I recently paid a visit to a tiny house built by a man named Ryan who says he loves building tiny structures out of salvaged materials because "it's like advanced tree fort construction!" Ryan wrinkles his brow when I ask when he started building. He grew up deconstructing and salvaging with his dad so he learned how buildings came apart and that got him curious about how they went together. He's been building glorified forts as long as he can remember.
The tiny house Ryan and his sweetheart are building right now is the fourth or fifth small structure he's built out of scavenged materials. (Counting gets a little tricky because one of the tiny houses he built had to be relocated, so he and some friends disassembled it in a day and then reassembled the sections in two more days.) The latest tiny house is constructed on a heavy-duty trailer he found on Craigslist and modified to account for its beaver tail and lack of fenders. It's located in the backyard of the house where he and his gal (his word, not mine, but I got a kick out of it) are renting a room. They look forward to having a space of their own out back, but they plan to take advantage of the community they have now: music and conversation around the fire pit, dinners with friends, and a short walk to Mississippi Avenue.
As Ryan gives a tour of his tiny house he mentions three or four different things that are going to happen in each nook of the already small space. I'm puzzled for a moment, but then realize he's all about multi-functionalism. He wants to be able to accommodate life in a tiny space with his partner as well as visits from friends and his mum (again, his word, and again, I grinned!) When I ask how he settled on the layout of his tiny house Ryan explains that it's still evolving. He has that nice ability to transition between thinking ahead (layout out his studs so he'll have nailers for his finishes - whatever they might be based on whatever he might find) and letting things evolve organically. His confidence comes from experimentation and experience instead of theory and perfectionism: a willingness to give it a try, ask for advice, help someone else with their project, and use everything he learns to make the next version even cooler.
This tiny house has a shed roof with the high side to the south and the low side to the north so that it's oriented for passive solar gain. In Portland's long grey winters the plethora of southern windows bring welcome light into the space. When I ask about the tiny house getting too hot Ryan points out that the angle of the sun is so much higher in the summer that the sunpath will cross the roof and the house shouldn't receive too much direct sunlight on the longest days of the year. They can always add shading if they find they need to. The loft over the entry is large enough for a queen sized bed and the loft at the other end creates both a cozy nook below and a spacious perch above. Rather than fighting the awkward spaces created by the wheel wells and the tongue, Ryan plans to take advantage of them, running his kitchen plumbing through the wheel wells and putting his bathroom on the trailer's tongue.
Unlike many tiny housers who are all about zen simplicity, Ryan's not shy about accumulation. He loves books and plans to add bookshelves wherever possible. Things will shift, stuff will come and go. As an expert scavenger he's inspired by the possibilities of found objects. Ryan figures he hasn't spent more than a few hundred dollars on any of the structures he's built because he works with what he discovers. One of his favorite finds is industrial pallets which provide long 4 x4s he uses as studs and beams, as well as planks for the lofts that feature stamps that bely their past. He grins mischievously when I ask if he'll reveal his sources. "You just need to keep your eyes open. There's great stuff out there," he says vaguely.
Ryan has kept a blog of the project which you can check out here for more photos. The tiny house will also be on the Pedalpalooza Tiny House Bike Tour in June, so stay tuned for more info so you can check it out in real life. Ryan's keeping pretty busy these days with his small business, but also building bike sheds and food carts on the side, so if you're interested, get in touch.