Into the wild- the truck version

 

It has been 6 months since I have seen the tiny studio. I took off to the west coast last fall and spent the majority of the winter on Salt Spring Island, B.C, with some visits to Vancouver and Seattle. While on the island, which is small enough for lively gossip but big enough to get lost, I spent a bunch of time around Fulford Harbour where my sister lives and through some very sweet and generous people I found a beautiful house to live in rent-free. So there I lingered spending my time between the woods and a metal shop.

Seth Burton, a master knife-maker and metalsmith, was generous enough to let me work with him for the winter, to learn a bit about his craft. Seth formed his own company Cosmo Knives and specializes in damascus steel which he is constantly experimenting with, and spends his days from 6am to 6pm working away on something in his metalshop (which he also built). If it weren’t for his tattoo sleeves I’d question if he hadn’t stepped out of a time capsule from 1890, or middle earth for that matter. He has developed his own methods and tools for doing everything from folding and setting steel to sharpening and polishing blades and handles. I have so much respect for what he does at this point, especially since I realized my short-lived dream of being some sort of badass knife wielding builder woman, was much better in dream form than reality. The reality looked more like a disheveled dirty faced girl wearing androgynous clothes and pulling bits of metal out of her hair at the end of the day. Most everything however, from the mountains on the island, to a secret boat-house community in a protected bay, were far better than dreams. I spent many days returning to the same spot on a native land reserve, where you could watch the Cormorants hang their wings to dry. Once while running on the reserve I spotted an otter, and we were both so surprised he jumped up and made a kind of sneezing sound at me. I had no idea what kinds of sounds otters make, I still am not sure if he was just odd.

I’ll try and summarize this winter in a couple of photo journals, so here is the first attempt. All of the knives here are Cosmo designs.

house-boat bay

damascus

bushcraft knives

leatherwork toolsview of Vesuvious Bay/ top of Mount Erskin

 

fall photo

 

It has been several months since parking the tiny studio in a field, locking the door, and departing for the west coast. Now, in British Columbia, I’m dreaming about the steps required to finish the project when I return to Vermont in the spring.

- installing wood floors – solar panels – lighting – insulating the walls and covering them with thin plywood – Oh paint colors- creating secret storage compartments – installing the wood stove – building a second subfloor to store a bed under – the beat goes on.

In the interim, out here, there is plenty to inspire the dreaming. I’ve come across some noteworthy examples of alternative forms of living, home building, and inhabiting including house-boat communities, yurt builders, and of course the simple but perfect cabin in the woods. Due to the milder temperatures in the pacific north west (vs. what I am used to out east) the living possibilities are a bit more relaxed. It’s interesting to see how ‘place’ affects our attitudes and designs in architecture and building culture.

The experience generates ideas around how the convention of architecture may be changed forever by the construction of mobile, off-grid and/or compact dwellings.

Here’s to dreaming in the wintertime.

Fulford Harbor. Salt Spring Island

 

Fulford Harbor, Salt Spring Island.
 

hibernation place

 

A recent conversation has been rolling around in my mind all week. Someone brought to my attention the helpfulness of having a timeline and structure to a project. Let’s call it beginning, middle and end. A book is a beautiful thing, because simply by being a book it has a front cover and a back cover which means it starts and ends somewhere, and there is obviously a story in the middle. Building a house has the illusion of steps, but the idea of creating a home is weirdly eternal. So the time has come to plan my escape route. I am at the point of having to decide what ‘the end’ of the project may look like.

There are at least a dozen solutions for where this studio on wheels will land and live semi-permanently, and there are least as many solutions for where I will land. One thing seems to be clarifying however, which is the studio will probably live on the east coast. For the next several months it will hibernate in a field in Vermont, while I work on an island in British Columbia. So much work has now gone into creating a solution to the art studio question, and so far that process has only sprouted more questions. In planning a solution I need to gain a bit of perspective, and what better way of doing that, than to leave and come back.

The view from the hibernation location.

south facing window view

North facing treeline

see you in the spring, studio

 

 

potential solar panel choice

 

Designing a space to live in can be equated to imagining how we will behave in the future. It is easy to get carried away, with ‘I want’ fill in the space. This space needs to be usable, simple and self sufficient. It’s an investigation into the idea that good design is inherently beautiful, as are good materials. In the future, I will write much more about power consumption, but for now, it’s enough to just say I have found a really cool source for a simple electric solar system. Many other design elements have followed suit. During the slow and steady search for appliances and interior features I have been lucky to find some great items to be installed in the Spring.

