house truck

A Detour for Uphill Art Farm

Are you coming to the Tiny House Conference? If so, I'll see you there! Today I continue my journey to the Tiny House Conference in Asheville, North Carolina.This will be my third year speaking at the Tiny House Conference and I'm looking forward to seeing familiar faces and meeting new people, too! I'll be speaking about design on Saturday, which will be lots of fun. But meanwhile, I'm so glad I took a detour along the way!

I woke up this morning to the smell of homemade bread. The sun was just starting to peek (or shall I say peak?) over the top of North Mountain. I'm in one of the bedrooms at North Mountain Residency at Uphill Art Farm. On this particular visit I'm not here to do art, although I certainly hope to come back for that purpose sometime soon! (The North Mountain Residency is on my bucket list now!) Instead I'm here to visit with my friend John Labovitz, an artist whose family has owned the farm here in West Virginia for three generations.

John's been telling me about the family farm for years, but it's the first time I've gotten to see it. Fortunately, I gave myself a few days between wrapping up Tiny House 101 in D.C. with the Tiny House Collaborative and arriving in Asheville for the Tiny House Conference. Because I haven't spent much time in this part of the country, I relished the idea of road tripping between these two events. Since I was sort of "in the neighborhood" a detour to Uphill Art Farm seemed fitting.

Lina at the carousel at Glen Echo Park

So yesterday I connected up with John for lunch in Glen Echo where he grew up and the drive to his family's farm in West Virginia. John first told me about this fabulous place while we were having a cup of tea in his house truck back when he lived in Portland, OR a few years ago. When he told me he was considering moving back to the family farm in West Virginia with his little house truck I was bummed because I so enjoyed being able to visit with him in person. However, the more I learned about this place and his dream of turning it into an artists' residency, the more excited I got for him.

so lucky to explore John's old house before it is renovated!

I feel lucky to see Uphill Art Farm at this moment, before the next round of artists arrive. With the help of his contractor Mike, John is fixing up an old 500 SF farm house down the lane. The little house is over 100 years old and John remembers playing with the kids who lived there when he came to the farm to visit his grandparents. The little house had good bones so John and Mike have transformed it by taking out walls and adding giant windows to frame the beautiful orchard, mountain, and sunset views. The house is basically a shell at this point, with flaking paint and gaping holes, but it's so easy to envision what it will be like in just a few months. He'll have a fabulous loft, a couple nooks for reading, a great kitchen with a stupendous view, some clever stair storage, and upgraded windows. Last night I was asking John about the house's name. He's dubbed it The Orchard House and he's been writing about the process of deconstructing and reconstructing it on a fabulous blog. I teased him that he should call the place the Newed House since it's an old house that has been "newed." I don't think that one is going to stick, but I'm still giggling about it!

I'm so happy for John because I think this old farm house that already has fond memories is going to be a lovely home for him! And I'm excited for the artists who will be coming this summer to share this beautiful place and the inspiration that abounds here!

Tiny Houses Turn Their Backs on the Street

Dee's Front (Back) Porch I'm confused about why not a single one of the tiny houses I've ever seen has the front door at the front. I've been looking at photos of tiny houses for years and I have yet to come across one. Now, I recognize that in big houses most people use their back or side door more often than their front door. Front doors are formal and tiny houses are anything but formal. But tiny houses usually only have one door so its placement is important.

It's awfully cute to see the front door facing you when the tiny house is rolling down the road. It's even cuter if it has a Shrinky-Dink Porch. But since tiny houses are more home than mobile, they are usually parked, not traveling. Why aren't the front doors over the tongue so that when the house is parked the entrance is facing the street?

Many tiny houses are backed into their parking spots

House Truck's Front (Back) Porch

because it's usually difficult to maneuver a vehicle hauling a tiny house in such a way that the house can be pulled in and disconnected and then the truck moved away. This often positions the door near the garden/backyard/etc. which is certainly pleasant and more private. But by the time the truck pulls away the tiny house's door is opposite the entrance to the parking spot, which means that the house is facing its backside to the street. It seems so anti-social and impolite to turn away from the community. There's always an option to set up a private space on the private side in some other way.

