January 3rd marked the one year anniversary of moving into Wild Rose. It was a difficult first year.
I’d never used a wood stove in my life, and learning to start a fire and keep it going was a challenge. I have since learned that because my house is sealed so well, it creates a ‘negative draft’ which causes the house to suck air IN from the chimney rather than the chimney sucking smoke OUT of the wood stove. House sucking air in when starting a fire means a lot of smoke billowing out into the tiny space. This seems to only be a problem until the stove is nice and hot. If I open the window directly behind the stove, it helps.
I didn’t have a proper floor the first 3 months. The plywood subfloor is ugly. I had rugs that were constantly covered in mud and dog hair. I didn’t have a couch yet, and my desk was a piece of stained plywood attached to the wall that was too narrow.
I didn’t have enough lighting, and the house is very dark under the forest canopy and with the dark-stained walls.
I initially had an Origo alcohol stove with two burners, no oven, and a 2 gallon electric hot water heater. My drain was installed badly (by me) and didn’t work well. This meant no baths, very quick military showers, an ordeal every time I needed to use the sink to move all the water towards the drain with a squeegee, a lot of carbon monoxide scares with the alcohol stove, and did I mention no baths?
For a porch, I had some pallets piled higgeldy piggeldy outside the front door, and no covered area.
I was also in a new city with very few friends, it was winter, and my own propensity for loneliness and depression kicked in. April/May were two of the roughest mental health months I’ve ever had.
And yet!!! There is good news. So much good news. After returning from Alaska in August I had the time and money to make some much needed improvements. Being around dearly beloved friends during the fishing season and the Alaska sunshine kicked me back into a reasonable emotional state as well. Here is what we did:
This was what the house looked like when I left for Alaska in June. I intended to leave the area under the mirror open for dance practice, but a couch seem psychologically more important, which has turned out to be true. It is a plywood platform on 4×4 supports with a 4″ layer of foam, wrapped in a sleeping bag (for ease of cleaning Bear hair). This also created storage space underneath. Lamps were acquired.
A dear friend stayed in the house with Bear all summer and she acquired a big plushy armchair and when she sent me pictures, it seemed like a big plushy armchair belonged in the house. The desk also felt too cramped between the bookshelves. When I initially built the kitchen, I used the desk I’ve had since high school as the counter supports. I dug that out (adding new supports for the counter, pictures further down) and parked it beneath the big window. The desk is a reliable old friend of mine and having it back in the main space felt right.
I had to take off the back legs of the desk and prop it up above the wheel well box. I still have the legs and could reattach and put the desk in the middle of the room for a (tiny) dinner party or board game night, but have not yet tried this out.
The plant didn’t survive the transfer of care and feeding from Branwen to myself and has refugeed to the safer space of her room.
The couch is incredibly comfy and I sometimes sleep on it. Bear sleeps on it 23 hours of the day.
The rugs were tossed out, being unnecessary with that gorgeous floor.
I built this little toilet box out of the remains of a kitchen cabinet that was too large when I rebuilt the counters. The lid lifts up and hooks to the wall for ease of emptying the compost and urine jar. To the left is a compartment for sawdust and a smaller one for toilet paper. I also put down this weird floor that is 1×8 cut into (not square) squares and painted with paint samples from the Habitat store. The jug is vinegar for the urine jar. Pee can be incredibly smelly without vinegar. In case you were wondering.
I finally covered the exposed wiring that runs from the electrical box to the light switches, and added some wider shelving to hold bathroom things. The hooks on the wall are perfect for earrings and jewelry.
BATHROOM DOOR! I don’t have many people over but not having a bathroom door was a problem. The top bit is a picture frame with fabric inside. I can change out the fabric or add paintings when I want a change. The bottom is bead board and weathered old 2×4. It’s held together with screws and strapping and works so well.
I recently shocked myself with a wet hand on one of the exposed light switches, so that needs to be dealt with soon. The switches are too far back so all of the blue boxes need to be pulled out and moved forward, then I plan to make a custom light switch plate.
First bath! I did not want to use propane at all in the house, but after 6 months of military showers and carbon monoxide producing alcohol stove cooking, I gave in. I have a Takagi T-T-KJr2-OS-LP Outdoor Tankless Water Heater on the outside of the house. The propane tanks live out there too. I didn’t have any extra room in the kitchen and didn’t want to have to vent the propane through the wall. I also got an RV oven/range from Craiglist for $250. A friend helped run copper pipes through the walls to bring hot water to the faucet and propane to the oven.
I’ve always taken baths as a form of self-care and comfort. It’s where I do most of my reading. The ability to take them in my house has been inestimably good. We also put in a better drain and installed it correctly, so the water drains as it should and it is easier to clean out the tub for bathtime.
The skylight is lovely, but occasionally too bright. I’ve had this little quilt for years and it was just the right size. I sewed metal grommets into the corners and put hooks in the walls, and voila: skylight curtain.
Remodeled kitchen with the oven/range. Slightly awkward but spacious storage beneath it and in the corner between the drawer unit and oven. I use the oven almost every day and don’t know how I got by without it.
We also built a COVERED PORCH. I sewed water repellent outdoor fabric into an awning. The porch is in two pieces for relative ease of movement when it’s time to leave my current spot, and the awning will just have to be deconstructed and put back together at the new spot. In the metal and plastic containers is recycling and dog food (saves a lot of space inside). We’ve had a very sunny winter and I’ve spent a lot of time on the porch, bundled up, listening to music and staring at the trees.
The backside of the house.
And finally, to unclutter my little part of the property I built a shed and proper wood bin out of pallets, scrap wood and leftovers from the siding.
compost left/firewood right
New plans are afoot; the city is working on a “Missing Middle” Infill Housing Analysis. I spoke last week at a planning commission meeting about the need to legalize tiny houses and other small dwelling units. The city is inviting folks from across the city to join a work group to get the codes changed by this fall. Minutes from the meeting here. I hope to be involved in the work group and especially want to talk about composting toilets, as plumbing infrastructure and hooking up to the sewage grid or a septic tank is one of the biggest hurdles/costs of tiny houses. On a personal level, I’m in talks with my mother and some very close friends about starting a tiny house community in Olympia along the lines of the Simply Home Community in Portland. Looks like we’ll possibly be setting up around the same time the city introduces new zoning rules. Serendipity? Maybe. Seems to be how all the best things happen these days (alongside incredible amounts of hard work, planning, trust and love).
I hope you all are staying warm, wherever and however you are spending this cold January.