Before leaving the tiny studio and heading cross country, I received a free material donation from a Vermont elementary school building project. Some left over roofing metal from a timber-frame project. It will be perfect for the end wall exterior siding (the hitch-end, which faces the wind while traveling). My Aunt spotted it and brought it back to the barn for me, sweet gal. Here it is.

free metal

 

Another wonderful item is the tiny Jøtul wood-stove acquired from craigslist. It is just barely used, and a quarter of the price of a new one. It has received great reviews from other tiny housers, so I can’t wait to see how it will function in the small space. It has one cook plate on top, which will come in handy for stews etc. in the winter months.

tiny wood stove

 

Another wonderful material to look forward to is the cedar siding which I did not have time to order and install before leaving. It took a bit of a search, but I found local FSC Northern White Cedar, and worked with the business to figure out an estimate which I could afford.
Here are a couple samples of the cedar shiplap material.

white cedar samples

 

Since you can’t feel or smell it, the cedar is incredibly lightweight, and smokey-sweet smelling. I love this material, and can’t wait to work with it more in the future, hopefully on other building projects.

When wild animals experience a near death experience, say, a deer gets chased by a mountain lion and then escapes, it will run to a safe place, stop and shake and shiver all over. They deal with the trauma, then carry on, doing what deer do. For human beings, it’s unfortunately not always so simple. Sorry for being so dramatic here, but my point is, if you ever see all of your hopes and dreams come into contact with an obstacle, let’s say it’s a tree, the experience can be a bit traumatic. I’ve had a couple days to do my version of a shake and shiver and now I’ll try and tell the story to my dears.

the tractor that saved the day

 

The tiny studio moved to it’s hibernation home in a grassy field on my uncle and aunt’s property in southern Vermont, two days ago. It sits between some wild echinacea, grasses, and prickly blackberry bushes. It’s now leveled, sealed, and ‘buttoned up’, as my Aunt Lisa would say.
On moving day, my folks all came out to help. The idea was to drive the tiny studio from where it was beside a barn, down a dirt road, turn down a slope and into a neighboring field. This estimated 10 minute excursion took 6 hours… Now how? How could something so simple take that long? Well, if one got stuck in a tree, it could take that long… longer still if it were not for a certain little tractor. I’ll just skip the part where I look like a fool, and go to the part where my uncle saves the day with the tractor.
There were a few issues right at take-off. After pulling out the driveway, from the barn we noticed the air pressure in the tires had gone way down, not major, but concerning since I had no air pump. I drove the studio partway down a slope heading into the field and it was not going to make the turn. From one narrow road onto another, the circumference of the truck and trailer turning was wider than I estimated (Oh grade 8 math you have failed me again!). Instead of wiggle room, there was a narrow road, with small gorges on both sides, and a low hanging tree, which was about 4 feet from the corner of my roof. Now before you start judging, it wasn’t as though I hadn’t thought of these things, but like every other stage of this project, I knew there were going to be some challenges, and the decision to muscle through had honestly worked up till now.

stuck in vermont

 

Driving down this bumpy slope also made it near impossible to back up, so I became stuck, for a long time. At one point the trailer rolled forward into a tree. I saw it happen, and a few seconds after I saw stars, pearls of cold sweat formed on my temples, brief blackout. Perhaps that seems dramatic, but I had never really hurdled this thing through space before, you feel the dangers of the whole thing viscerally. I did not cry, but was in total shock and had no idea of the damage I had done to the tiny studio. My uncle had the idea of pulling it out of the tree, backwards, and then pulling it safety with the tractor. He helped me attach a chain to the axles under the trailer, and we hauled it backwards then pulling it forward down the slope and gloriously to it’s safe haven. Amazingly, should I say miraculously, the tree actually did very little damage, and in fact saved the studio from rolling down the hill solo.

So went my embarrassing and dangerously naive moment! With two scratches. One for the tree, and one for the studio. They are now blood brothers and will be forever connected, though hopefully never so close again.

hauling the studio through the field

positioning

everyone's helping

 

In the past few weeks it became clear that I was not going to be able to finish the studio, exterior/interior finish electric etc, this fall. Two reasons for this; I don’t want to go broke, and I have some cool opportunities awaiting me on the west coast. There is perhaps a third factor in all this as well, let’s call it, the elephant factor. I do not yet have a geographical place I call home. The cosmic joke is, I need to find a home for my home. When I began this project, I thought I would be living somewhere, with someone, in someplace, and that all completely changed. Instead of giving up on the project, I continued, and now it’s 3/4 done. The last leg of the construction journey however, will have to wait until the spring. Then I will have some new resources (i.e. $$$) some fresh energy and inspiration, and hopefully by then a clearer idea of where I am going to be for the next while. I have a really exciting plan for siding, interior floors, and hidden bed, a movable kitchen, the installation of tiny wood stove, and so on. But it will have to wait. In the meantime I will be driving across the United States, documenting any unique living situations I see, and landing in B.C. for the winter. I will be back in the Spring to complete the project and perhaps help some friends with their building projects as well!

