Dee Williams

Westermorrow Tiny House Design-Build

Photo Sep 10, 3 03 28 PM On Friday we wrapped up the first ever Westermorrow class – a Yestermorrow Design-Build School course taught on the West Coast. The Tiny House Design-Build class, which has been offered just once a year in VT, has filled up so quickly recently (this past year’s class filled up in just 30 minutes!) that Yestermorrow decided to offer it again here in Portland.

What an amazing experience for all of us! Patti and Lizabeth road-tripped across the country to be here. Dee Williams came down from Olympia to co-instruct with us! And our students came from California, Utah, Virginia, New York, and Illinois. We even had a student join us from South Africa and another from Montreal, Canada! In fact, the only student who was actually from Portland was our client, Merek.

We set up in St. John’s, a neighborhood in North Portland, so that we were able to build at Green Anchors (where I built my own tiny house, The Lucky Penny). We had our studio space at The Colony. And half our class stayed at Caravan – The Tiny House Hotel where they were able to try on tiny living for two weeks while building and designing. Several of them said this was a great experience and two of the seven decided that maaaybe they don’t want to live in a tiny house after all. (They both ended up designing wee houses around 600 square feet - still small enough that they’d qualify as Accessory Dwellings here in Portland, OR and a fraction the size of the average home built in America today!)

We started out our studio time with field trips and presentations covering everything from plumbing and electrical systems to regulations and interior design strategies for small spaces. In the field we started out with safety and tool orientation and then built sawhorses to practice measuring twice and cutting once. By the second week our students were shifting between the build site and the studio to move the house as far along as possible while also creating awesome tiny house designs.

There were definitely some differences between teaching the class in VT and OR. It was strange to not be on a residential campus where sleeping, eating, designing, and drafting are all just yards from each other. But it was also fun being in a more urban setting. I missed being on the scrumptious Yestermorrow meal plan, but it was fun exploring St. John’s eateries (the food carts, Proper Eats, Signal Station Pizza, Super Burrito Express, Big Kahuna’s BBQ, the baowry, etc.) And the second week, once people were comfortable with the area, I switched back to Simply Home’s Community Dinners, which are one of my favorite things!

On the build site we constructed the shell of Merek and his partner Erin’s tiny house on wheels. Their little house has a ½ and ½ roof, meaning that part of the roof is shallower and part is steeper. This allows them to have plenty of headroom in the loft and a more interesting roofline. We nailed the framing together (apparently the Doug Fir we have over here is much harder than the spruce used on the East Coast – we bent a lot of nails as we practiced!) Over here on the West Coast it seems most tiny houses are glued and screwed together instead, so we weren’t aware of this difference! We got the walls framed, sheathed, and raised and the ridge beam, roof rafters, and the first course of plywood on the steeper pitched roof before we had to turn our attention to Presentation Day.

I LOVE Presentation Day! It’s always so inspirational to see what our students create with two weeks of tiny house design and build experience (and for 7 of our students this time the experience of living in tiny houses, too!) We had awesome designs this time around, including several tiny houses on wheels (with a huge variety of layouts and roof shapes and multi-purpose furniture) and a handful of clever ground-bound houses (including an off-grid cabin with creative sleeping for the whole extended family and a small home with space for motorcycles in the living room!)

It was an honor to co-teach with some of my tiny house heros: Dee Williams, Lizabeth Moniz, and Patti Garbeck. I’m appreciative of all the folks who helped make this happen, from Mark, Dan, Luke, and Katie at Yestermorrow, to Matt, Mark, and Kevin at Green Anchors and Rita and Dana at The Colony. I'm thankful that Merek and Erin entrusted us with the beginning of their little home. And I’m especially full of gratitude for our incredible group of 14 students for inspiring me all over again! I can’t wait to follow along on their tiny house journeys! Stay tuned!

Living Large in Tiny Houses by Love Ablan

Living Large in Tiny Houses Graphic

Love Ablan believes in tiny houses so wholeheartedly that she relocated to Portland, Oregon - Capital of the Tiny House Universe - so that she could get involved in the tiny house movement. Over the past couple years she's put her writing and photography talent to good use, spreading the word about living in small spaces. She recently published and article in the November 2014 issue of Unite4:Good Magazine, entitled Living Large in Tiny Houses. I'm honored she included me in this story. Here's a snippet. You can click on the link below the excerpt to read the whole article.

