tiny houses: living small, feeling big
You expand and contract according to the size of your dwelling. Have you ever noticed? Get a huge living space and you find yourself slowly working to fill it up. Move into a tiny house, and you’ll become obsessed with decluttering and going minimalist, even if only out of self defense. Our Wagen dwelling was already small, and now it is shrinking.
In the summer, or any of the warm months for that matter, our house expands to include everything outside. We eat outside, we sit outside, and sometimes we even set up an extra bed and sleep outside. The size of our home swells from seven meters by 2 meters 20 to infinite. Our Wagen house becomes more of our posessions’ dwelling than ours.
But as the cold approaches that space slowly begins to recede. We eat a few more meals indoors every week; the chairs are wet. It stops being light until 10 pm; we watch a movie rather than sit around the outdoor table. It is like the ebb of the tide. With the lap of each wave things contract another few steps until you find yourself living with three people in a shoebox.
This is the first year I have felt the Wagen constrict, and it is tempting to blame it on the fact that we now live here with three people, small as the newcomer may still be. However, looking around today, it is pretty obvious that it has a lot more to do with the way we’ve set a few things in here up. Today I found myself fantasizing about a complete renovation, about removing every single object inside, repainting, rearranging, and then only putting the most important, lovely, necessary items back in.
When we decided that Baby Pickles—though at the time she was about the size of a matchbox—would sleep in bed with us, we decided to enlarge our bed. Originally it was flush against one end of the Wagen—Wägen tend to be about the width of a mattress length—and so we slept with our heads against one wall and our feet against another. For the new super enormo monster bed the mattress stayed in the same position, but we added an extra bit of foam at the feet, and laid across them in the other direction. That is to say, with out heads against the narrow wall of the Wagen and our feet facing out into the room. A couple of feet of space were lost, but it was so worth it.
Later, I built a shelf slash dividing wall facing the bed—a place for our television and clothing to live. This made our Wagen feel like it was made up of two small rooms. The effect was pleasant, but it increased the amount of time we spent dancing around each other trying to get in or out or to this shelf or that. Still worth it.
Then the Beard built a raised platform that came out about 2.5 meters into the Wagen. The reasons were twofold. One: create storage space (under the platform). Two: create a space where Baby Pickles could crawl on the floor without getting cold (the floor is the coldest place once the weather cools down). Both have been successful, but while the Beard uses it often, I rarely set foot upon it. So for me it has taken our Wagen down to a five-meter number, minus enormo-bed, a small space for one, let alone three.
Today we suffered yet another loss of space and an attack of the worst possible kind in any house. Mold. It had been growing on part of the wall under the bed for some time, and we had been postponing removing the boards on which it was feasting for lack of a car long enough to get us replacements from the building supply store. But our spot in Frankfurt seems to be extra damp and when the Beard noticed that the instrument cases beneath the bed were all soaking wet, he took it as a sign that it was time to either act or sign the place over to the spores. Action it was.
Air wasn’t circulating beneath our mattress, so his first move (after clearing everything out under the bed and throwing away a ton of stuff) was to move the bed a foot and a half away from the back wall to create some ventilation. Now the bed is claustrophobically close to the dividing wall slash clothes shelves, and we’ve had to get rid of a number of things to make the situation tolerable. But at least the moldy boards have all been cut out and thrown onto the bonfire pile.
With the house shrinking, I’ve gone into super efficiency planning mode. I just hope that come spring I’m still motivated to put some of my ideas into action. I’m seeing a fresh paint job, less chaotic shelving, and nets hanging from the ceiling to hold worn-but-not-dirty clothes and Pickles’ toys. I’m also seeing some massive decluttering, starting with the flea market this weekend where we’ll be running a table. And people say spring is the time for cleaning.
PS The picture above is an older one of our main Wagen. I can only hope this winter looks as quaint. So far it just looks like a hell of a lot of mud.
PPS I just realized that the bed expansion and the clothing shelf building happened in the opposite order, but oh well nevermind.
and also, we have a new wood stove
Winter is long and grueling, in its way. But in its way it is also the coziest season. It is the best time of year for laying in bed under the weight of six blankets, for drinking tea and mulled wine, for the crackle of fires, for reading six books at once.
I have wanted a glass-fronted wood stove for a long time. Once upon a time in Mainz we had traded wood stoves with a friend who had a huge stove but only needed to heat a small space. We had a tiny stove and needed to heat a larger space. So we used the big wood stove and he the small. But before we moved we traded back. It would have been fine, but. Then there was this offer to buy a wood stove with a glass door from our friend. I was all “hells yeah!” and after a little convincing, the Beard was too.
