about partnerships, please send us an email.

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Boneyard Studios is moving (and needs your help!)

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 (the Pera House or the Matchbox)

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.

<3,
Lee and Jay
Boneyard Studios

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.

The Postcard Underground – supporters of the tiny house movement

Unless you’ve built a tiny house, you may not realize that it can often be a very lonely and discouraging process.  Sure, it’s fun and exciting, but there are many things that are challenging and frustrating about the build process as well.  Yet it seems that for every challenge, there is something positive that keeps you going through the build.  For the last two weeks I’ve been struggling with this nasty flu – for a whole week I hardly left the house, and then the second week of it, I only made it into my work twice.  Yet those two days that I did make it in to work last week, I was pleasantly surprised to find postcards waiting for me from an organization called the Postcard Underground.

A google search revealed several organizations who had also been recipients of their postcards.  Through this search I found out that the Postcard Underground sends anonymous postcards with encouraging messages to individuals and organizations who they believe are doing inspiring work.  Even though I don’t know who is behind this effort, I feel so fortunate to have been the recipient of a few of their postcards.  They came at a time when I really needed some encouragement, and they made me remember the joy it is to receive snail mail in this age of emails and texts.  The fact that the postal stamps are from Minnesota, my home, makes me even more appreciative of their effort.  Thank you, Postcard Undergound, for your support of Boneyard Studios and the whole tiny house community!

A workshop designed like a tiny house

We believe tiny house workshops should be like tiny houses: small, intimate, and designed to your individual needs.  That’s why a couple of the professionals involved in building houses at Boneyard Studios put together a tiny house design workshop for the DIYer who wants more technical information and planning materials for their tiny house build. Our first workshop this past fall was a success and a lot of fun to put on, so we are redoing it again this Spring at Howard University.  Find out more details about the workshop and watch a video from our past workshop.  Check out our photos and materials from the past workshop below and see why I, Lee, was motivated to help design a workshop with these professionals after my experience building a tiny house.

Throughout my tiny house project, I have realized how much building requires project planning, understanding major decision points in the process, and a knowledge of building code and materials.  I didn’t fully understand how one decision impacted another or what building decisions and techniques were unique to tiny houses.  I had naively bought into some of the promotional materials in the tiny house world that claim you can build a tiny house with just 14 tools or that make it seem like building a tiny house is simpler and easier just because it’s smaller than a regular house.  Our experience has been the opposite: a tiny house actually requires more planning, and a pretty thorough knowledge of building science, health and safety, and codes (International Building Code, RV code (ANSI/RVIA), and city code and zoning) in order to build a structure that is safe, durable, and is an efficient use of space.  Come learn with us again this spring!

 

Insulated at last…Pera house update

What a busy month it’s been.   After I finished up the siding of my house with other furloughed feds at the beginning of October, I built my my kitchen cabinets with a professional cabinetmaker at the Build Tiny workshop that my friend Robin Hayes led. Robin has been an amazing resource in my build.  As a master plumber and general contractor, she has helped me to understand how important project management is in construction and even more so in tiny house construction where every decision and detail matters.

Most newsworthy, however, is that last week my house WAS…FINALLY…INSULATED! (with closed-cell foam by AC&R insulation). Eight months after originally planned and with freezing temperatures descending upon Washington DC, it could not have come at a more appropriate time (unless it would have been installed last winter when I originally planned it to be!).  Insulation was a big step – no longer am I just building the structure of my house, but I am moving on to the interior, a more personal space.  Given that shift in the build process, I took some time the morning of insulation to do a space clearing with some sage that my friend Margaret, another tiny house builder, had given me.  When she gifted me the sage a year ago I had fully expected to be done with my entire house when I used it. Yet I felt I needed to honor this step in the build process to thank those who’ve helped me on this journey up until now, and to challenge myself to finish this project in a timely manner.  I’m now very motivated to move forward quickly with the interior of my house, and I’m excited to be working with some new builders/designers since Tony and Matt have moved on to other full-time jobs (thank you both so much for getting the exterior of my house looking so wonderful).