Living Large in Tiny Houses TextClick to read the rest of Living Large in Tiny Houses by Love Ablan

My Custom Vardo Trailer


01/20/16: These days I'm doing Project Management for two tiny houses on wheels, so I've been talking to trailer manufacturers in several states to learn about their latest and greatest models. It's amazing to me that there are now several trailer manufacturers who specialize in building tiny house trailers. Back when I had my custom vardo trailer built in 2013 there were several companies that had customized a trailer for a tiny house, but as far as I know Iron Eagle Trailers was the only company that had created a tiny house specific trailer model. I also realized that I never did post the piece I started about my custom vardo trailer, so I figure this is as good a time as any to send it live! I've popped it back in time with the other building prep posts as I was acquiring my building materials and Almost Ready to Build.

Custom Vardo Trailer

After living in two tiny houses on wheels, a yurt, a travel trailer, and an accessory dwelling, I've developed a pretty bad case of Trailer Lust. So it's exciting that I have my very own custom vardo trailer sitting from Iron Eagle Trailers, just waiting for me to begin my build.

I knew I wanted to build my tiny house, The Lucky Penny, on a new trailer because a tiny house specific trailer would save me time and money in the long run. Several of the people I know who have built tiny houses on used trailers spent as much money retrofitting them as they would have spent on a new custom trailer and they didn't end up with a trailer that was as well suited for their tiny home as it could have been. There are now several companies that have customized car haulers for tiny houses and a couple of them could do it more affordably, but I knew I wanted to get mine from Iron Eagle Trailers because of the quality of construction and their level of experience with tiny house trailers.

this is the stern of my vardo trailer

Rob of Iron Eagle began building tiny house trailers for Dee Williams several years ago. The two of them had developed two versions of a tiny house trailer - one that was about 7.5' wide and a "Fatty Trailer" that was about 8.5' wide. I first met Rob Manzij at Iron Eagle Trailers a couple years ago when Seeking: Everything but the Kitchen Sink. At the time, I was helping Jane prepare for her Tiny House Build Week. She and I worked with Rob to develop a trailer design that allowed us to build wider than the trailer frame, but was lighter than the PAD fatty trailer. (Rob has now developed an even better model called the PAD Series trailer.) I was impressed with how knowledgable and thoughtful Rob is!

Iron Eagle is making tiny house trailers in lots of different sizes. Mine is the cutie in the front!

So once I had my vardo design figured out, I ordered my custom tiny house trailer from Iron Eagle. It's a single axle trailer with a 5K axel. Having it single axle should make it a bit easier to maneuver. This was one of the first trailers where Rob tried out the improvements that later became the PAD Series trailer. It has the cross ribs dropped below the trailer frame so that the cavity can be filled with insulation. It also has tube framing welded to the sides of the trailer frame and then angle irons welded to that, making it 8'2" wide and easier to secure my walls to.

I plan to host my Build Blitz over Memorial Day Weekend so that's when I actually start construction. Right now I'm on a Tiny House Treasure Hunt. I've already acquired:

I can't wait to take all these beautiful things and build myself a home out of them on top of my new custom vardo trailer!

November Tiny House Mixer Draws A Crowd

Forty-four people crowded around tables into the back room at the Lucky Labrador Brewing Company in SE Portland on Saturday evening so we could mix and mingle with other tiny house enthusiasts. Portland Alternative Dwellings hosted the Tiny House Mixer at the end of Day 1 of the November Tiny House Basics Workshop. We're working on booking a bigger venue for the December Tiny House Mixer! To hear about the next event, like the PAD Tiny Houses facebook page.

