Custom Tiny House: Small Solutions for Big Problems

I’ll just come out and say it: We’re moving into a tiny house on wheels so we can have a bigger bathroom.

It makes no sense, I know, but it’s true.

We’ve rented a 368-square-foot cottage for the last four years, and it was moving into this funky, yellow bungalow that inspired us to donate most of our material goods, get back to basics, and eventually, design and build a tiny house on wheels.

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Here we are in front of our rental cottage in December 2016, just a month before we hired Mint Tiny Homes to build our custom tiny house on wheels.

For us, downsizing has become so freeing that once we started to donate our stuff and learn to fit a bigger, more productive life into less space, the more we started to consider taking the concept to the next level.

But first, back to the bathroom.

Our just-under 400-square-foot rental cottage was quite possibly a hay barn or tool shed in its past life. It is a funny shape, has strange alcoves, a kitchen not large enough for the space it does have, and a bathroom far tinier than necessary. Things get especially claustrophobic in the bathroom, which boasts a 29” plastic tube that is supposed to pass for a shower—tucked behind the door. I don’t remember the last time I lifted my arms to rinse my hair or reach for the soap without striking a symphony of elbow bangs and knee bonks.

So we designed our tiny house on wheels to have a luxurious bathroom, complete with a 60″ antique, cast iron claw-foot tub, which we are currently restoring. (You can check out some of my videos here, here, and here if you’d like to see our tub in progress.)

Most folks designing tiny homes tend to use the bathroom as a place to save space, advocating this room be as small as possible to allow for more “living” space. However, we’ve found from living in a tiny house with a poorly designed bathroom, that everything necessary to start and end the day (toilet time, teeth brushing, donning clothes or disrobing, applying/removing makeup or doing/undoing hair) takes place in the bathroom. That’s a lot of living, so why try to cram it into an uncomfortably small space?

Even for those of us with relatively scant bathroom routines, a lovely bathtub can always double as just another pleasant space to chill, so why not?

And so we had run directly into the beauty of designing our own space.

Add to the allure of designing one’s own living space the very-real fantasy of increased sustainability and lower living expenses associated with off-grid capabilities, and before we knew it our dream house was feverishly penciled into notebooks, replete with hitch, double-axles, and solar panels.

We knew we couldn’t build our own tiny house and still maintain our full time jobs to fund the materials and time needed to build it on our own, so we hired Mint Tiny Homes, a husband and wife team based in Delta, British Columbia. We had considered one other tiny house building company, but found Mint replied very quickly to our inquiry and even fired off impressive 3D renderings of our design within a few days.

Here’s the initial design:

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After assessing Conor’s work supplies and tools and reminding ourselves that we currently use a small shed to store our own, household tools and supplies outside of our rental house, we decided to add an additional storage box on the living room end, which is not pictured in the above renderings.

Some features to be included in the final build:

  • storage loft
  • large sleeping loft
  • 48” French doors
  • built-in storage stair case
  • a hide-away kitchen pantry behind the bathroom barn door
  • propane stove with four burners
  • propane refrigerator
  • fold-down countertop desk
  • stained wood ceilings
  • painted white shiplap interior
  • 60” antique, cast iron, claw-foot tub (restored by us!)
  • Nature’s Head composting toilet

Below are a few photos of the process from start to present day. Up first is the wood framing:

You’ll notice in subsequent photos we ended up switching the double windows on the hitch end for a single window on the hitch end, since we want the bathroom on the hitch end and the double windows to be part of the living room. See here:

In these next shots we got our first glimpse of the unfinished interior. I would have loved to use some alternative insulation such as hemp, recycled denim, or some sort of salvaged, recycled materials;  however, we were valuing time over custom sourced materials and opted for the standard foam insulation.

On the left-most image we are standing in the kitchen and looking into the living room. Middle image we are looking into the kitchen and bathroom with the sleeping loft above; right image is looking from the French doors into the kitchen and bathroom.

In the following pictures we see the addition of the interior shiplap looking into the sleeping loft (left) and into the living room (right) with the storage loft above the double windows:

Next up we have some exterior images of the exposed wood siding. (We will leave the wood exposed until we feel like choosing a paint or stain and painting the house ourselves.) On the left is the living room and exterior storage box, and the right is the bathroom and hitch end with the single window:

Finally, we have the interior siding almost complete. On the left we are looking from the living room into the kitchen and bathroom. In the left image you can see the hide-away pantry shelves, which will be obscured behind the sliding barn door depending on whether the bathroom is in use. In the right image we are looking into the living room, standing in the kitchen.

Some of the reasons we decided to move into a tiny house are the same reasons we decided to rent a small cottage four years ago: efficiency, lower utilities bills, a chance to downsize and minimize our consumer goods and spending habits, and spending less time cleaning and managing a large home so there’s more time for being outside and visiting friends and family.

In the long term we plan to use solar power for electricity, grow our own food, and compost our organic bathroom materials (not “waste,” as we will discuss in a future post!) along with food scraps and any other organic materials we can scrounge up. We’ve been composting food scraps for the last few years, but not in any organized or concerted system—basically just dumping yard waste and food scraps into a pile and covering it with leaves! We are currently designing a three-part compost system for the vegan homestead and tiny house plot in Carmel Valley.

As our world grows more imbalanced, with greater inequality and rampant injustice, we can learn to become more self-sufficient, growing ever-more independent of the enormous agri-business, military-industrial-complex that drives our species (and all other species) into despair and misery. If we can help others learn to do the same by offering our experiences and knowledge along the way, little by little we can (and will) transform this world into a more compassionate, gentle, and regenerative place to live.

So off we go to live in a tiny house, compost our poop, and grow our own food!

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4 thoughts on “Custom Tiny House: Small Solutions for Big Problems

  1. What a fantastic post – I really enjoyed seeing the pictures of your tiny home. I love tiny houses, but it just isn’t part of our plan right now (we have three young children 5 and under, and live in a place with winter 6 months of the year, so living in such a small space without the opportunity to be outside most of the time won’t work). However, that’s not to say that this isn’t a possibility in our retirement years. I can’t wait to see your finished home!
    – Christine

    1. Thank you so much for reading! I am glad you found some use out of seeing the pics. Our builders are super communicative and send us lots of pictures so I figured why not share them. Someday if you decide to move into a tiny house it will be well worth it. I can totally see how living in a tiny house with small kids and harsh winters could be tough. Thanks again!

  2. Congrats on the new home!! I am enamored by your post-my boyfriend and I dream of one day building our own tiny home. I have never thought about alternative methods of insulation; something for me to look into now!

    1. Thank you so much for reading! I bet you’ll make your tiny house dream come true someday. Oh yes, have fun with the alternative insulation! I wish I had taken the time to research a bit more beforehand, but alas, not this time. Thanks again!

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