Sidelined: A tiny attempt at building

Not exactly tiny, but sublime.

I’ve spent my whole life watching other people build things. I read about, write about it, make my living working around people that actually do it. With their hands and their minds and their patience and problem solving they are cleverly places that matter. Place-making, make no mistake, matters. How we live within those walls has as much to do with what we do in it, as how we are influenced by it. Sure I can slap a coat of paint on it, put up a pretty picture, and cover the floor tired and worn spots, dents and dings and imperfections, but gosh darn it. I want to have my hand in the mix of making something perfectly imperfect.

Built into the landscape . be mindful of your town’s ordinances – they may require a set back from your property line.

I realize with a deep sense of impending dread that what I am likely to create when I stubbornly embark on this tiny house adventure is a host of frustration over my inability to execute what I so clearly see in my mind.

I love the idea of barn doors opening onto the back yard or garden.

I understand that writing about something – is not the same thing as actually knowing how to do something. It’s not posing exactly, but it’s also not creating, and creation of anything is really the closets thing that we mere humans can expect to get to nirvana. I want to feel that elation – that oneness – that sense of belonging that comes from building something.

Slipping into the scenery.

Since 2020 was undoubtedly going to test me, I decided to at least be in control of a singular element of the many that were out of my control. Last week I started my Tiny House Building Class. Let me say right out of the gate, this class is tiny-lite. Lite because carpentry and the laws of construction are complicated. Yes, three are laws – whenever mother nature is involved, you can expect that you better learn to follow them, or she’ll get the best of you. Trust me on this one. These laws are complex. I don’t allow myself to feel too badly about that, primarily because even the very best builders can get stumped by them. It’s true. Second, I’m terrible at math. If you say, oh what’s that 8 x 12.5 tiny house in square feet….I’ll look up at the sky for a while and say, hum, like 84SF? Trying to remember if I read it somewhere else and am even close to right. Now, this might seem daunting to someone that, like me, is horrible at math – that’s both algebra and geometry – not like most people who are good at one OR the other. I’m terrible at both. This might lead you to the conclusion that I shouldn’t even bother to try. Forget it. I’m trying. I can use programs that figure the math out, I can apply manual tricks like measuring things out with small scale mock-ups – or full scale if I have to. The point is, I won’t be deterred, and no amount of telling me to … Carl (that’s my teacher’s name) will get me to listen.

What I can tell you is, it would be super expensive – mistakes always are, if my father who is brilliant, and really good at math, building, zoning regulations, history, boating, fine finish carpentry, how the world works and so much more, wasn’t helping me. But he is. You can get help too. People are surprisingly willing to help when you just ask…nicely.

Room with a view.

My tiny house isn’t going to have wheels. If it needs to be moved, we’ll just have to jack the whole thing up and truck it away – that can be done too – I’ve seen it.

Any tiny house of mine needs a heat source.

Perfect Picks for Pretending:if only purchases

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Amazon Tiny Home Kit . Allwood Bella Cabin Kit . $17,800.

I spend a good deal of my time fantasizing about beautiful objects, exotic places, and different ways of life.  I love my life, and find great joy in the make believe.  It’s one of the reasons I enjoy travel so very much.  To step into another culture, to talk to other people about their lives and paths – fascinating.  It’s healthy to imagine, don’t you think?

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A little runner to put in that tiny house.  Lulu and Georgia.  2 x 3. $58.

This weekend of Sales, Sails (I am on an island after all) and Sales, had me troving the internet for steals, and deals.  I ask that you keep in mind the relativity of a deal, based on the items I’ve carefully curated, some of which buyers would conduct months, or even years of research before taking the plunge – I might buy on a whim.

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CB2 x GOOP . Boucle Chair. $899. (ready for ship October 2018)

Judge away if you will, life can take you in funny directions, if only you are willing to let it.

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Fiat Jolly . 1959.

Amazon – by the way – is taking over the world, and while it makes me nervous, I find it AMAZing that they can ship me a home for free.  So I’ve decided to stuff my worry down into my toes, and save it to my favorites list.  Later today I may just put it into my shopping cart and click send.

Happy Labor Day!

Pocket Neighborhoods: as cute as the name implies

My fascination with small spaces comes in part from my desire to make a cozy nest.  A home should be a sanctuary from the frenetic pace of the outside world.  It should offer comfort, and security.  Some of my fondest memories of childhood were of being tucked in like sardines in the cabin of our Cat Boat named the Councilor – in reference to my Father’s profession.  We’d anchor in the outer harbor at Wychmere for the night, and play crazy eights to the light of a swinging lantern.  Cozy.


Walking Paths and front facing homes are trademarks of Pocket Neighborhood communities.

