Tiny house dwellers say smaller fits better

Tiny houses are a big commitment.

No bulk buying. No sprawling sofa. No shoe fetishes.

And you really gotta love the one you’re with.

This isn’t a version of “Honey, I shrunk the house.” Tiny homes are the lifestyle of choice for a growing movement of people who believe smaller is better. Little debt. Low utilities. Less housework.

The boon has led to tiny house books, workshops, meet-ups, products and TV shows such as “Tiny House Nation.”

These aren’t playhouses.

These are real homes, with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and, yeah, even a great room.

Living small is efficient and economical. The minimalistic mind-set is the reverse of the obsession with big homes. Tiny house dwellers say they don’t need the space or want the headaches.

It’s not confinement, it’s freedom.

“The idea of a 30-year mortgage scared us,” said Chris Tack, 30, who lives in a home that’s 7 feet wide and 20 feet long with his wife, Malissa, 30, in Snohomish.

“I don’t feel like I’m giving up anything,” she said. “We aren’t being held down by our stuff.”

Monroe daughter and mom Candice Ding, 43, and Baoying Feng, 67, share a space that is 154 square feet.

“It feels like a normal house,” Ding said, “except smaller.”

What’s the definition of tiny?

The archetypal structures are mostly in the 120- to 200-square-foot range and designed to fit on a travel trailer to make moving doable, though not necessarily easy.

Wheeled homes must meet the guidelines to fit under bridges, trees and power lines. The site for tiny house builder Tumbleweed shows a tiny house in the car hull of a ferry.

For many dwellers, part of the process is constructing their own tiny homes. That’s what the Tacks and Ding did, taking on the task with no building experience.

It was a learning experience, for sure.

Not that gutsy?

Seattle Tiny Homes will custom make your home. Base models go from about $60,000 to $80,000, and business is booming at the Poulsbo dealership.

“We are almost booked into next year. We expanded the shop and hired more people,” owner Sharon Read said.

There’s nothing cookie-cutter about tiny homes. “I don’t believe anybody lives the same in a small space,” Read said, “and I don’t want to waste one square inch. It’s very personalized. You don’t need to compromise.”

For those who can’t take the plunge into a life without clutter and three bathrooms, tiny homes can also be used as studios and vacation homes, or for guests and boomerang kids.

Malissa and Chris Tack

Malissa and Chris Tack and their cat are living large in their tiny home.

“Most of the people who visit, their first word to describe our house is ‘cozy,’” Malissa said. “I’ve heard the term romantic in reference to climbing the ladder up into the loft space. It’s second nature. Just like ducking.”

The couple, married four years, built the home that has 12 windows, wine-barrel shower base, loft bed, pantry, two-burner stove, solar panels, electricity and metal roof.

“It was roughly around $20,000,” Malissa said. “Our house probably cost less than our Honda Fit. And it’s nice because both are paid off.”

Every inch counts in a home that’s 140 square feet, even the size of fruit. Bananas hang from above. “The produce was taking up too much counter space,” Malissa said.

Fruit wasn’t factored in the blueprint, but everything else was, even the litter box for SethCat. The ceiling under the loft is high enough so Chris doesn’t bump his head.

“When I built the house in 3D I made a mock-up model of him and me at our heights in order to make sure it would all work out,” said Malissa, a graphic artist.

The limited closets hold needful things.

“I have more clothes than she does,” said Chris, a photographer. “We don’t have stuff.”

“I’ve gotten rid of almost everything I own,” Malissa said. “He’s getting better at downsizing.”

She works from home at a hinged table that doubles as a dining table. The computer screen doubles as the TV, and is on a mount so it can be seen from the storage bench that doubles as a couch.

“This is the place where we spend the most time,” Malissa said, who added that the two call it their “great room.”

It’s the party room as well.

“We had an open house and there were probably about 10 people standing inside here with no problem,” she said.

The couple moved into the home in 2011. The labor took 800 hours over a span of seven months. The hardest part was installing the skylight.

Now the chores are mostly the outside variety, like mowing the rural lot they lease. Malissa made wooden lawn chairs for relaxing and deer watching.

It’s easy to pick up and go, without the house, that is. Instead of presents, people give the couple money, which they use for travel and recreation. The gift of “experiences,” as Malissa puts it.

There is a drawback to living in a house with no elbow room.

“I loved rearranging and just creating a different feel,” Malissa said. “In here, it’s really hard to do that because everything has its place. I’ll rotate the bed sometimes. That’s like the one place I can still manipulate a little bit.”

It beats being held down by stuff.

“I feel like I’m on vacation in here,” she said. “You do your homey stuff — cooking meals, taking showers — but it has a different feel to it.”

For more information, visit chrisandmalissa.com

Candice Ding and Baoying Feng

Candice Ding knew what she wanted in her dream home: wood stove, bay window, projection screen, big deck and two bedrooms.

She got it all, for about $30,000.

Ding went to workshops and studied many tiny homes before building her place in 2011 before her mom moved here from China.

“I was looking for a comfortable personal space and a cheap space for me and my mom,” she said. “I found a plan and I modified it.”

She also modified her life. “Before I moved into a tiny house I counted my shoes and I had 23 pairs,” she said. “It was a struggle to get rid of things.”

Her mom also didn’t want to part with belongings. “We are from China and are very thrifty. We can’t throw things away. We think anything we have can be used for something someday,” Ding said.

The chickens saved the day.

Ding built a tiny chicken coop. Two chickens live upstairs in their own tiny house and the base serves as storage for the women’s stuff.

She leases a spot on a woodsy 10-acre farm, tapping into electricity from her landlord’s garage.

The 7-by-22 foot home is airy, with 13-foot ceiling, eight windows, two skylights and a glass kitty door the cat uses to access a private, screened upper deck. Yes, even the cat lives in the lap of luxury.

Ding’s mom climbs the steps to sleep in the roomy loft, then grabs a rope hanging from the ceiling for support coming down. Ding bunks downstairs in a bedroom cubby.

The house took a year to build. “I had never built anything before,” said Ding, who now makes lamp shades at the Seattle lighting company where she had a pendant fixture made for her home.

It seemed easy enough: “Fourteen tools and you can build a tiny house. That’s what the book said,” Ding said. “I used more.”

She also used a few experts, such as a plumber, electrician and roofer.

Ding was firm on her list of must-haves: She wanted to be able to sit by a fire and knit and watch videos on big screen.

She also wanted a real home feel. “I wanted it to look like a house,” she said.

The kitchen cabinets are regular size. A 60-inch projection screen pulls down from the ceiling. Flames flicker in the wood stove.

A house should make you happy, Ding said.

“I based everything on that. It’s the happiest place,” she said. “I prefer living in the tiny house. It is really good. It has grown on my mom.”

For more about her story, visit littletinyhouse.com

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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