Matchbox mini-update

Progress on the Matchbox has obviously slowed in recent months, and our present cold snap has certainly delayed a few parts of the build. That said, autumn and the start of winter have brought many changes to the tiny house.

JAY_1061


Kitchen

Two (induction) burners, a working sink with triple-filtered rainwater, shelf room for 25+ spices and 70+ jars, built-in compost and recycling pails, a (mini-)mini-fridge, ample counterspace for chopping and food processing, two full cabinets for bulk food storage, and a floating fireside dining table with seating for four all make for a pretty decent kitchen in such a tiny space. Beyond a few small finishing touches here and there, the kitchen is the first true realm of the Matchbox to be considered complete, and with its five-foot windows letting in both cool breezes and natural light, it’s an absolute pleasure to cook and eat in.

Bathroom

Arguably the most important part of the house has also been the slowest to materialize, but thanks to some great work from Robin and Tony, the 2′ x 4′ bathroom now has a custom concrete showerpan, four enclosed walls all sealed up with caulk and exterior paint, and a fully-operational low-flow showerhead that offers heated rainwater (nearly) on demand. The bathroom’s outside walls—which will be covered in a floor-to-ceiling world map—still need work, and the toilet is far from complete, but I’m proud to say that the bathroom is making great strides toward, well, full functionality.

Loft

Not much has changed up here beyond the linens. The solar-powered skylight blind has done a terrific job of keeping heat in (or out, depending on season), and a few built-in boxes around the mattress are on their way. I’ve also built a frame for the atrociously-large flat-screen, around which the very talented Katherine Tucker will be painting a canvas that will hide the television’s dull façade with something (a lot) more beautiful for those many hours and days when it’s not in use.

Living area

Having finished work on the Minim House several months back, Dave has graciously been helping piece together some seating and storage furniture: a full couch and bench, along with a coffee table and a few other items. Though it acts as little more than bike storage now, the living area will soon be able to comfortably seat up to seven for casual dining, games, or lounging.

Closet space

The back-right corner of the Matchbox formerly served as a mini-office with a full-sized desk and 23″ computer, but having recently upgraded to a much more portable 15″ laptop—and subsequently removing the desk—that precious corner has been repurposed as daily wall storage, with two brushed aluminum pegboards on the way to keep clothing, camping and climbing gear, photography equipment, and assorted odds and ends all within arm’s reach.

Elsewhere on the Boneyard, we recently said goodbye to the Lusby (and have been exploring other options for that space), congratulated Lee for making fantastic progress on the Pera House’s interior, and began planning for a new studio shed to replace our trusty shipping container, while otherwise doing our best to stay warm during this frigid January.

(I recognize this post is a bit short on photos, but rather than delay an overdue update any longer, I’ll just aim to get those added soon.)

Cross-posted at Adventures in Simplicity.

Saying goodbye to the Lusby

About a year ago, we welcomed Elaine Walker‘s red-and-white Tumbleweed Lusby to Boneyard Studios—the fourth house in our tiny house showcase.

It’s been a pleasure having Elaine’s house on the lot for so long, allowing us to show yet another tiny house design to the many folks who have toured the site during our regular open houses. But last week, the Lusby hit the road once again for a new adventure, leaving our tiny house showcase with the remaining three models: the Pera House, the Matchbox, and Minim House.

Lusby (Elaine)

More change is coming to the lot soon, of course—we recently announced our plans for a communal studio shed to replace our rented shipping container, and we’re currently exploring options to put the space between the Matchbox and the Pera House to good, creative use (suggestions welcome—or if you think you could personally use the space, get in touch with us with your ideas). More to come soon! In the meantime, farewell to the Lusby, and many thanks to Elaine for her wonderful contribution to the Boneyard Studios project this past year.

The Lusby hitched up

The Lusby hitched up

Lusby being driven away down the alley

Lusby being driven away down the alley

Empty space on the Boneyard Studios lot

Empty space on the Boneyard Studios lot

Showdown: $55K DC micro house vs $525K 1 bedroom DC apartment

It occurred to me as I’ve toured a number of 1 bedroom apartments around DC just how little additional functionality one gets for 4x the space (and 10x the price) of a decent micro house in this town.  Just for fun, I developed a matrix comparing the $55K, 210 ft2 Minim House to a fairly hum drum $525K, 923 ft2 Georgetown 1BR apartment.*  Just to check that I wasn’t cherry picking an exceptionally poor design, I also looked at similar floor plans in brand new ‘professionally designed and built’ apartments for rent at AvalonAvaGables, and Equity, all of which have 750-800ft2 one bedrooms (for $1700-3300/month), with roughly comparable floor plans.

I will let readers be the judge of the relative tradeoffs of both living spaces. In this case, functionally, it seems an additional 713ft2 (and $470K) buys two more oven burners, a dishwasher, a bathtub, and bit more closet space.  One might think professionally trained architects and builders could do a bit better with quadruple the space of a micro house.

Minim vs 1br apt

*the obvious caveats here are that the micro house price does not include land value or any building amenities, and that much of housing prices is reflected by location. This post is a basic comparison of functionality of a 210 ft2 space vs a 923 ft2 space.

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!

 

2013: A year in review

It has been a tremendous first full year for Boneyard Studios since the start of our tiny project. Here’s just a little of what we’re proud to have accomplished in 2013:

Thanks for a great year of support, everyone—happy 2014!

