The very first tiny house I ever inhabited. All thanks to encouragement from a friend at just the right moment. Here you can read about how I decided to move into this adorable blue shoe. Oh, and if you’re wondering what the hell a Wagenplatz is, I explain it in detail here and here. (Hint: It is an autonomous community of people living in various small houses, “common” to Germany.)
My second tiny Wagen was in a different community in a different city. I shared it with my partner. (Still do, as a matter of fact, though now there are three of us living between these red walls):
Some black cats are good luck. Though be wary if you catch them drinking vodka.
After a while, I was offered this Wagen for free (the one with the black door in the picture below). I took it and spent about a year renovating it (and learning everything about building from scratch while doing it).
It looked quite different when I started. For one it was green. But you can read about the entire refab process here. (Pictures too.)
Then we moved to another city, they very same where my tiny house adventures had begun, but to a different community. And we bought a third Wagen that I am planning on Frankensteining onto the red Wagen, our main living Wagen, this summer.
And now, I can barely even fathom even living in a house again. Although I sometimes do dream about little cabins in the woods. Sweet, sweet, summer tiny house life.
Oh, and if you’re coming over after having watched Deek’s Tiny Yellow House feature on my little house, then by all means, subscribe to the rss feed. Come back soon now.
I say I’m preparing for the move, but you don’t need to paint your house before you move. What I’m really preparing for is the coming winter. It’s been two years since I last coated the siding on my Wagen, and seeing that most of the boards were meant for indoors (ie not particularly thick), it was high time I got on to the job of applying some paint.
the once-a-ceiling-now-an-outdoor-wall siding was well and good but…
The back narrow side of my Wagen was the last that I attached siding to, the very last step in getting it completely finished, fucking finally. If memory serves, and it often doesn’t, I didn’t even put on the last boards. Frau Doktor and Scissors did, a favor to me, while the Beard and I were off gallavanting in America. The boards I used had once been the ceiling in another Wagen. The owner was sick and tired of them, and so he replaced them, and I gobbled up the scraps. It looked like this:
The boards worked well enough, but in my mind they were a temporary solution. Tongue-and-groove boards all, at least half were broken. And a tongue-and-groove board without a tongue isn’t so good at keep water out of your walls. I overlapped them haphazardly and called it a day. And having now opened the wall two years later, I can say that they were a perfectly satisfactory solution. Would have held for years to come. But I wanted to get something I didn’t think of as temporary on the wall, something that looked beautiful and would hold all of the rain out, always. After a day and a half of work (not consecutive, though that is irrelevant I suppose) it looked like this:
Sweet, sweet high-quality materials. These boards are twice as thick as those meant for indoor work, and they should last a good deal longer. High five. Then, the painting, which I am still working on, began. I was going for dark purple, and what I got was a lot brighter than I intended. But it has grown on me to the point where I walk by my Wagen even when I don’t really need to, just so I can get another eyefull. This is what it looked like two coats ago, and once I get the black trim done, it is going to look AMAZING.
winter is coming
Once the paint job is done and the trim is up (the roof gets secured to the trim along the top of the outer wall to keep further water out of the walls), there won’t be much left to do to prepare my tiny house for winter. The rain gutters need to be cleaned, and, once we move, the rain collection barrels set up. I’ll clean out my wood stove pipe with a long metal pipe cleaner brush, and that will be that. Before I know it another winter will be upon me, and I will have to work to remember how I missed those cold tempuratures during the last week’s brutal heat wave.
Doing house repairs tends to make me philosophical about the way I’ve chosen to live. As I put each coat onto my little house, I think about how much more work it would be to do a coat of paint on an average-sized house. How much all those buckets of paint would cost, and how much sweat would be lost applying them. Would I even be able to handle diy-ing your average-sized house? Not with joy anyway. Tiny houses win by a landslide.
Way back in February, before Baby Pickles had arrived and when there was still snow on the ground, B brought a new Bauwagen back to the Platz. It looked like this. He needed more space, and he had been planning on doing the inside up real nice. But, whoops, no money. So the trash collecting began, and bit by bit, he pieced together a patchwork floor that, in my humble opinion, looks much awesomer than any regular old orderly looking purchased flooring ever could have. And it has a chess board!
