Part 3: Building A Tiny House (UK)
Inspiration, blueprints, and other tiny design tips
This part of the pandemic-ridden tiny house journey is all about design. Where to get inspiration, which sites have non-shit blueprints, and what to think about if you’re set on designing your interiors yourself. (Which is what I’m doing —which is a remarkably stupid idea considering my zero talent for interior design.)
Here goes nothing.
There’s someone you should know about when it comes to tiny houses, so I’ll introduce you.
Meet Jay Shafer.
Jay here has been building tiny abodes for over 20 years now. He believes it should be easier for people to build and own a home, and, as someone who has been homeless himself, he’s bent on making tiny houses an affordable accommodation that anyone can have.
Like many of us, Jay envisions tiny house communities popping up around the world where people can live smaller, simpler, and more sustainable lives. Except, as we’ve seen so far, laws aren’t very accommodating to this starry-eyed dream.
As an artist, Jay loves weaving together form and function in his tiny house designs, and in 1990, he founded the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company to share those designs and help ease people into tiny house building. (I found their 3D virtual tours particularly helpful.) Although, as the company got bigger and the vision began to veer, he decided to leave in 2012 and start a more DIY-focused endeavour: Four Lights Tiny House Company.
This new company is supposed to be all about doing it yourself. Although if you follow that Four Lights link, it’ll redirect you to a website called ‘Tiny Home Builders,’ and the guy behind it isn’t Jay. Huh, wonder if he retired and sold the company?
I eventually found his Facebook page, but it’s been stale since 2017. So, I guess this whole story was a waste of our eyes. But hey, at least we know who the ‘godfather of the modern tiny house movement’ is now.
That said, his story did lead me to a whole stream of resources for tiny house designs. Lots of tiny housers tend to buy a floor plan and then just tweak it, so here’s a list of decent places selling tiny house plans.
Tiny Home Builders
Well, I mean it’s not Jay’s but since we’re here we might as well check their wares. They have seven cute houses you can nosey around in and buy the plans for. Check them here.
This site is like the Craigslist of house plans. You can add filters like number of bedrooms or specific square footage, and get a catalogue of options you can buy to download. Check them here.
Small House Catalog
I really like this one. They have a bunch of plans you can buy for modern static houses, tiny houses on wheels, and all sorts of cottages. Some of the exteriors are pretty snazzy and the prices are reasonable. Check them here.
Tiny Quality Home
This homey website starts with a nice pitch about why you should go tiny and then lists 15 tiny house floor plans for the unbeatable low cost of free. They even chuck in a few shipping container floor plans for good measure. (The plans look sorta rough, but it’s free, after all.) Check them here.
Tiny House Build
This is just for one tiny house in particular (that costs around $33,000) and is geared towards those brave souls who are determined to build it themselves. The website also has building workshops and all sorts of DIY guides. Check it here (and godspeed).
You might recognise this as the one you see in every Google search for ‘tiny house’. They actually renovated it to fit a family of four (and two pets) and you can buy the plans for less than $300. Check it here.
Tiny Tack House
I thought this one was worth a mention. It’s cosy, cheap to buy, and the website is awful but it works. Check it here.
I have to be honest, I’m not feeling any of these house plans. I can definitely glean an idea or two, but I think I’m going to stubbornly try to design mine myself.
Do I have any idea how to do it? No. But will I be smart and ask someone for help? Also no.
Since I didn’t fancy any of the house plans I saw online, I turned to the houses I know I like in my Instagram folders. Luckily, a few of those builders post walkthroughs so you can get a better sense of the space and see where the bloody bathroom is.
One is Minimaliste, and they have a bunch of detailed tiny house tours with a very helpful guy relaying all the specs. Here’s a taste:
Liberation Tiny Homes also does YouTube tours that you might want to nosey. Their ‘walkthrough Wednesdays’ really let you see what you can do with the space you have and get decor ideas. It’s been tough finding tiny homes with the bedroom downstairs though.
I often feel deflated when I remember that the biggest tiny house size for UK is a mere 2.55m wide and 7m long. I mean, that’s pretty tight for everything I’m mentally stuffing into it. I really do want the bedroom to be downstairs, but I’m not seeing how that would work.
Maybe I should reconsider a static tiny home instead? Oh, but the planning permissions. And the land.
Most people decide on the layout first and then wiggle what they want into it, but I don’t know what I want in terms of space or layout. I suppose I can focus on what I do know I want and then find out what kind of tiny house would be the best fit for it.
