on choosing plans: designing by doing

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.

lot design, take II

A revised site plan for the showcase, with 4 tiny studios on wheels, shipping container storage, south-facing garden area, limited parking, and fruit trees.

lee’s tiny house design

I recently bought the framing plans for the Tumbleweed Fencl after attending Tumbleweed’s tiny house workshop here in DC this past summer.  I plan on doing my interior differently than the Fencl and am still in the design phase of the interior.

While I don’t plan to actively travel with my tiny house, I do expect I’ll move it a few times.  Therefore, I want to follow the advice given by Tumbleweed Tiny Homes to keep it within the width and height allowances that make it easy to drive on most major roads in the country without a special permit.  Most Tumbleweed models are 8 feet wide by 16 or 18 feet long and include a loft for sleeping and a front porch.  I am going to build mine out to 20 feet long and not build the porch that is standard on most Tumbleweed models.  Since I don’t plan to move it that often, I will build up my own little deck or patio that is removable so I can use that extra few feet of the trailer as interior space.

Here are some of the interior designs of other tiny houses that I really like:

Protohaus – they have done a great job with the design of the interior and should their plans be available in time for my build I will buy them.  Click for more pictures.

Chris and Melissa’s Tiny Tack House in Washington State.  They have beautiful photos of the interior on their blog.

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