I look forward to posting our progress on the interior over the next couple of months.  In the meantime, check out photos from the past month, including cabinet making during the Build Tiny workshop, a trip to the Hicksville lumber mill (best prices in the area for lumber), a visit from my mother who helped me to organize my supplies and our shipping container (thanks, Mom!), and my closed-cell foam insulation.

 

Boneyard Studios featured in Dwell magazine

Boneyard Studios was fortunate to be featured in the November issue of Dwell magazine. The current issue highlights small space design and we were photographed and interviewed for an article on microhousing communities.  You can check out the article online or in the print magazine. If you don’t already “like” our Boneyard Studios’ Facebook page, go there to see some photos from the photo shoot (thanks to Eli Meir Kaplan Photography for sharing the photos) .  Also, I don’t blog as regularly as I post new photos and announcements to the Facebook page, so follow us there for regular updates or if you’re an Instagram user, link here.

Screenshot of Online Article in Dwell

Screenshot of Online Article in Dwell

Screenshot of Dwell print magazine cover: Small Spaces, Big Ideas.

Screenshot of Dwell November 2013 Issue: Small Spaces, Big Ideas.

A few clarifications to the Dwell piece/photos:

1) We are a friendly bunch who has fun! (Dwell must have a rule on no smiling as the guys look very serious in all of the photos!)

2) Boneyard Studios is not just dudes (Lee Pera, the female founder of Boneyard Studios, and Elaine Walker, the owner of the little white house, were not on the lot the day of the photo shoot).

3) In addition, many other members of the community were also absent from the photo shoot, including our architects and and another builder.  So many thanks to Foundry Architects, David Bamford of Element Design&Build for the beautiful execution of our projects at Boneyard Studios!

Another impact of the government shutdown – siding on Pera house finally complete!

As many of you readers know, I work as a geographer for a government agency which means that I have been furloughed this week.  Although Congress cannot get their act together, I figured it was a great opportunity for me to get my act together after a busy month of travel and finish up the exterior of my house.  So yesterday several furloughed friends and I spent the afternoon finishing up the siding on my dormers and roof. Although we couldn’t do our jobs to protect the environment as we do most days, it was great to do some physical labor and see the results of our work immediately.

Furloughed feds working on the Pera house

Furloughed feds working on the Pera house

EPA employees are quite skilled at carpentry too!

EPA employees are quite skilled at carpentry too!

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Last of the dormer siding!

Last of the dormer siding!

For those of you who have kept up with my posts over the past year, you’ll know that this siding project has been the longest and most labor intensive siding project in the history of tiny houses (okay, I don’t know that for sure, but I’m pretty certain!)  It’s been a very emotional process – especially upon discovering things I’d done wrong, wish I would have done differently, or things I had to do and then redo.  In the end, though, it challenged me to learn new skills  – planing, sawing, drilling, organization, project management, with which I still very much struggle!  In addition, I gained confidence in building (I hop onto my roof now to work where a year ago I was too scared to even climb the ladder to get up there!). Another positive outcome of it being a laborious process was that it allowed me to host numerous work parties with friends and volunteers, and I have such fond memories of all the folks who contributed to the siding, yesterday’s siding party being the last one!  Yes, we finally knocked off the remaining siding on the dormers and roof yesterday, and I’ve ended up with a pretty amazing-looking design.

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I have such gratitude for everyone who has helped with the siding of the house, whether that be a weekend of planing wood, an afternoon of treating boards, multiple work parties screwing them in, or spring afternoons helping me on my roof.  And then there were the numerous weekends I worked by myself – slowly, tediously, but meditatively, challenging myself to complete something I thought I would never finish.  There were many days I cursed the night we came up with this design, yet now that’s it’s finally done I think I’ll put on the rose-colored glasses and just remember the many weekends working on the house with friends and feel proud that we actually finished the most labor-intensive task on my house (well, let’s hope that no other task will take me almost a year to complete!)  Thanks, all!  Next up…insulation and interior!

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