This is in the same idiotic vein of buying a sofa and then figuring out what room to put it in, rather than measuring the room you have and finding a sofa that fits, but okay.
Maybe I’ll do several versions of tiny home designs, from best to worse case scenario — the worst scenario being a teeny mobile box with just enough room for a sofa, kitchen, toilet and maybe a table to work on. At least then I could get price points for each version and go from there.
Yes, this seems like a wonderfully inefficient plan. Onward.
I interrupt this tiny house programming with an intriguing life event.
Get this: I woke up to find two suspicious looking bags tied up and neatly placed next to each other, right in front of my garden bench. (It’s actually my landlord’s, but I’m often the one sitting there.)
From the looks of it, some local knob felt like disposing of their dog’s shit differently this morning, so they strolled in and set it down here. Just about everything went through my head: was this a random act or is a disgruntled neighbour sending me a message? Who could I possibly have pissed off this badly that they’d leave literal shit by the bench I usually sit on to read??
Discrimination!! Misogyny!! Xenophobia!!!!
My (very Turkish) landlords found it particularly insulting (since it’s technically their property) and checked the nearest security camera. We all gathered around a screen and discovered the culprit together.
It was a fox.
That’s right. At 6 AM an actual fox trotted to this specific house with a bag of shit, entered the garden and carefully placed the bag in front of the bench. Then, it disappeared and came back with yet another bag and settled it neatly next to the first bag, then proceeded to piss on both bags and scamper off.
Please note that this stint comes after two weeks of slugs inexplicably appearing in my kitchen. So my only conclusion is that the local wildlife has collectively pledged its hatred for me — or that a begrudging fox has decided to return some human rubbish to a random human’s property as a very intentional ‘fuck you’.
Note to self: install cameras around my tiny house. Because sometimes, a bag of shit isn’t a hate crime, but the work of a fox on cleanup duty.
If you recall (or even read) Part two of this tiny house series, you might remember me saying that it’s advisable to track your daily routine and map your tiny house design around it.
Well, that’s what I’ve been doing and it has completely changed what I was hoping to build.
For starters, it has come to my attention that I currently have a desk in my rented studio and I make any excuse not to use it. I’ll use it for work calls or an hour or two of hare-brained typing, but soon enough, I’m off meandering around the kitchen, gazing out the window while thinking of my next sentence, or settling down in bed with my laptop.
Instead of carving out a dedicated space for an underused home office, I’ve decided to make the entire tiny home laptop-friendly. A pop up desk here, a comfy chair there — that type of thing. It also saves me some much-needed space.
Another thing is the bedroom loft idea. A LOT of tiny housers grow to hate the low ceiling and the lack of space to even pull your trousers up. I’m also at that age when I have to stand and stretch every morning.
And so, with the help of my trusty Surface pen, I’m butchering ways of turning the bedroom loft into a reading loft instead. And, oh, you can bet I’d rather work in there than at a stiff desk.
(The grey slug thing is supposed to be a settee of sorts. Reserve your judgements.)
I’m optimistically including stargazing windows that I can open and maybe even climb out of. If you’re wondering what that tree-looking thing is, it’s a tree branch bookshelf. Look at them. They’re quite wonderful.
Downstairs, here’s what I have in mind for the main area of the house:
Those colourful dots on the ceiling are supposed to be spot lights. I’d love to have hue lights so I can make the whole house change colours, but that might be pushing it. Try to forgive the impossibly crookedness of it all. Perspective has never been my strong suit.
As for the actual bedroom, I’m hoping to put it on the ground floor so I don’t have to trudge all the way downstairs for snacks. Not too bothered about anything else in the bedroom, really, as long as it has a bedside table and enough space for me to ̶c̶r̶y̶ pace around in.
Next: the kitchen.
Oh, I have many quibbles about kitchens. For example:
- High shelves (because I am, in fact, a hobbit)
- Stacks of plates that I have to lift to get to a specific plate
- Shoving cups out of the way so I can reach my favourite mug
- Running out of counter space while prepping food
- Power outlets in just-out-of-reach places
- Pots and pans all clattered together and their lids lost somewhere in the fifth dimension.
I’ve also realised that mounted cabinets are overrated. I always find myself flapping the wrong cabinet door open and have already accidentally smacked someone in the face with one. (In my defence, it was partly his fault for being tall).
Aside from floating shelves for quick-to-grab condiments and teas, I’m liking the idea of mugs hanging from hooks and nifty pull-out cabinets near the floor, like this:
Why do we even stack plates anymore when racks like this exist??