A second contributing factor I have talked more about – small equals achievable perfection.  Or so I thought when I began this quest.  While I realized that I couldn’t exactly get everything I wanted in my 523sf home, I could turn it into a little jewel box, and I did.  I like beautiful things – a lot, and beautiful things are really expensive.  Believe me, I can get worked up about the beauty of a Lacanche stove but it was not going to suddenly appear in all its $10K glory in my little Charlestown apartment.  Still, it was then, and is now, an aspiration.

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From shared space to a plan of graduated privacy, it begins with the porch.

So, combine cozy, with beautiful craftsmanship, and I lean toward the small.  While the homes  in Pocket Neighborhoods are not exactly tiny, they are also not McMansions.  In the urban and suburban jungle, where buildings tower overhead, and homes have not one kitchen, but two or three – yes you heard me right, I have been to Beacon Hill, where there was a kitchen on the first floor, the fifth floor and outdoors – obvi a dumbwaiter would take too long to deliver the cold drinks and the hot burgers to the game room – 13 modestly sized homes, beautifully designed, face forward to the community, where everyone really does know your name, is appealing.


Some are dedicated to over 50 communities, but most embrace the benefits of all ages.

It’s hard not to think of Mr. Rogers singing “Who are the people in your neighborhood”.  These people you should meet every day, but with whom eye contact is rarely made.  I almost called the police the other day on some guy who claimed to live in my building.  I flat out didn’t believe him.  He does in fact live here, I’m still not sure how that came to be, and I missed him moving in entirely.  It’s not like I live in a building of 500 – there were only four of us until Patrick showed up.  This never would have happened in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and by design, it wouldn’t happen in a Pocket Neighborhood either.


Beautifully designed, thoughtfully planned, walkable, welcoming places to be.

Ross Chapin, a Washington State Architect is most commonly credited with the design and creation of these neighborhoods.  The key characteristics of which are a cluster – “community” of   homes, carefully sited around a common green, in which the community takes part in caring.  This shared stewardship is an essential element within the Pocket Neighborhood, as it contributes to the interaction of the inhabitants, enhances the sense of belonging, and security.  Children can run free and play as they have many watching over them, and a stranger would be detected immediately.

PN6 Ross Chapin

The signature porch is intentionally large – an extension of the home, an outdoor gathering place.

One of the most attractive elements, to my mind, of these neighborhoods is there walkability.  Pathways wrap around, and along homes, which spoon one another.  Artfully designed to enhance community while preserving privacy.  Public space is central with homes facing the green, porches, wide and inviting overlook this focal point of activity.  Low railings and flower boxes begin to express the semi-private nature of this space.  Large windows, and active gathering spaces – living rooms and kitchen, can be viewed by passer’s by.  The floor plan takes you back further into the home for the most private spaces – not visible from the walking paths lining the green.  High windows and skylights ensure that neighbors sited behind the home cannot peer into the sanctuary of ones sleeping place.


Nature and sustainability are other important aspects of a Pocket Neighborhood Community.

To me – this is attractive.  I get asked often, which of the homes I owned to date is my favorite.  Which do I miss the most?  For me this is a tough question, not because I have so many to choose from, but because I fear that other’s will think of me as cold, or disconnected.  My answer is none of them.  When I began this quest I didn’t even know it had begun, but it had.  To steal a phrase from a friend of my – these places were not my forever place – and that makes letting them go …. easy for me.  Still, I am immensely proud of what they become.


It’s in the details.

The homes in a Pocket Neighborhood harken back to a simpler time.  They remind me of my very favorite island – Nantucket, where the homes are tucked in close to one another in town, and walking and biking are preferred over the motor vehicle.  How lovely it would be to get out of your car – which is carefully hidden away to the side or back, not obstructing the sense of community that is prized here – and leave your troubles astern, just like you would when you hop on the boat and watch the mainland disappear from view.

Origami: the unfolding culture of tiny living

I like the idea of reinvention, of taking something ordinary and making it extraordinary.  It’s so hopeful, magical…fantastical.  Ori is all that and brains.  As someone that lives in a city and works in the Architecture/Engineering and Construction (A/E/C) Industry,  I am subjected to daily reports of housing shortages, and forums on the need for densification.  Densification does not sound at all sexy, but perhaps with Ori it could be.

Ori 7

A collaboration between MIT’s Media Lab and Fuseproject, Ori Systems is a powered movable wheel mounted furniture piece.  Kent Larson, who heads MIT Media Lab’s Changing Places Group doesn’t believe our cities are sustainable.  He reports that 90% of the population growth will be in cities, that cities will be responsible for 75% of our global energy use – how can these cities function better, maintain and enhance the quality of our lives.  These are the challenges Kent and his group are working on.  Ori is part of that.


