Tiny House Community: Reflections on the Tiny House Jamboree

I often start off my introductions by stating that I never wanted to build a tiny house.  People chuckle and, a bit incredulously, ask “What do you mean you didn’t want to build one?  I can hear the confusion in their voice, and I understand.  After all I spent the last three years of my life building a tiny house and a tiny house community. 

Yet I wasn’t like many of the tiny house DIY builders that I know.  Sure, I got excited about the design, but I wasn’t all that interested in learning how to build: I had never even held or operated a drill and driver before starting this project, and I certainly didn’t know what a rainscreen was or what PEX meant.  What excited me more than building the house was doing something creative in an urban area to challenge us to think more intentionally about the way we live our lives and about what we can do with unused and vacant spaces.

So no, I didn’t really want to build my own house, but I ended up having to because when I started this project there were no fully-built tiny houses to buy and there were very few plans available.  Fast forward three years and more than three network TV shows, and it seems everyone has caught tiny house fever.  I no longer have to explain to people what a tiny house on wheels is, I can’t keep up with all the different builders, groups, blogs, and shows out there, and what was once seen as a fringe (and tiny) movement has grown into an (almost) mainstream industry.

Given the numbers at the Tiny House Jamboree last weekend you could argue that tiny houses are already a mainstream industry.  40,000 people came pouring into the grounds outside of Colorado Springs to tour more than 25 houses, to learn about different technologies for off-grid living, and to listen to many of us who have already taken this tiny house journey speak about our experiences.

I must admit I was a bit suspicious at first. I think anyone who has been part of a small community or movement feels a bit excited but also protective when it enters the mainstream. I wondered about the integrity of people who are now tiny house TV celebrities. I didn’t fully trust the motivations of businesses who were springing up nationwide to build tiny houses.  Were these folks really passionate about the reasons we build tiny houses? Challenging people to address overconsumption, take control of their finances, live intentionally, learn to communicate and be present without distraction?  Were they committed to changing an industry that builds bigger because it’s cheaper?  Or were they just jumping into this movement because it would increase their ratings and profits?

After a weekend spent with builders, both DIY and professional, I am humbled.  I didn’t meet anyone who was purely in this for the money or the popularity of it.  I shared a panel with Zac Griffen of Tiny House Nation and he started off asking the audience to please not ask him questions about the TV show and then proceeded to give some of the most eloquent answers on sustainability, intentional living, and responsible design of the whole event.  Darin Zaruba of EcoCabins, whose company hosted the event, was passionate about making sure DIY builders knew about code and zoning and the challenges they posed.  And, upon meeting other tiny house builders who I had only before corresponded with online, any lingering fears I still had about small living and never quite being understood by others quickly vanished.  I hadn’t realized how much energy I expend explaining my choice to build a tiny house to people until I didn’t have to explain it anymore.  They just got it – they too had all built their own houses before tiny houses gained popularity. They too had to justify to their friends, family and colleagues why this lifestyle was important to them.  Not having to explain myself and my decisions after three years of so much explaining was perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the whole weekend.

Saturday night panel: Zac Griffen of Tiny House Nation, Lina Menard of Niche Design and Consulting, Andrew Morrison of Tiny House Build, Lee Pera of Boneyard Studios and Darin Zaruba of EcoCabins

Drinking beer on the Saturday night panel: Zac Griffen of Tiny House Nation, Lina Menard of Niche Design and Consulting, Andrew Morrison of Tiny House Build, Lee Pera of Boneyard Studios and Darin Zaruba of EcoCabins.  Photo credit: Gabriella Morrison of TinyHouseBuild

What I most enjoyed after the new connections with other tiny house builders was getting to talk to others about building tiny house communities and creative urban infill – my real passion.   Lina Menard and I presented a very-well received talk on tiny house communities that included 5 models for setting them up and 5 pieces of advice.  After our presentation I talked with a city councilmember, a county planner, developers, and members of community groups who are starting tiny house communities.  I was impressed by the amount of work going on around the country regarding tiny houses and tiny house communities in cities.  Stay tuned for more information regarding those initiatives soon. In the meantime, check out some of the photos from the Jamboree.

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!

 

Boneyard Studios featured in Dwell magazine

Boneyard Studios was fortunate to be featured in the November issue of Dwell magazine. The current issue highlights small space design and we were photographed and interviewed for an article on microhousing communities.  You can check out the article online or in the print magazine. If you don’t already “like” our Boneyard Studios’ Facebook page, go there to see some photos from the photo shoot (thanks to Eli Meir Kaplan Photography for sharing the photos) .  Also, I don’t blog as regularly as I post new photos and announcements to the Facebook page, so follow us there for regular updates or if you’re an Instagram user, link here.

Screenshot of Online Article in Dwell

Screenshot of Online Article in Dwell

Screenshot of Dwell print magazine cover: Small Spaces, Big Ideas.

Screenshot of Dwell November 2013 Issue: Small Spaces, Big Ideas.

A few clarifications to the Dwell piece/photos:

1) We are a friendly bunch who has fun! (Dwell must have a rule on no smiling as the guys look very serious in all of the photos!)

2) Boneyard Studios is not just dudes (Lee Pera, the female founder of Boneyard Studios, and Elaine Walker, the owner of the little white house, were not on the lot the day of the photo shoot).

3) In addition, many other members of the community were also absent from the photo shoot, including our architects and and another builder.  So many thanks to Foundry Architects, David Bamford of Element Design&Build for the beautiful execution of our projects at Boneyard Studios!

Learn how to design & build a tiny house with Boneyard Studios!

We are excited to offer a tiny house design and build workshop in Washington DC this September.  We have designed a workshop that includes everything I wish I would have known before starting my project.  I took a tiny house workshop before starting my project, but I still left wanting more technical and design information.  We want you to leave this workshop with all the technical knowledge and the planning tools to start your project!

We will be giving you the tools to effectively and efficiently get started on your own tiny/small house project, including an online project plan with major key decisions and technical resources and a base set of plans from which to design your own house. In addition, the workshop will allow you to tour and learn about different design and construction options from the builders and architects of four tiny houses on the Boneyard Studios lot, the nation’s first tiny house community.

Big Ideas, Small Spaces: A Tiny House Design Workshop

Sept 14-15
Washington, DC

Workshop location is just two blocks from the convention center metro stop and at Boneyard Studios.  We will help workshop participants to get to Boneyard Studios via public transportation or car share.

*Limited to just 30 participants to allow ample time with architect and builder on your technical and design questions

Detailed Workshop Schedule Here

Register Here

We are emphasizing quality over quantity and limiting participation for that reason. You will not be in a workshop with 80 participants but rather 30 participants maximum. This is to allow ample time for each participant to get their technical and design questions answered by the architect and builder.

Questions?  Please enter them below.