I had been dreaming of a new terrace for months. One slightly bigger than what I had fronting my abode—with a roof and an outdoor sink for washing hands and doing dishes out in the green during the warmer months. I had it mentally planned out to the last detail, but I needed to wait. No need to build it before we moved my Wagen to it’s new spot. I am not very good at waiting.
But, as always happens with time passing and waiting, the day arrived at long last. We moved my Wagen. We put my old terrace/steps construction (wow, remember when I built that? feels like a hundred years ago, which apparently translates to “about a year and a half”) in front of our sleeping Wagen to replace the wobbly pile of stumps that had served as steps before. They had gotten dangerous. I had fallen off them twice, which is not fun at the best of times and is really upsetting when your body is pumping with prego hormones and you were running out the door to throw up.
Once my Wagen was in its new spot and propped up off its wheels courtesy of the lovely Frau Doktor, I was itching to build my terrace. I had a big pallet, and scrap wood left from a dumpster diving excursion at the building supply store. But I couldn’t actually lift the pallet or bend down to screw on the leg supports. (This is the kind of thing I mean when I say things like “and pregnancy has rendered me pretty useless, physically.”) I needed help. I don’t particularly like asking for help—for weeks I used a chair as a temporary step instead—but when I finally did, two of my buddies agreed to do the job. So while I ran around fetching tools and screws, they put together this sweet little number for me. Aren’t they awesome? I feel lucky to have friends who will build me a terrace while I haul this baby and its water cave around in my abdomen.
So: the project:
First they put four leg supports on the pallet (which was a bit complicated on the right side because of the mini hill there). But the pallet was a little unsteady, so they screwed a flat peice of wood on top of it to add more stability. All the wood was dumpster dived.
Messing with the height of the support legs:
The “can it hold a human adult or is it about to break” test (preceded by the “will it break if I dance on it test”):
And the finished project, complete with lucky black cat:
It’s not entirely finished—as you can see there is no roof (well, not one big enough to cover the whole thing) and no outdoor sink. But those can wait for spring when I have my body back to myself and I can lug another pallet home to extend the terrace further in the direction of our sleeping Wagen (making the path between our two Wagens shorter), put on a bigger roof, and install the outdoor sink.
Once upon a time when the Beard first came into posession of the red trailer (which coincided with me moving to Mainz and us moving in together) it looked like this. And I looked like that.
These are both views looking to the right and left of the door, which is located about in the middle of the trailer. And a side note to save my pride: we did not do the ceiling. Someone who couldn’t be bothered to actually fit the tongue and groove boards together did the ceiling, and it kind of makes me nuts. But that’s another story for another day.
When I finished fixing up my trailer (click here to read the whole story), I moved all of my stuff over to it, and the Beard and I basically lived as if we had seperate apartments across the street from each other. Each of us would come over to visit the other, but our stuff lived in separate places, and each person was the master of his, her own little space. But with Peanut on the horizon we rethought our housing strategy once again. We have painted and built and rearranged, things are nearing completion, and we’re both falling into a new spatial routine.
Trash house (aka my trailer) will be our kitchen, my office space, and (since I am leaving the bed in place so that we can continue to sleep separately when one of us is sick or working late) guest space/extra sleeping space. Since I already use it for all of these things, not much will be changing there.
The red trailer will be our main living space: bedroom and living room and hole-up-here-for-the-winter room, and that’s where the bulk of the rennovation projects have been taking place.
We (and by we, I mean the Beard as he’s done most of the work this time around) started with a fresh coat of paint: purple on the one side and yellow on the other to create a feeling of having two rooms. To further the feeling of two-roomness, I built a floor-to-ceiling cabinet that acts as a partial wall dividing the sleeping area from the other half of the trailer. My logic in this had to do with creating storage space where there previously was none: by building the cabinet out into the room, we gained as storage space a part of the trailer that had only been available for walking through before.
The cabinet isn’t quite finished (still needs doors), but as I know it’ll take me a while to get around to cutting and attaching them, I thought I’d share the photos from the project today. You’ll also notice that we’ve moved the bed to the other side of the trailer (these photos face the same side of the trailer as is pictured in the second photo above). The bed will be further away from the wood stove (con), but it will soon be big enough to sleep the three of us comfortably (pro pro PRO, I love me some wide open spaces when I’m sleeping).