The Mixer started out with a welcome from Joan Grimm and Dee Williams of PAD, followed by a short program in which eight people had 2 minutes to share their tiny house story. Nathan Miller of All Ways Electric talked about electrical considerations, Derin Williams of Shelter Wise shared info about the tiny houses on wheels he's built, and Deb Delman and Kol Peterson gave an update on Caravan - The Tiny House Hotel (and coupons for tiny house enthusiasts to use for a staycation! Thanks Kol and Deb!) Then Tony talked about lessons learned since he began building his tiny house three months ago (he encouraged us to heed the warning about the spontaneous combustion potential of oily rags!), Ben described how his design evolved once he started Ben Builds a Tiny House at ADX in September, and Audrey and Tomas of Trying on Tiny shared their lessons learned from living in a tiny house for a year. There were a few good-of-the order announcements about new projects and available materials. If anyone knows of a good parking spot for Lynda and her tiny house, please contact her by email or phone (503-623-7898)!

Afterwards, people got acquainted by sharing their tiny house inspirations and design ideas. It was a treat to meet so many fascinating people, including Todd who's having his tiny house built by Abel Zimmerman of Zyl Vardos this spring and Chris of Builder by Bike whose tiny house I just happened upon a few days ago.

The tiny house community is growing by leaps and bounds and it's so exciting to be part of it. See you at the December Tiny House Mixer! Day and location TBA. Stay tuned!

Day 4: Wall Framing, Drawing to Scale, A Chat with Dee

We started out Day 4 of Yestermorrow's Tiny House Design-Build down at the Hanger where we worked on framing up the long walls of the house and preparing the trailer for the floor box system. After lunch we went right back to it and we finished out the work day with the two long walls almost finished. (See more photos in the Day 4 Slideshow.)

After supper we had a Skype chat with Dee Williams. Everyone had a chance to introduce herself or himself and tell a little about her or his project. Then Dee shared her tiny house story and some lessons learned from living in a little house for the past nine years.

Afterwards students received their drafting kits and Paul gave a drafting lesson so they could put their new tools to good use. The rest of the evening was spent getting a sense of what fits and how it feels with the help of architectural scales and massing models. How fun to see these projects evolve!

Home, Sweet Pea

Yesterday a handful of friends helped me move My 190 Things to my new home, Sweet Pea. We made the move in one trip and it only took a couple hours, though it would have been quicker if we hadn't gotten stuck in rush hour traffic. I'm grateful to the friends who were willing to schlep boxes and sit in traffic in the summer heat in exchange for beer and pizza in the garden afterwards! Thanks, friends!

Sweet Pea is the smallest of the three peas in POD49. (The other two "peas" are 2-bedroom bungalows, home to my fabulous neighbors. Check out this Oregonian article about POD49 to learn more.) I'm so excited to introduce you to this jewel box of a house! These gorgeous photos were taken by talented photographer (and fellow tiny house dweller) Chris Tack of Tiny Tack House. You can see more of his brilliant work at Tack Photography.

Sweet Pea was designed by Dee Williams and built by master craftswoman Katy Andersen. And since you may want one of your own once you've seen it, I should mention that the Sweet Pea plans are now available on Portland Alternative Dwelling's website!

The Sweet Pea has a side entry with French doors that open out onto the porch. To the right is a window seat with a bump out over the tongue.

The house was built out to the edges of the wheel wells so it's extra wide. The walls are tall, too, so the sleeping loft is especially roomy. I found that I can orient my bed either direction because the loft is so large, so I've turned it so that I can look straight out the skylight. I especially love the view of the bamboo from my bed!

The kitchen has metallic countertops and a butcher block for chopping. It's fully set up for cooking with a propane range, a mini fridge, a sweet little sink, and a range hood. I love the built-in pantry where I can put all my mason jars. I'm really excited to have a proper kitchen again. I made do with My Kitchen Cupboard, but having running water and a gas stove again is definitely inspiring me to cook!

The bathroom is equipped with an Airhead compost toilet and a shower/tub combo. Even though it is too warm right now to take a bath, I'm excited about the prospect of taking a bath on a cold day this fall! After living in my Home Sweet Yurt for ten months I will always be grateful for having hot running water in my living space! I'm glad I tested the limits of my minimalism and that I will not take for granted the resources available to me.

I've loved spending my morning finding a place for everything so that everything can be in its place! I'm finding there's plenty of space to spare. At 120 square feet, plus a sleeping loft, Sweet Pea is much more roomy than the 113 round foot yurt. And it's so impeccably crafted that I'm sure I'll learn a lot from living here that I can use on my own build. I look forward to having this be my Home, Sweet Pea, until my own little house is complete.