Boneyard Studios: (L-R) Lee's Pera House, Elaine's Lusby, Jay's Matchbox, and Brian's Minim House.

the joy of limits (pt.1: grounded)

‘our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning’  Wendell Berry

Limits are a curious thing. We commonly sense there is a clear line of trespass for a range of goods: food intake, staring at the TV, resource extraction, suburban growth, car speed.  Then there fortunately exist things where generally no constraint is needed: creation of art, appreciation of nature, love, among others.  Yet a third category of things lives in the shadows- those things we often don’t think to limit (often in the name of personal freedom and liberty), but might be better off individually and collectively were some boundaries observed: plane travel, ambition and wealth, our number of offspring, time texting on the iPhone. And yes, perhaps even the size of our homes.  Here I wish to consider this last category, as there may be some unexpected riches laying unobserved in embracing constraint, some added creativity unleashed by a box we willingly place ourselves in.

Certainly many in the micro house movement sense a joy in inhabiting a limited space- a simplicity of existence, the elegant economy of form of a well designed small structure, an added freedom once unshackled from unneeded rooms and unwelcome mortgages. Could this joy found in limited space be a footnote to a larger realm?  It seems a relevant question for this site. To start, I would consider the benefits to limitations on movement, of geographic constraint.

At Carleton College every fall, students living on campus with cars were once required to sign them into ‘dead storage’, a muddy dark parking lot back in the woods. To drive cars during the school year required special permission from college security.  While some suddenly discovered new religions to allow off campus car use to attend ‘services’, most stayed put in this rural Minnesota college town, staying together after class on evenings and weekends. There was drinking, but also a blossoming of creative activity on campus as students found ways to entertain.  At the time, an unpopular policy, and seemingly un-American. Yet years later, few question the fact that this limitation was crucial in forging the surest of bonds among us, and to a small patch of campus in the middle of a cornfield.

There are other periods many of us have been willingly confined in time and place: summer camp, graduate school, long cabin weekends– all of which often lead to a harvest of meaningful memories.  Contained geographically, many find there is a certain freedom that only comes from stability, a blossoming of creativity and friendships, a deepened understanding of the place inhabited.  Xavier de Maistre, sentenced to house arrest after a duel, famously wrote a travelogue titled ‘Journey Around My Bedroom’ that explored the richness of every object and memory in his chamber.  For de Maistre, as for Proust, “the voyage of discovery lay not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes’.  For most, such constraint can be torturous if conditions are forced or unwelcome.  Yet when not, geographic boxes frequently come to be experienced far more as a comfort than as a cell.  And when the box fades, the potential to be able to go anywhere, anytime may become momentarily vertiginous.

Apart from deepened understanding and relationship, geographic constraints may promote efficiency of use, as it often does in tiny dwellings.  Urban garden plots are an apt example.  With DC’s urban gardens oversubscribed, most gardeners make do for years with single 10’x6’ plots. Initially frustrated by the limited area, necessity becomes the mother, and some gardeners come to value every inch, happen upon a long list of more intensive and efficient gardening techniques. These plots easily outproduce plots 2-3x that are less well attended.  In comparison to rural gardeners and farmers, some of these urban gardens are the highest yielding plots around.  For those that start with great amounts of land, like unused extra rooms in suburban mcmansions, a wealth of options leads to inefficiency of use.

There are perhaps more subtle lessons as well from the garden. As I planted, I found it tempting to constantly uproot and rearrange plants to gain just a few more inches of growing space.  But transplanting plants over and over was never good for their health. It was far better to plan carefully, plant deliberately, and keep them put. Certainly for the garden to stay healthy, we gardeners needed to stay in place, steadily, to water and weed. There was no app for that.

We humans are not so much like the vegetable. But after a career in international development, I found the continual movement across time zones presented a challenge to social life, good brain functioning, and a sense of place. There were many good people in this professional world, but it seemed few of us ever were ’grounded’ except on a plane.  I became envious of my tomatoes, which got to stay rooted in one place all season.  It seemed plausible that after generations of tribal living, humans might not be terribly well adapted to constant movement among places and cultures, and perhaps prone to jet set melancholia.  It may not be the case that just staying put directly leads to psychological well being, but constant movement impacts other conditions- a sense of community and personal connections, that certainly do.

So as many of us build and use our tiny houses on wheels, most of the time these wheels do not turn, and perhaps for the better.

(c) 2013 Brian Levy

Al Jazeera America airs a documentary and specials on Tiny Houses Nov 22-24

Update on dates/times for Al Jazeera specials on tiny houses:

Watch the documentary Tiny: A story about living small on Al Jazeera America station on Sunday, November 24 at 9pm EST  Details here. This is the television premier of the award-winning documentary by Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith about their experience building a tiny house in Colorado with no previous building skills!

In addition, you can also check out two Al Jazeera shows on tiny houses where you’ll get to see a tour of the Boneyard Studios lot and our houses and an interview with Christopher (the filmmaker).  The Stream airs on Friday night, November 22 at 7:30pm EST and America Tonight will broadcast their special at 5 pm or 6pm EST on Saturday night, November 22.  If any of our supporters have cable and DVR and want to record these shows for us, we would greatly appreciate it! None of us subscribe to cable and Al Jazeera U.S. doesn’t post their shows online, so make sure to catch them live if you can!

aljazeera

Al Jazeera America crew at Boneyard Studios

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