Cod, isn’t it beautiful? I can see that from my bed.
It is an Italian brand, Nordica, and they make all sorts of wood stoves that sort of look like flat screen tvs with names like Plasma and Fireball. According to the friend who sold it to us (never used) you can get all sorts of awesome wood stoves cheap at Italian building supply stores.
At first we were uncertain about how it would work. With the kind of wood stove we had before, that most of the folks we know have, you have two doors. One opens on the burning chamber, so you can put wood in. Another, lower, smaller door, opens on the ash tray and the bottom bit of the burning chamber. It means you can light all the paper you’ve stuff in under your kindling from the bottom, which is nice. If you were to leave the upper door open it would smoke you out of the house. You could also open the bottom door to get an extra stream of air running through, which makes for a livelier fire when things are starting to slow down.
The new wood stove just has one door, the big glass door. Well, that’s not true. It has a lower door as well, but it only opens onto the ash tray, and you can’t get at the bottom of the burning chamber to light the paper from below or poke a dying fire with a stick. Maybe it would smoke a lot, every time we fed the fire? Maybe it would be a big pain in the ass? Maybe the glass door would be black in a minute flat? Nope, it was awesome. Is awesome.
You do have to clean the glass regularly though, if you want to keep enjoying the view (about every four days and water doesn’t cut it). It is like a little nightlight, flickering pleasantly, then fading to a low, deep glow throughout the night. We have practically stopped watching tv (though this has a lot to do with Baby Pickles) and now we have the fire. Remember when I went on about how fires are the original television? Still think that.
one tiny wagen house
Isn’t she purdy? Just wanted to share in my Mainz Wagenplatz I-miss-you nostalgia.
speaking of tiny kitchens
While I am on the subject of tiny kitchens… This is the cute teeny tiny little kitchen the Beard and I were using before we left Mainz. Glad I thought to document it before we blew off on the wind. How to do a kitchen when you only have three by two meters.
new and improved tiny kitchen for three
I am head over heels. I have been using my Wagen as a kitchen since I finished building back in twenty ten. But it was always complicated. The Beard and I had very different visions of the perfect kitchen, and I jumped ship on ours. He loves communal kitchens, full of people and chaos. And while I like eating with people, I don’t really like cooking with people or cleaning up with people. Better said: I don’t like dealing with other people’s chaos. (And I’m just as sure that most other people don’t like dealing with mine, or with my anal retentiveness on the subject of wandering utensils.) There is a good reason why kitchens tend to be a conflict point in every communal project ever. When it becomes too much for me I stop cooking and start eating really poorly/not at all in an attempt to avoid the headache completely. No fun at all.
(A Johnny Hobo/Pat the Bunny/Wingnut Dishwashers Union song called Jesus Does the Dishes comes to mind. “But have we made it anywhere at all if the dishes are never done? If we can’t live without dishwashers, how can we live without cops? And so you’re asking me, who does the dishes after the revolution? Well, I do my own dishes now I’ll do my own dishes then. You know it is always the ones who don’t who ask that fucking question.” Oh Johnny Hobo, always spot on brilliant I heart you forever. You can listen to the song here.)
Once upon a time we were in a kitchen group with five(ish) people, called die Hölle (hell.) One by one everybody jumped ship, putting tiny kitchens in their Wägen until only the Beard was left. These days, somebody lives in the Wagen that once housed our dirty dishes and bags of noodles.
Not wanting to be in a kitchen without a group, the Beard moved into a kitchen called the Spiesser kitchen (Spiesser is a slang-y word for a conservative person, someone who might be a bit anal retentive, but it isn’t a nice word for any of that). It was the same kitchen where the refrigerator lived where I kept my milk products. I didn’t want to join the kitchen group, it was practically empty anyway, its owner being in Switzerland for most of the year. Then suddenly it wasn’t empty anymore, and three people had reanimated it. But then there was all my stuff in the fridge, disappearing and not being replaced as if I was. And there was the Beard, cooking almost all of our meals. The Beard took over almost all kitchen duties around my third month of pregnancy, and I was slowly sucked into the group, like it or not. Not!