PAD Tiny House Basics Workshop July 20-21, 2013

I'm excited to be teaching another PAD Tiny House Basics workshop with Dee Williams of Portland Alternative Dwellings on Saturday, June 20 and Sunday, June 21. Here's are recaps of the February PAD Workshop and April PAD Workshop. Read on for details about this weekend's PAD Tiny House Basics Workshop.

Tiny House Basics Workshop: Introduction to Design & Building

July 20th & 21st, 2013, 9:00AM - 4:30 PM

Do you dream about building a tiny house? Our Tiny House Basics Workshop is comprehensive but entry-level, introducing you to the unique design and building principles that apply to a house on wheels. We'll address:

  • How to properly anchor a stick-built structure to a trailer
  • Moisture controls and ventilation
  • Electrical, gas, and water systems
  • Cultivating a home - the place and the people who make community
  • Navigating codes, insurance, and regulations

The workshop includes one full day and one half-day of classroom-style learning, followed by a half day Tiny House Tour where the topics we've discussed are brought to life.

Read more and register here!

Upcoming Workshops: Building & Tiny House Basics

The Pedalpalooza ADU and Tiny House Tours on Saturday were great fun. Now I'm working with PAD to gear up for three exciting workshops in the coming weeks: Tiny House Work Parties are small group workshops that provide supervised, hands-on tiny house construction experience before your start building your own house. Experience and enthusiasm are contagious, and as you help put someone else's house together, you'll gain the skills, confidence, and excitement to you need to get moving on your own tiny house dream.

On Friday, July 5th PAD is hosting a work party to build the foundation of an 8-food Don Vardo that Dee Williams will take across the United States during the book tour of her memoir due out in 2014. The foundation is the most unique part of building a tiny house on wheels and helping Dee build a tiny house is a truly unique experience.

On Saturday, July 6th PAD is hosting a work party to construct the walls and roof of a 16 ft tiny house designed by Kate Goodnight, a graduate of PAD's Tiny House Basics Workshop and author of the awesome tiny house blog Naj Haus.

The weekend of July 20-21 PAD will host a Tiny House Basics Workshop, which is an introduction to Tiny House Design & Building. This workshop is comprehensive but entry-level, introducing you to the unique design and building principles that apply to a tiny house on wheels. It will include: how to properly anchor a stick-built structure to a trailer, considerations for utilities, and navigating codes, insurance, and regulations. The workshop includes a tour of a tiny house where the topics we've discussed are brought to life.

You can register for workshops on PAD's website.

Tiny House Fair: Day 3

Day 3 of the first annual Tiny House Fair started off with a panel discussion regarding the alegality of tiny houses. To the best of our knowledge there isn't a zoning code in the country that directly addresses "tiny houses." Most municipalities would probably consider a tiny house on wheels a custom built travel trailer (whether or not it will be considered a recreational vehicle by insurance companies and banks depends on certification though). So in many places the only part of town where you can legally live in a tiny house is an RV park and many cities have restrictions on the maximum time you can stay there.

However, people around the world have become advocates of tiny houses for financial, social, environmental, and lifestyle reasons. There's also a groundswell of support for tiny house communities, so many people are working within our existing codes and figuring out ways that we can amend code to better suit our needs. It was, as you might imagine, a fascinating conversation with more questions than answers.

Following the morning panel, some of the participants headed out for a tour of local tiny houses. The folks who stuck around got to hear Dee Williams of Portland Alternative Dwellings discuss some of the sticky wickets of the tiny house world (building code, financing, and insurance). She also covered structural considerations for a house on wheels that undergoes hurricane and earthquake conditions when it hits the road.

After lunch I spoke about code and legal issues, including some of the legal ways people have found to live in tiny houses and some of the next steps we might take as advocates of small spaces.

Next Jay Shafer joined us to talk about Resizing the American Dream. Here are a few of my favorite lines from his talk:

  • "The Tiny House Movement is more than cute houses and quirky people. It's subverting consumerism."
  • "When it was about use value not resale value people built houses according to their needs."
  • "The Small House Movement is about people living in the amount of space they need."
  • "Tiny houses are self-portraits with innovation to meet individual needs."
  • "It's all just about what's necessary. Eliminate everything else."
  • "When necessity is allowed to dictate the form of things, they're beautiful!"

