Jay Shafer has been building and inhabiting tiny houses since 1997. His first tiny house was a mere 89 square feet, but once he realized that he could still live pretty comfortably in a such a small space, he was hooked. Since then he's started a company, the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., which builds and sells small houses.
Shafer, a contrarian by nature, said he got the idea to start building and living in tiny houses when he discovered that many states have laws prohibiting diminutive dwellings. These laws, which are often meant to discourage vagrants from inhabiting tool sheds or prohibit unscrupulous landlords from renting out broom closets, are overly broad, Shafer said, and constitute a form of forced consumption.
Starting at $40,000, a Tumbleweed house isn't exactly a bargain, but it is considerably cheaper than its full-sized counterparts. The company also sells the plans for their mini-houses at a far cheaper rate, so
DIYers who want to get in on minimalist living can build their own tiny houses.
More recently, Shafer has settled down to start a family and is now living in a relatively palatial 500 square foot house in northern California. He still maintains a 100 square foot tiny home on the property, he said, and he still prefers those condensed confines.
Q: What sort of impact do you think you've had on people over the years?
A: The word has gotten out that bigger is not necessarily better and I'm really happy to have been a part of that.
Q: What are some of the most unique uses you've seen for some of the tiny homes that you've built or sold plans for?
A: Well I've had some very interesting requests. I've had people ask for tiny houses to be used as part of a brothel. It never went through, but that was the request. We've had requests for tiny houses that have bulletproof windows with turrets on top. The range of uses seems to be unlimited.
But more than that we get three primary requests, which are for vacation cottages, and more typically than that, for a backyard extension to existing homes and finally people living in them full time.
Q: As you've gotten more experience over the years, what have you learned and how have your designs changed?
A: Actually it evolves a lot. Just when you think you have a perfect design that's very efficient you start seeing a lot of wasted space, not that there can be a lot of wasted space in 100 square feet to begin with.
My first house was fairly efficient, but in building that 100 square foot house on wheels I've redesigned it a couple of times. And at this point, once again I'm at the stage where I can't imagine how I can eke any more functional space out of it.
Q: What tips or tricks can you offer people who choose to live in a tiny home, or people who have to live in a cramped space?
A: I would recommend that people shoot for being very organized. Rooms that are organized just feel bigger, they feel more spacious. Almost every article I've seen when writing about how to design a small space, everybody talks about how to make it feel bigger and that's not really the point. The point is to make it feel less cramped.
Q: When making the change to a tiny home, what was the biggest sacrifice?
A: I was living in the back of my truck for a while and living in an Airstream Trailer for a while. In those cases, initially, in the truck for example, I'd gotten down to just a bed and some storage and that's really all I needed to survive. I missed having a laptop and a sink. A good way to assess what you're gonna miss is to just go camping for a week.