This whole pet peeve -> solution formula seems to be the gateway to many quirky tiny house designs. One couple, for example, installed a laundry shoot from their loft bedroom to their bathroom because they hated lugging dirty clothes down the stairs. Who woulda thought.
There’s just so much to consider when designing a kitchen and, honestly, my brain hurts. Next I have to think extra hard about where to put the most important part of the kitchen: the wine rack.
Our mysterious woodland fiend strikes again.
Tell me, oh foxy one, why doth thou gift me with such generous offerings?
As you know, I’m pretty set on having my bedroom downstairs, so I decided to look up how others have managed it in such a small space. There are plenty of YouTube tours and personal blogs, but, to put it nicely, a lot of the layouts are shite.
I know we’re all about efficiency here, but come on, who wants to keep flipping their kitchen cabinet into a bed or take a shower in an open corridor? Or not have enough walking space around the bed to put a fitted sheet on — which is already a nightmare to do in a regular sized room.
Luckily, some kind soul out there has already trudged through the many terrible ideas and collected 50 tiny homes with a downstairs bedroom.
Here are a few reasonable layouts for the ground floor:
Okay, this next one has a loft bedroom but it’s the first one I’ve seen that doesn’t have some flimsy division to give some false sense of privacy.
I also found plenty of convenient storage ideas and crafty things like this sofa/dining area. The table folds up into the wall and the stools fit snugly beneath the sofa.
I think I’d put a mirror on the underside of the table to give it some added use when it’s folded up against the wall. Sure is a smart set up if you’re not the ‘dinner table’ type but want to have the option of seating friends/family/cats once in a while.
On Instagram, I also found this little gem of a downstairs bedroom:
Let’s all pretend we don’t see the goat.
Then there’s this cute little idea:
If you’re wondering where the bathroom is, it’s in that little corridor area between the bed and the barn door. If you’re now wondering what’s upstairs, you’ll be glad to know it’s actually a second bedroom.
In other news: I unknowingly burnt a patch on the carpet while trying to dry my socks with a hair dryer and will likely lose some of my deposit.
Well, well, well. Guess who turned up in my inbox this morning. Ryan Tuttle. Remember her? The photographer who designed her own tiny house and had it built by a Canadian company then shipped to USA? No? Never mind, just know that we went over her design tips in my previous post.
As I thought, my email had been swallowed by her spam folder. She was incredibly apologetic and answered my questions, so here’s a summary of what she said:
Me: How accurate was the end result considering your tiny house was built in a different country?
Ryan: The final build was very accurate, mostly I think because I provided them with so much reference material and sketch up drawings. I don’t think you need to visit in order to get exactly what you want.
Me: Is there anything you would’ve done differently had you known what you know now?
The only thing I would’ve done would be to get a firm quote on delivery, not just an estimate. Delivery to the U.S. ended up costing twice as much as I thought. In retrospect, I should have had my builder sign an agreement with the cost of delivery included.
Me: Do you regret going on wheels instead of a static tiny home?
Ryan: I do wish I had a static home just for logistical reasons and permanence. If I had land of my own, I probably would have gone that route, but wheels was the only way to go for me at that point.
Thanks, Ryan. It’s definitely a relief to know you don’t necessarily have to be there in person to get the build right, but the fact that most people miss the stability of a static home makes me uneasy. But again, I’m too broke for anything other than a box on wheels right now.
I pottered about with SketchUp today in an optimistic attempt to model my tiny home. It’s free for personal use, so no harm done (to my bank account, at least. The emotional trauma at this point is debatable).
Now, I confess that I may have an unfair advantage here. My (unused) degree is in Multimedia Engineering, which involves a lot of 3D modelling, video game design, virtual reality and all sorts of flashy fiddly things. So, I somewhat know my way around 3D modelling.
That said, it has been a decade since I’ve done anything like it and even my years of experience weren’t enough to stop my first attempt from looking like this:
It looks like a bad tooth.
I should probably learn how to use SketchUp first.
Would modelling my tiny house in The Sims be so terrible? Honestly.
Remember the fox? Well, I’ve decided to name it Winston. Today, Winston left me a rock.
Thank you, Winston. ‘Tis a very good rock.
A friend of mine (between laughs) said a rock means ‘engagement’. This is what romance looks like in quarantine, folks.
Okay, this is hands down the least irritating beginner’s guide I’ve seen so far. Definitely start with this one.
I think I’m ready to give SketchUp another go.
It seems Winston the fox has moved on.