Larson and Fuseproject are not only imaging the democratization of luxury housing in Ori, but they are conceiving of ways to make it highly personalized.  Dining, dancing, working, sleeping, exercising, relaxing and/or entertaining all in one small 250 – 300SF space.  Possible.  Increased sunlight, colored mood lighting, bedroom, expanded bathroom – fold, tuck, slide, and glide into place, just like the ancient paper folding art of Origami from which Ori takes its name.  A touch of a button on Ori’s control panel and the mobile system transforms at your command. Exhausted after a long day, and want to drop into bed the moment you walk through your door, open the App, and abracadabra, your full or queen bed appears from it’s compact hiding place, and awaits your arrival.

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Available to developers creating micro unit housing for about $10,000 a system, Ori will make its debut in Boston, Washington DC, and Seattle this summer.  Living small, as I have always believed, can be luxe.  Tiny need not a cramped source of shame, and desire for something more.  Tiny can be the envy of all when it is clever, cool, and stylish.  Be ORIginal . live your way.

uHU: There’s a roadshow coming to a neighborhood near you.

That is – if you live in Boston.  Not wanting to be left out of the tiny house movement, and with many insiders and outsiders questioning the definition of Boston’s so called affordable housing, the city’s Housing Innovation Lab is hopping on the bandwagon.  A tiny wagon for sure at just 385SF.  Still, not as tiny as some of the existing stock in the marketplace from way back when before there were zoning boards, and approvals processes that decided, absolutely no one should live in less than 500 squares.  Potato, potato, small living’s great.  Being forced to sit with one’s own thoughts will help you keep it real.

a uhu 1

All Photography – David L. Ryan Globe Staff Photographer

So, can this tiny stand tall against the likes of Tiny Heirloom or Lumbec?  I have an opinion, naturally.  My design would not have to please anyone but me, while Addison Godine of LiveLight, LLC and Tamara Roy, Boston Society of Architects, President, and Principal – Architect and Urban Designer at Stantec, needed to not only appeal, but persuade many to love their design enough to support allowing these micro-maisons to squeeze into neighborhoods around the city.  The roadshow will include stops in East Boston, Roslindale, Dorchester, Roxbury, Allston, Mattapan, and at The Boston Society of Architects.  290 Congress Street . Boston.


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Shelving units help economize on space and budget.

At it’s current price of $75,000. It won’t be for a lot of twenty-somethings.  Emily Seawall Butler, 32 of Nantucket built hers for about $25,000.  a whole lot fewer clams.  Of course she did it herself – I am all too familiar with the cost of labor in Boston, so an uncharge is to be expected.

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Custom furniture can add to the cost.

All in all, I like it.  It’s sunlit interior made possible by sliding glass doors, drop down projection screen for tv viewing, and distinct living, bed, bath, and hallways make the space feel like a home, rather than a room.  The name is very sweet, announcing it’s arrival like a friendly neighbor from the south might.  uHu….anyone home. Much more welcoming than Urban Housing Unit, for which the acronym stands.  With a demand for 53,000 new units in and around Boston by 2030, someone better be answering yes, because honestly I don’t know wherever they will put them all.

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A place to rest your head.



The Original Tiny: lives large.

Nantucket has such depth – I fear that many that visit today have little idea of the magic of its beginnings – and of its staying power.  Known by the settlers as “Nantocket” meaning “At the Land far out at Sea”, Nantucket was thought of as little more than a sandbar.  Founded in 1676, Sconset – short for Siasconset is the last original settlement on the island.  The Indians came before the “New Englanders”, and lived in Wigwams – Archeologists unearthed evidence that these tiny homesteads existed.

The wigwam

A Tiny Dome . The Wigwam

Once on island, the New Englanders discovered the profitability of the Whaling trade.  Early construction of Whaling Stations, a barracks for 6 men housed the crew when ashore (a tiny house).  Year round residents lived in abodes fashioned by the influence of Georgian Style homes, which became the quintessential cottages of Sconset, and housed many a retired Whaling Captain.  Coveted for their simple shingle exteriors, the gardens, accented by wild roses, and ocean views.  The artist community thrives there today, which is no surprise as the seaside location, the abundance of natural light, and the gardens that are adjacent to most of the cottages offer an ideal setting for a Painter.

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Tiny – the island certainly contains much more than tiny today.  Mansions dot every beachfront patch of sand….but tiny attracts a certain type.  Those that don’t demand distraction, those that can sit in a moment, capture a sunset for future reflection, read a book in a nook, lay their head down on a pillow in a hanging bed, and feel grateful for the roof over their head.  There’s community in tiny living.  There’s connectedness – to nature, to one’s space.  It’s special and comforting, and I am fascinated by it.