the sweet spot on the field

 

Part of me wishes I could stay for the winter and continue working on the studio, but it’s more sane to take a break from it, and come back when I have the time and resources. I can’t wait to pick it up again… especially considering recent material donations to the project! (next post)

 

end of summer peek

 

The point when this project totally and completely and irreversibly changed, was when I first saw the curved french doors at Vermont Salvage. They have really set the tone for the structure. Now installed they let in tons of light, and because of their height they have eliminated the loft design in favor of a simple alternative (which you will have to wait for, but I am so excited about it, I haven’t seen it done yet in tiny house design). Around the same time the doors were chosen I started to picture the studio much more clearly, and since then I have been going on that picture more than drawings and designs. I never ended up even sharing designs on this site because they seemed to change with every ‘perfect’ material I found, and the picture in my mind always seemed more realistic than the drawings. That may sound inside out but it has worked for me. There were many many drawings of course for figuring out dimensions, measurements etc, but the one of the completed little studio was never finished, ashes in the stove now. All up here (forehead tap).

Checking expectations at the Doors
The expectations in terms of the space and light, have now been far exceeded. Hopes for building and making good time, well those expectations have been consistently thwarted. It is great to have both. Originally thinking (perhaps dreaming) that I would be able to build my first tiny house over a summer by myself, no problemo, has been taken down many notches. It is the end of a busy summer and with the fantastic help of friends and family, it is at this stage. As a little review, currently the Studio’s roof is done, sheathing, doors and windows, all done, sealed but not sided, and rough electric is done.

Here is a glimpse of the doors. It’s starting to feel really nice in there.

both doors in

doors interior

north parked light

doorlight

 

In the past couple weeks I have been searching and sourcing my tail off trying to find affordable FSC cedar siding. A dream maybe, though it now seems likely to happen. It is unclear if it will happen before I need to hit the road.

Which means, NEXT: either cover the studio in house-wrap (whatever I can find for free or cheap), and park it in the new location for the Fall/Winter, OR stay another few weeks to acquire cedar siding and install it. ‘should i stay or should i go now?’.

tiny studio now

 

 

Metal Roofing installed

 

The last weeks of summer are turning out to be the best weeks of summer. I feel great, I feel like peter pan. It’s awesome to be building and even though it’s taking forever, it’s going to get done one day, and that day is going to feel amazing. Although I have thoroughly neglected working on the computer, I have been elbow and knee high in building, staining, roofing, and electrical. The shell is closing up! bit by bit…

The week could not have gone so well without the help of my dear and old friend Michael Fraser, who visited Vermont for a few days and helped with the rough electric and roofing (which finally arrived!). We were able to get the roof done, and go swimming in a pretty little water hole to celebrate.

Yes, the roof. I ordered a pre-cut metal roofing which is relatively lightweight, high recycled content steel. It is also 100% recyclable. It should last anywhere from 25-50 years, depending on weather. It’s installed with special screws that have rubber washers to seal out rainwater, snow etc, from getting into the punctures in the metal from installation. Since this is a mobile structure, we put a couple extra screws in the hauling end of the roof, as well as sealed up the cracks with a roofing adhesive so air cannot get into cracks (which would put pressure under the roof… worst case scenario, lifting it up on highway).

Pre-roofing, involved installing the Fascia Boards (pine trim you see around the edge of the roof) as well as installing the Soffits (the plywood which closes in the rafters around the bottom of the roof). Once those were on I put a coat of stain on everything, the soffits, fascia boards, and window trim, to protect them from the weather. I’ll put another coat on now that the roof is installed.

I suppose it has also come about that the front door is in as well, although one of the doors needs a bit of extra work before it can be attached. Salvage has its time-eaters, and the door is turning out to be one, but it’s going to be worth it! The curve reminds me a bit of those colonial western wagons, with their fabric roofing. Of course, the whole off-grid idea, is more a de-colonizing process, so it is funny to see old forms from history pop up again in this movement.

Fascia Boards

stained trim

hitch end, stained

French Doors half installed

 

Next: finish the rough-in electric, fix and install the second french door (find a handle, lock and key for it), order siding, and insulation. Oh yeah, AND build a power box for a few batteries, inverter, wires etc, which are going to accompany a small solar system to power the studio! A super helpful fella, who runs a local solar company is helping me put together a partially used system, to make solar an affordable option for me. Gotta love solar people.