I like having a kitchen all to myself. I like knowing that everything in my kitchen is something I find beautiful, something lovely pulled from the trash or bought at the flea market or, in very rare cases, carried from America in a suitcase. (This is how I have been able to stop hating doing dishes.) I don’t like it when things from my kitchen disappear into other kitchens, never to return. I don’t like it when I have to carry things back and forth between my kitchen and another kitchen in order to cook a meal. I like having a fully stocked pantry, and I sometimes sit and stare at my rows of glass jars, filled with beans and lentils and noodles and raisins and flour, and feel content. I don’t like it when I buy something nice and it disappears and is either never replaced or replaced with something that didn’t cost as much and doesn’t taste as good. As I write this I am discovering that my kitchen is the calm little center that I need in order to face the world. Without it things fall apart. Starting with my eating habits.
Well. Well! Once Baby Pickles entered the picture, I started wishing we could have a kitchen, the three of us. Then all of our food and our utensils would live in one place. They wouldn’t disappear because there would be nowhere for them to disappear to. Things from the fridge would only disappear into the mouths of someone I love. For obvious subjective reasons, I can stand it when those people eat the last of everything and never replace it. Then it doesn’t bother me at all. But it isn’t enough for me to just like someone. Then they need to replace things! Sometimes I wish this didn’t bother me, but ho-hum, so it goes.
AND NOW MY DREAM HAS COME TRUE! Ha! Ha I say! How often can you write that sentence and mean it? Not every single day, of that I am sure. Which brings us back to me being head over heels. For our new kitchen! We moved to Frankfurt, my Wagen became our kitchen, and I have been in an amazing mood ever since. I have cooked every single day. I have stocked the shelves with gleeful abandon. I have sighed in happy contentment. I have been unable to shut up about how happy our new kitchen situation makes me. So here I am: kitchen blah blah blah blah kitchen kitchen kitchen!
Which, at long last, brings me to the entire point of this post. Pictures of the kitchen! Look at her go!
In the picture at the top you can see that we now have a fridge (annoying when it comes to electrictiy usage, though practical now that I eat meat and a lot of dairy), and that we still don’t have a stove. Our future stove is currently in Karlsruhe, waiting to hitch a ride to Frankfurt. In the meantime, we’re still cooking on the biggest electricity waster of all, a single electric stove plate. Here’s a second perspective:
This is me cooking breakfast on the electricity waster. Leftovers from last night’s dinner (red quinoa and roasted vegetables) with eggs. Mmm. Quinoa makes me really happy. So do baked sweet potatoes. Who needs a flat screen tv or a billion dollars when you can get so much pleasure out of a 3 euro bag of grains and a root vegetable?
My book shelf, which doesn’t have much to do with the kitchen-ness of my kitchen, but which I love a lot. Yey.
In transforming my Wagen into an exclusive kitchen Wagen (as opposed to an all-purpose, bed, work, and cook Wagen) I also added these shelves. My table/desk used to occup the same space. Once I remove the bed, a table and chairs will be joining us as well, at the very back.
Pickle is now old enough that I can sit her in her chair, and she’ll play contentedly while I cook. This makes me almost as happy as the kitchen does. Eggplant!
settling: after the move
In every battle of the wills so far, my new space phone has won. At the moment it is winning at preventing me from removing photos and videos of our move and putting them on my computer. My computer pretends that nothing is connected to it when I attach space phone’s usb cord. This is why I have been silent on the matter of moving, the one thing I absolutely can’t wait to tell you about. Go figure. But look at that! Those are our two Wägen in their new spots in Frankfurt! So green! So far apart! So many far better pictures soon to come!
It has been ten days since we arrived, most of which the Beard spent working aka I have spent alone with Baby Pickles aka not so much settling has happened just yet. The Beard has jacked up the red Wagen, and he also built some lovely steps while I was away one evening, as a surprise. Pre-new steps we were vaulting into the Wagen on a very wobbly construction that threatened, emptily as it turned out, to toss me on my face every time I climbed them carrying Baby Pickles. Our midwife, who never liked the steps we had on either of our Wägen before, would be very happy.
The to-do list remains, though its contents have changed. 1. Finish painting my Wagen. (The unpainted spot was blocked by a tree in Mainz.) 2. Put my Wagen up on blocks. (Walking into the Wagen is walking down hill, currently.) 3. Put in a stone walkway between Wägen. (The muddy season is coming.) 4. Build a new shed. (Big enough to house our baby bike trailer, baby carriage, and all the tools we’ve accumulated, particularly in the last three weeks.) The little things aren’t even worth listing until those items are checked off. The thought of just one day when I could do things involving both hands and no baby sounds like winning the lottery. But I don’t harbor any illusions about winning the lottery either. So, stolen five minutes by stolen five minutes, it will come.