I love the apartment I live in now.  I am wowed by the number of pathways I find to circulate from bedroom to kitchen, kitchen to bath, bath to living room, living room to bedroom and I can’t forget the deck.  At just 800 square feet this space feels enormous to me.  An acquaintance visited and said – “so it’s a studio”.  I chocked on my words, and thought oh…you aren’t my kind of person.  The vastness of this space is too much for me, and YOU find it limiting.  Me I can find and define myself by a small space, and make no mistake…..I am going to built one.

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A version in the works.

The world is a very small place – build tiny and be nice.


Design Mom’s Hanging Bed….

The Tiny House: Two

Last weekend I came across an article in the Cape Cod Times entitled Tiny Homes May Help Big Problem.  The focus of which was the lack of affordable housing on Nantucket.  A 48 square mile island with a lot of billionaires per square foot.  Hum, a problem for those that live year round, don’t own, and are in a near constant state of house hopping unrest.

Emily Seawall-Butler

Emily Seawall-Butler . constructing her own tiny house on island.

An island with a rich history of tiny artist and whaling cottages, it is now quite common for out-of-towners to snap up million dollar properties, tear them down, and erect even more outrageously expensive properties in their place.  Perhaps they weren’t fond of the paint color in the foyer.  Whatever the reason, it’s created an oceans divide between those that live on the island year round, and those that don’t.


Construction Manager, and island resident, Isaiah Stover submitted a Citizen’s Petition in support of tiny mobile homes in designated residential areas on the island. The petition, which had been rejected at a previous town meeting, passed this spring, and now will go under review by Attorney General Maura Healy.  If approved, it will still face steep opposition and obstacles to becoming a legal reality, including building codes which often require houses to be on a foundation to be considered a permanent residence, and of a certain size – larger than the 8′ x 18′ or 20′ homes.  The tiny house size is dictated, in part, by regulations for vehicular size on highways.  Another significant issue is where these homes will go.  Land is as expensive as housing on the island, so if you don’t know a land owner willing to allow you to squat on their property – you might be out of luck.  Of course, if the tide turns and Stover’s idea takes hold, some wealthy and benevolent land owner may donate or lease land for these tiny mobile homes.

Ack Tiny

Word has it, legal or not, the island is home to quite a few tiny homes on wheels. They are not publicizing their existence, as their existence depends on keeping them secret.  Tucked down winding dirt roads, off the beaten path, islanders are literally building their own American Dream.

Build Small . Live Big . Support Tiny!

The Tiny House

I love the word tiny.  It conjures all manner of cozy, innocent, beloved, cherished, untarnished.  It’s fitting that the tiny house movement is dubbed just that.  There is a simplicity to it all that defies the complications of actually making it happen.  One must, I think, approach it like a small child might – without giving too much consideration to all that could go wrong, to the hurdles that will surely be erected to halt your progress, crush your dream, ensure conformity.

tiny cottages:  Top. Case de Sabine . Denmark. Below Left, Pink Cottage . Middle, CA Cottage. Right, Cottages of Nantucket (available for rent)

Ah conformity – look where that’s gotten us.  1/3 to 1/2 of all our income goes to pay for the home in which we live.  And those homes have grown over the decades while the number of people that live within those “four walls” have decreased.  No one said anything that was adult was going to make very much sense.  15 years of your life – just to pay for the place in which you lay your head.  It’s a “tiny” bit crazy, don’t you think?


UK Tiny on the Sea

I’ve talked a lot about my fascination with small spaces.  My Cape Cod upbringing gave me early exposure to the interior of a boat cabin.  I’ll admit the allure is enhanced by the lapping waves against the hull, the bobbing of the cabin lantern strung from a cord that spans the cozy interior.  A little bit of a pot bellied stove, tea kettle whistling.  Back in the womb.  Totally protected.  Appealing, no?  Well it is to me, and I am certain that it is a significant contributing factor to my sense of ease in small spaces, and my fascination with this movement.


Provincetown . Cape Cod – Christopher Seifert via Flickr

It reminds me a bit of the Prius – a social statement that made trading your Range Rover totally acceptable.  It’s hard to imagine living in a 2600SF home – the average size of a dwelling in the states.  I, like a child desperate to feel loved –  need boundaries I can touch.

Now I have made it clear that I am not a builder, and I am not a designer – though I design my own homes as I attempt to flip-flop my way into retirement.  Still many years away, none-the-less, a dogged pursuit.  BUT – the tiny house movement has captured my attention for reasons beyond my fondness for the petite.  I think I could actually learn to build one.  Now I know that is not where my passion lies, but I know too that understanding how things come together, how they work, and being apart of the process of creation, from a construction standpoint, would be both edifying, and incrediblably gratifying.

Stay tuned as I hatch a plan……