The Tiny House Fair officially wrapped up when the tiny house tour and Jay's talk were completed, but several tiny house advocates continued the conversation over dinner (at American Flatbread - shout out to Billy for insisting that we go there!) and then around the conference table. We are eager to see how the Tiny House Movement evolves.

I'm honored to have spent the weekend in the presence of such fabulous folks. I met people from across the country who are designing, building, dwelling in, and advocating for tiny houses. Our ranks included building inspectors, lawyers, carpenters, inventors, and educators. Collectively we have an enormous amount of knowledge and enthusiasm and I hope we can direct it in the best possible ways to support simple, affordable, sustainable housing options. Meanwhile, my celebrity friend crushes have only been reinforced by discovering how fun these folks are in real life!

I'm already looking forward to the second annual Tiny House Fair which is slated for the West Coast next summer!

Tiny House Movement Gains Momentum

Tiny House Crowd The weekend before last we hosted a build weekend to construct Casa Pequena. This past weekend 29 fabulous folks joined us at the Kenton Fire House for a Portland Alternative Dwellings (PAD) Tiny House Workshop. Participants traveled from as far away as Wyoming, Arizona, and Massachusetts. Several of them were just beginning their foray into the world of tiny, so they are going to noodle over the information to decide if a tiny house is right for them. Others have already started on the shell of their tiny house and came to the second day of our workshop to refine their gas, fresh water, grey water, humanure, and electrical systems.

Our workshop covered those topics as well as structural considerations, moisture management, regulations, code, and community building. Dee Williams of Portland Alternative Dwellings kicked off the workshop by sharing her story of going tiny nearly nine years ago and watching the Tiny House Movement begin.

Dee Presenting

Dee, Joan, and I tag-teamed most of the presentations but we were lucky to have several other presenters join us. Derin Williams of Shelter Wise used a life-size model to demonstrate how to install a wall system that minimizes thermal breaks to increase energy efficiency. Carol demonstrated the assembly and use of the Air Head Dry Toilet. Chris and Malissa Tack of Tiny Tack House presented information about their tiny house design-build process with spell-binding graphics and answered questions about the systems they chose. (Check out Chris Tack's website to see more of his incredible photography!) It was a lot of information to cover in just two days, but workshop participants who came from across the country said they appreciated the chance to learn as much as they could and ask all their burning questions.

Lina Presenting

Some of the participants had been dreaming of living in a tiny house for years. For them this workshop was the first tangible step to making their tiny house fantasy a reality. On the other hand, one participant from the East Coast had heard of tiny houses but hadn't looked into them. He began exploring in earnest on Tuesday and on Friday hopped on a plane to come to our workshop! It was fun to have people from a wide spectrum of familiarity with tiny houses because it provided the chance for all of us to learn from each other. I'm grateful to everyone who taught me about new products, systems, and strategies that will make me a better tiny house design-builder, too.

Carol Presenting

The folks who attend tiny house workshops are wonderful people. They're collaborative and intentional. They're open-minded and open-hearted. They tackle big questions about needs and wants. They carefully consider what makes a place feel like home. I've come to expect that of tiny house lovers.

What was really special about this workshop was that the momentum of the Tiny House Movement was palpable. In June of last year I assisted with the Portland Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop led by Dee Williams of Portland Alternative Dwellings. That was just 10 months ago. At the time a handful of the 50 people in the room planned to build a tiny house over the summer. This year 16 of the 29 participants said they're considering building this summer!

Joan Presenting

The Tiny House Movement is getting bigger and I'm thrilled to be part of it! We've agreed that this summer will be full of tiny house building work parties. I can't wait to see the results as people craft their dreams in three dimensions:

  • Margaret's rainbow speckled walls from stained glass windows,
  • Carter's hammock-slung dance studio tour bus,
  • Nicole's tiny house collective in NE Portland,
  • Malcom's yurt built of structurally insulated panels,
  • Joan's treasure box of salvaged materials,
  • and many, many more!

Please keep us posted everyone! Thank you for the chance to be part of your tiny house adventure.