Didn’t even say goodbye.
So I revisited the UK company The Tiny Housing Co., and have been chatting with a nice guy called Dane about house sizes and designs. He suggested we call to chat a bit more, which I may take him up on.
Especially after reading one of their blog posts on how you can get planning permission a lot easier in the UK if you have a valid reason for living on it. One reason is to care for a herd of alpacas, but a saner reason is to reforest the land.
They have a loose plan to round up a group of people, build 8–10 tiny homes on a plot of land somewhere in England and then divvy up the tree-minding chores. Everyone would essentially volunteer their time to plant and take care of the forest. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a dream to me.
I’ve mentioned a few similar initiatives in my previous posts, namely ReforestNation and the 1000 Huts project over in Scotland. I’m not entirely sold on the idea of living in England, but I’d warm up to it if it means living in a tiny house and taking care of trees.
I’ve always liked trees more than people anyway.
Today I called Dane from Tiny Housing Co., and we had a casual chat about tiny house sizes and prices. As we know (and despise), the maximum size for a road-legal tiny house in the UK is 2.55m by 7m. However, as I don’t drive and would have the option of hiring any sized truck to haul my house around, Dane says we’d be able to sneak a few extra metres in.
That brings our absolute maximums to 2.65m wide, 4.3m tall and 12.3m long. That’s doable. Plus, they can integrate slide-outs, which if you remember from my first post, means you can push a button to extend a part of the house for added width.
He also mentioned how they offer a plot-finding service. Last month they got a 1/2 acre of land for about £600/month with all utilities included. Now, I’m currently paying £650/month on rent, so buying a house and then paying around the same every month on land is a shit deal. Think more research is needed on that one.
In general, their tiny builds range from £40–60K, which isn’t exactly an amount you’d have rolled up in your left sock, but it’s still less than a brick house. Plus, the team is incredibly nice and their designers will take your scribbles and help you plan everything out. If I somehow get rich in the next few months, I’ll be sure to enlist their services.
For now, it’s back to the drawing board.
SketchUp is testing me today. My sanity is currently being held together by gum and paperclips, and I’m exactly one click away from wreaking havoc.
Its latest prank is to freeze and tell me that ‘a webpage is slowing down your browser’ and asking if I want to stop that page. So, of course, I click ‘stop’.
Then SketchUp promptly closes its own tab.
It has taken weeks of on-and-off progress, hours of raging, and several trips back from the brink of insanity — but my SketchUp tiny house is finally starting to look less like a Balrog’s lair and slightly more like a home.
Here’s what my reading loft will supposedly be like. (Note that the free version of SketchUp has limited colours and textures, so this is definitely not the colour scheme I’m going for. But, you get the idea.)
I know. The progress has been minimal. But basically: lots of books and plenty of comfy pillows and blankets for reading. Also, a little workspace. Oh, and the stargazing windows are supposed to open. I just couldn’t be arsed to build the handles. I also gave up furnishing the shelves with books.
Aaaand here’s the wreck I have so far for the living room/movie area:
The idea is there’ll be dimmable lights that I can control with my Alexa to set ‘movie mode’, and those box thingies on each end have flippable lids to store snacks/blankets. Also, the sofa turns into a bed and all those lovely drawers below it will be stuffed with pillows and even more blankets. (There‘s also a chance of wine.)
But what about the kitchen and bedroom? You ask?
There I was, minding my own business, when a particular email pinged into my inbox.
Okay, I was actually gargling wine in a bid to loosen up my brain cells because I had spent the past four hours rewriting the same paragraph for a client.
Here’s how the email began:
Why, yes. Yes I do.
There’s more below but my screen is too small. The rest is about how we’d have access to water pipes, be fitted with solar panels, and have space for our cars and bikes.
Then, this giddy email ended with:
ME. OH GOD, PICK ME.
I emailed Dane from Tiny House Co. immediately (and a tad overly-enthusiastically). Hopefully he remembers me from our chats back in September when I told him I’d love to be a part of the project — and that I was reading about growing vegetable gardens and even learning ‘bushcraft first aid’, (y’know, to save anyone from the dangerous English wildlife, like a particularly temperamental hedgehog).
He hasn’t responded yet, and is likely trying to figure out who Jenny is again and why she’s using so many exclamation marks. But I’m SO PUMPED for this. I’m not sure if they‘re begging people to apply or are desperately swatting away applicants, but I truly hope I can make it on the list.