My inspiration for the new cabinet were the built in cabinets in my own trailer (I love whoever built these and put them in because they were capable of an exactness in building that I have yet to master). Here’s a look at them:
building a new cabinet
Whenever I build something, I spend a long, long time sitting in front of the project space and imagining what it will look like, what problems I will encounter, and how to go about handling each step of the building process. So, step one looked like me staring into space for a long time. And step two looked like this (the long beams I bought, but all the short beams were leftovers from the building supply store dumpster dive we did several years ago):
And oh! isn’t that a lovely color for a sleeping room? I think so.
Once the frame for the cabinet was in place I sided it with tongue and groove boards:
And today it looks like this:
Someday it will have doors, and someday the whole thing will be painted, but for now, we’re both happy to have a place for our clothes and a tv to live (the tv being our latest scavenge—before we were using the Beard’s ancient computer to watch rented movies, and let me tell you it was a huge pain in the ass). And I will be happy when I’ve attached the doors that will enable us to ignore the chaos that will inevitably dwell behind them.
Next week: the “podest” aka stage aka raised platform that the Beard built on the other side of the trailer to increase storage space and keep our feet warm in the winter.
Ahoy! Click Clack Gorilla! I’ve missed you but life, as it should, has come between me and my computer recently more often than not. To blame is the sun. It just keeps shining and shining, and it has lured me from my computer and the freckles from the pale winter skin on my cheeks.
Someday soon it will rain, and then I will spend the day writing the hundreds of posts that have been simmering on the low heat of a near-sun-stroked brain for the past few weeks. Until then, look at what this amazing woman did! I’m totally in love! Three cheers for tiny houses and the scavengers who build them!
She also keeps a blog called Forge Ahead. It makes me ecstatic to know that people in America are doing these things. Makes the thought of someday moving back there seem mildly less terrifying.
It seems like a hundred years ago and just yesterday that an old college buddy dropped by for a few days to say hello. I had just put down the last coat of yacht seal on the floor and the trailer was still empty and pristine. One afternoon she kept me company while I built this bed. Thanks to her you guys get a picture this time around with an actual human in it. That was during the “holy shit I can almost move in” blind euphoria stage, as you might be able to decipher in my facial expression.
I had been saving the wood for this project for months as not long after we pulled my wagon home I had found a homemade wooden bed construction in the trash across the street. I unscrewed all of the slats and put them, along with the two longer beams that had served as a bed frame to the previous owner, in Frankenshed. One of them later replaced a rotten beam in the outside wall, while the rest—along with several other bits of wood dumpster dived at the building supply store—became this bed.
I had been uncertain as to where I would get a mattress. The first mattress I’d had in Germany I’d picked up off the street. But, when I moved into my first wagon, I gave it to the friend who had been kind enough to let me store all my crap in his basement for months and months and months.
A lot of people are squeamish about dumpstering mattresses, but I judge by the area, the surrounding trash, and the mattress itself, and then I take my chances. I wouldn’t, for example, take a mattress from a pile of old nasty (wet/moldy/food-splattered/etc) looking trash because I would expect that the mattress had probably just emerged from the same dark crevice as the rest of the debris surrounding it and/or been laying outside for days.
I found my first mattress in one of Frankfurt’s wealthier quarters, neatly stacked with some other “trash” (re: treasures) that were very obviously being tossed because of a move or an upgrade. I carried the mattress home balanced on my head, and slept well on it for the next three years. The point is, not every dumpstered mattress is full of bugs, but you should do yourself a favor and “read” the trash around it thoroughly before you take one home: your skin will thank you when it doesn’t end up crawling with scabies or bedbugs.
Eventually a mattress came my way in the form of a present from another friend who was moving house. And the rest is trash history. All my pillows, all my pillow cases, all my blankets, all my duvet covers, and almost all of my fitted sheets came from the trash across the street. Come moving day, students just wrap up their entire beds in the bottom sheet, tie a knot, and throw it in the bin just like that. (Rumor has it that afterward they enjoy burning the entire contents of their wallets.) Then along comes a Nikki, who fishes them out, washes them thoroughly, and sleeps happily ever after.
A few days ago the Beard and I passed a mattress store on a walk through the city. Bins in front of the store advertised “Pillows on sale for 10 Euros, Previously 25.” I pointed to the sign and did a quick calculation: Five pillows on my bed, four pillows on the Beard’s. “So if I’d bought all our pillows new, I’d have had to spend 225 Euros, 90 if I’d gotten them all on sale. Which means I’d either have had to work a hell of a lot more, or that we’d only have two pillows between us.”