Jay's Front (Back) Porch

Now, it could, of course, make sense to have the door on the side of a tiny house (as most RVs do), but since I plan to move my tiny house periodically I won't know where my tiny house will be parked. The chances of having the door face an undesirable direction seems high. It would be awkward to have the door facing a wall or a bush or the opposite direction as the natural entrance.

So when I build my own tiny house I plan to put the door over the tongue. It makes sense to me for two main reasons: 1) it will be more likely to be facing the street once it's parked and 2) the tongue will be a great support for the deck to rest upon. I plan to make a fold-up deck and a fold-down awning that can latch together to protect the door during transport. When the house is parked the deck and awning will be unlatched, the deck will drop to rest on the tongue, and the awning will be propped up with braces. This will enable me to have a front porch that is nice and big, much better than a Shrinky-Dink Porch.

Gypsy Wagon's Front/Back Door

It seems to me that the front of the trailer, over the tongue, is the most logical place to put the door. So why aren't tiny housers doing this? Are people building their tiny houses with the doors opposite the tongue because tiny house pioneers Dee Williams and Jay Shafer did? (For the record, Dee put her door opposite the tongue because her house was designed for a specific site where her house is backed into a yard via the alley, so her door intentionally faces her community.) Or because is it because that's how the gypsy wagons are designed? (It makes sense for gypsy wagons to have their doors at the back because it allows people to enter while the house remains attached to a vehicle.) Or are tiny housers following in the tradition of house trucks? (Which can't put the door at the front because that's where the cab is located.)

Am I missing something? Tiny housers, help me out here. Why are tiny house's front doors are at the back? Anyone have examples of tiny houses that do have their door over the tongue? If so, let me know. I'd love to see them!

A Tiny Truck House

For a week earlier this winter every time I caught the bus on Alberta Street I admired the tiny house built on the back of a truck, which was sitting across the street at the transmission shop. I stood there and memorized it: the graceful arch of the front door and the window matching the curve of the roof, the brass clip near the door for hand-delivered mail, the wee windows, and the storage hatches tucked near the cab. When I had a long wait I'd tiptoe around the little wooden gypsy wagon and try to peep in the windows... with little success since they're high and I'm short. The folks working at the auto shop were protective of the little house so I didn't want to push my luck by asking for contact information. I could only imagine that the space inside was wonderful.

Luckily, the tiny house world is, well... tiny. This week I finally got to see the inside of this delightful little abode and meet its owner. In fact, I had the chance to swap tiny house tours with the fellow who built this little house on wheels a couple of years ago.
Entering John's house is like unwrapping a present. John's artistic touch is evident in every ledge, knob, and surface of his cozy home. Sitting on John's window seat on a rainy day, sipping tea, and talking for three hours about the process of designing this tiny house I was impressed by the high level of thoughtful consideration he committed to his live/work/play spac. While John's quick to give credit to the craftspeople whose expertise he relied upon, including Dee Williams, the design is very much his own. I was particularly fascinated by the details that make John's place uber multi-functional. His desk can convert to another sitting space or a dining bar. His bed also serves as extra lounging space. His mom used the window seat as a bed the last time John took her and the house for a road trip. There are little latches that hold the drawers under the window seat closed while the house is in motion. The space under the bed provides easy access from the inside for pantry staples and deep storage for camping gear, accessible from the outside. Did I mention that this house is only 14 feet long?!
John is probably my nearest neighbor if you count only tiny house dwellers. I feel very lucky to have found him since it's always a joy to "talk shop" with someone who shares my passions. It was fun to have John over for tea at my little place, too, and to show him drawings of my tiny dream home. He's already given me plenty to consider as I revise my tiny house plans.
In a future post I'll share more about the tiny house design considerations we've discussed. For now I wanted to introduce John and his wee house, Polymecca. John's house will be on this year's Pedalpalooza Tiny House Bike Tour in June. Mark your calendar for June 24th so you can see it, too!