This is the sort of house we’d all get:
I mean, all my current tiny house designs would be for nought, but I’d be happy enough with this one and a few tweaks here and there. Mainly because I’ve been losing heart in the idea of a home on wheels and nowhere to put it. I definitely want a static home, one that’s a bit wider and, well, stable.
I’m not sure how the whole house/land thing would work with them, and I’m betting the capital I’d need to be part of it is going to be something outrageous, but can you imagine living in a tiny eco house and planting trees in your spare time??
Dream. Come. True.
It wasn’t Dane, but Leanne the community manager. I didn’t consider the possibility of someone other than Dane reading my email.
Either way, she responded with a short questionnaire to see if I was ‘a good fit’. The thought of answering those questions seriously and professionally did briefly cross my mind, but I shot it down and answered the questions in my own, slightly unhinged way.
This included things like, ‘My dream is to live in a sustainable house with a delightfully stupid cat’, and jokingly suggesting they add a ‘solar-powered wine fountain’ to their building plans.
It’s good to set the bar low. Now Leanne has a pretty good idea that I’m a simple, regular person who has something very wrong with them.
But, it seems to have worked. Leanne was back in my inbox the next day with a much lighter tone. Apparently, she ‘thoroughly enjoyed’ reading my cascade of stupidity and said she’d be in touch with an update very soon!
My lease ends today and I’ve spent a lot of the last few weeks scrubbing, painting over nicks in the walls, and desperately trying to blur the scorch mark I left on the brand new carpet.
Haven’t made much progress on SketchUp, or anything else, really. Although I don’t feel as pressured to come up with the perfect tiny house interiors now that the option of simply customising the Endura model is on the cards. Which is just as well, because SketchUp has decided to run at the pace of an asthmatic slug.
Anyway, back to London I go. The UK is in lockdown, so who knows how long I’ll be stuck in my uncle’s spare, windowless, soulless room. It’s somewhere to stay, at least. Who needs mental health anyway.
Leanne did, in fact, send an update.
Here’s the deal. They’re definitely going to build us all slightly bigger ‘Enduras’ and we can customise whatever isn’t bolted down. Here are their latest renders of the ‘Endura +’:
This is by no means the final design. Or I should hope not, considering that door fridge looks like it’ll whack the soul out of whoever’s sitting next to it.
As you might also notice, there are a lot of stairs. Fortunately, Leanne says more than one person has already requested a downstairs bedroom (myself included), so they’re currently working on an alternative design.
Other than that, they’re open to ideas for the community centre and anything else we might need, like an ‘outdoor fitness area’. I let Leanne know that I reserve my right to struggle with gym equipment in privacy, so count me out.
While Leanne agreed that the shame should be hidden, she also attached a photo of what some had asked for:
Now, this makes me wonder about the average age of the people involved in this project. Because I know of exactly zero Millennials who would request or use this. In public. You know, in front of everyone.
As for the land, we would pay a fixed amount every month for a period of five years until the land has been paid off. Then, we’d own the bugger.
The rent would be around £100–£150, which is really not that bad. The real problem is the house, which amounts to £70,000. The only saving grace is that they wouldn’t ask for it all upfront. The initial deposit would be 10%, then another percentage to get the build going, then the rest when the build is done sometime in Oct/Nov 2021.
Reasonable? Yes. Can I afford it? No.
I’ll have to figure something out if I go ahead with this. (I have already Googled which organs I can live without.)
Anyway, I suggested Leanne create a Slack channel so we can all start getting familiar with each other and keep the different topics in order. She said she would, so that would be my chance to see whether I actually fit in the group or not. I mean, they’d be my neighbours for the foreseeable future, so if it’s just a herd of knobheads then this will not go well.
EDIT: She did create the Slack channel! If anyone is reading this at all, you can join the tiny house-warming party right here.
Well, it has been a long and tedious few months. Didn’t make as much progress as I’d hoped, and didn’t get to investigate the tiny homes around Kent either. Lockdowns, moving, and general insanity have been beating me to a pulp lately.
I had half a mind to go up to Scotland and check out the tiny house park they had up there, but of course, there is still a global plague.
With the tiny house company in the midst of striking a deal with the landowner, I think I need to take a step back and wait to see what happens. If they make the deal, then I have a whole new plan, and this series will go from ‘here’s how I’m royally screwing up my tiny house’ to ‘look how we’re building England’s first tiny house+reforestation community’.
That might be more interesting, actually.
So I suppose I’ll leave this here until I get some solid news. I presume they’ll have an answer for us before this wreck of a year is done.
Until then, à bientôt.