Quit your job, become a dumpster diver, and wake up to find you’re suddenly living like a hedonist? Not what you’d expected from a career in trash picking, is it?
Calling all scavengers and extreme recyclers…
I’m almost out of submissions for dumpster show and tell, and I want to hear your stories. Take a look in your local dumpster. Take a look around your place. Then take some pictures of your dumpster booty, and send ‘em to nicolettekyle (at) yahoo (dot) com with some words about where and how you found the stuff in the picture and what you’re going to do with it. And for safety’s sake, better put “dumpster find of the week” in the subject line.
Tell me a little bit about yourself if you’d like (I’ll keep things as anonymous or blatant as you indicate I should). Tell me about your first time diving, your favorite dumpster, or anything else that seems appropriate at the time. I’ll take your emails and your photos and turn them into a blog post that will show up here, one each Wednesday until one of us stops caring.
Submitting your photos and words to me indicates that you have legal rights to said pictures and words, and that you are giving me legal permission to post your pictures and quote your words on Click Clack Gorilla. If you don’t hear back from me within a week, it means the internet ate your mail and you should try again.
So in the words of the esteemed Dolly Freed: “It’s feasible. It’s easy. It can be done. It should be done. Do it.” Go dumpster diving and come home to your favorite gorillas to brag about it.
To my horror, removing a bowl from a shelf the other day revealed stains on the light colored wood. Water stains. Oh crap. A leaky roof is one of my worst building nightmares.
But! Panicky though this discovery made me, I am already fairly certain as to the cause. You see, I never entirely finished battening down the roof onto the siding, and this corner is particularly exposed to the elements. (I know, I know. All the builders out there are shaking their heads and asking why I didn’t get this done last fall. I am asking myself the same thing.) Below is a shot of the same corner from outside. No doubt rain water has just been dripping out of the rain gutter and blowing right in.
Looks like I have my first spring building project. Luckily I still have a bundle of wood from the time we dumpster dived at the building supply store, and it is probably just the right thickness for screwing onto the top of the siding and then screwing the metal roof onto. Or so I hope. Next up: coating the siding with another layer of fuck-off-rain-water and finishing the floor insulation.
How do all you people with houses manage it? It’s all I can do to maintain my little ship, and as you can see, I barely keep up. This fact, above anything else, is what I imagine will keep me in a Wagen for years to come. There is a lot to love about this Wagen life: how much time I end up spending outside, how little I need to spend on heating and rent, how cozy and flexible the space is. But in the end what really seals the deal is that the scale of the building allows me to—more or less—handle all the maintenance myself. The thought of dealing with a house (and having to learn about things like septic systems, plumbing, and stone walls) is intimidating to say the least. Three cheers for the diy house folks!
I heart tiny houses. So you can imagine my surprise and exhilaration when I discovered that there are heaps of people out there who also love small dwellings, and not just the wägler.* People who are building bizarre-o, beautiful, unique little houses, and people who are blogging about them all over the internet. So many and so much so, that I’ve heard it called “the tiny house movement.” High fives for everyone!
Today This Tiny House featured my wagon project on their blog. If you’ve been a long-time Gorilla reader, you’ll probably recognize the pictures, but the whole thing is really charmingly put together, and I’m six shades of flattered to be featured there among some seriously gorgeous small-house porn. Mmmm. You should really visit their site and click through some of the incredible structures featured there. Like Handmade Rolling Homes (SWOON) and SunRay’s Gypsy Wagon (click here to see some of his other amazing work).
*Wägler is German for “people who live in the kind of trailer that I live in.”
“Sometimes, lost in post-apocalyptic reverie. I imagine that even the landfill may not be the final resting place in the empire of scrounge–that someday, when the present world of mindless hyper-consumption has finally failed, those thousands of tools and bicycle parts and lengths of copper pipe that I know are buried there will be dug, reclaimed, reinvented. In that regard I figure that, as an urban scrounger, I’m practicing for the apocalypse”
-Jeff Ferrell, Empire of Scrounge
Behold the recycled door! Fashioned from a metal car-advertisement board that showed up one morning from nobody knew (or could rightly remember, or wanted to admit) where. Lovers of apocalyptic aesthetics can now eat their hearts out with a spoon (door handle)! Love, love, and love.