Who wants to come over and babysit Pickles while I work? (And then who wants to invent a teleporter so that I can have fun company and babysitters from all over the world all the time?)
preparing for winter, the diy run down
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.
humble homes, simple shacks, cozy cottages, ramshackle retreats, funky forts by derek “deek” diedricksen
Deek Diedricksen salvages nails. He builds things out of pallets. And wine bottles. And Juicy Juice cans. He is thirty fucking four years old, and he still spends most of his time building forts and tree houses. (Hells yeah!) And luckily for you and me, he created and collected black-and-white sketches of his mad-cap ideas and put them out as the first edition of Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts, and Whatever the Heck Else We Could Squeeze in Here from the damp recesses of his basement.
In what Deek calls his “A-Rags-to-Fancier-Rags Story,” that book went cult. Publishers started making offers and in 2012 this, the “New Triple-Caffeinated EXPANDED EDITION,” was released unto the public. And the people rejoiced.
The 2012 edition contains 45 sketches/plans of tiny dwellings that will wake up your inner child, put a hammer in her hand, and get her building creative, tiny structures in the woods. From the “Fort-asaurus” to “The Coffin” to “The Mutt Hutt”—if you’ve never in your wildest dreams imagined building it, it’s in Humble Homes, Simple Shacks.
This Old House meets Wayne’s World Meets Mad Magazine. That’s what reviewers have to say about Humble Homes, Simple Shacks. And although it normally wouldn’t make a lot of sense to paraphrase other reviewers in your own book review (a review of a review of a review?), these folks have hit the salvaged nail on the head. It’s tiny house plans for the inexact, for dumpster divers, for bodies who are short on cash but don’t want to settle for vagabondage or permanent couch surfing. Though much more sympathetic (and dedicedly less right wing), the style is reminiscent of John Hoffman’s The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving.
I found it charming on at least three levels. 1. The humor. It had me laughing before the book had even started. IE you know that boring page with the publisher information that you normally,wouldn’t ever even read? I was already laughing there. 2. It’s full of trash-turned treasure ideas, and it sends out three hearty cheers to scavenging. Mini homes for the apocalypse, hurray! And— 3. It has a “zine-y” feel to it. That’s not “zany” folks, that’s “zine-y” as in, reminds me of the photocopied zines that fill one corner of my bookshelf. The professionally published re-issue hasn’t resulted in a loss of charm. Though I admit I do kind of like those original comb bindings. (Pictured right.)
The sketches are chaotic, full of building notes, scavenging tips, and jokes. The text is hilarious, and full of ideas for creative scavenging and recycling. There are ideas for cheap-o chimneys, windows, showers, toilets, and cabins. There are buildings shaped like dinosaurs and trees. There are houses made entirely out of doors and ideas for repurposing old refridgerators, and, oo la la, there’s even a spread of color photos of tiny homes around the world—including one from yours truly.
I first heard of Deek’s work through his blog, RelaxShacks, where he regularly posts photos of tiny houses and tree houses and house boats. If it’s small or built out of junk, he’s probably documented it. Last summer I filmed for a segment of his online film series Tiny Yellow House, though it has yet to air. And from what I can tell he’s not only put together a great book, he’s the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with. Better yet, he’s the kind of guy you want to have around if you need an unorthodox solution to a building problem, help taking apart the stack of pallets you just scavenged, or you’ve just run out of nails. Three cheers for Deek!
Below is a glance at one of the designs in the book. If you like what you see, scroll down to the end of this post and click on my link to buy the shit out of it. That way Deek’ll get money, I’ll get money, and you’ll have another frickin’ awesome book on your shelf.
a tiny house with a tower and sweet windows
Mmm Bauwagen porn. I love me some tiny houses, and I particularly love me some Bauwägen. This past weekend we played a concert in Hanau, and this little beauty was in the backyard of the house where we stayed. She’s not finished on the inside, but *insert impressed whistle here* she sure looks good so far.
the wagenplatz in photos
The fact that the university will likely be relocating our community in the next couple of years has me snapping more photos than usual in an attempt to capture the magic of this place before it’s bulldozed. This is the second set in a series of photo posts I will be sharing over the next months. You can read about why they want us to move here or see the first set of photos here.