Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tiny Texas Dream

So WAY back in October, I was in Texas for a friend's wedding and made my way over to Luling to interview Brad Kittel. I would love to post some excerpts from the hour-long interview I did with him, but the truth is, I haven't even listened to it. Chances are that I won't get around to it for a while yet. But since I've finally gotten around to editing a lot of these, here are some of the photos of the Tiny Texas Houses and the man himself.

The thing that sets Tiny Texas Houses apart from a lot of other small houses is their use of almost exclusively reclaimed materials. Brad Kittel has worked in architectural salvage for many years and has people calling him from all over the country with leads on buildings which are soon to be destroyed.

In 2006, Kittel began building little houses with these materials he'd spent years and years gathering together. I have friends and family who had visited his Discovery Architectural Antiques in Gonzales long before Tiny Texas Houses was born.

When I interviewed him, Kittel said that essentially he has a short attention span. He gets going on something and gives it his all until he is able to turn it over to other people. In a very short amount of time, he has been able to put together one of the biggest tiny house companies around.

The project that Kittel has his sights on now is a tiny-house village. He wants to give workshops where people come out to an area right by the warehouse and learn to build a tiny house from the ground up. The houses would stay on site and eventually be sold to residents to live in on site. Chapels, stores, a post office, etc. would follow. When enough people were living there (I believe the magic number was 40), then the residents could vote to be declared their own township. If this went through, then the town's residents could vote on which building codes they wanted to follow, thereby releasing tiny-house building in that area from the myriad restrictions that new homes have to follow almost anywhere else.

Kittel comes across in many ways as a mad Texas scientist. His Stetson hat, round wire-rimmed glasses, tan skin and gaunt figure combine to make a really interesting man that you wouldn't expect to be building houses.

He has grand plans about how the small house movement will play out, and he mostly hopes to be a catalyst who enables the momentum to grow. Ideally, he'd like to have warehouses in every state that gather salvage material so that nearby residents have the ability to find and drop off reclaimed materials for building. Kittel uses dirty words like "barter" when talking about the ideal scenario for enabling others to build by donating time and energy to gain materials and knowledge.

Many people would be surprised to learn that Kittel doesn't live in a big, or even small, house with the money he's made on these houses. He tries to reinvest as he goes back in the business. In fact, Kittel lives in a small apartment in the warehouse for Tiny Texas Houses.

If you're not paying close enough attention, Brad Kittel can definitely come off a bit like a snake-oil salesman, until you realize that the main thing he's getting out of it is the knowledge that he's opened someone else's eyes to what is tiny, and possible.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Small House: Small Cost? The Math

  • Plumbing $200
  • Hardwood Flooring Underlayment $25
  • Hardie Backer & Screws $126
  • LED lighting $140
  • Two windows $200
  • Shiplap Pine $632
  • Wood-burning Potbelly Stove $20
  • Propane Tankless Water Heater $475
  • Saltillo Tiles $45
  • Hardwood Manufactured Floors $200
  • House $3000
  • Initial Road Excavation $1000
  • Winch $400
  • Diesel Fuel $300
  • Clawfoot Tub $300
  • House Relocation Tip $100
  • Misc. Tools and Parts $100
  • Propane Stove $60
  • Paint Stripper $50
  • Bottle Jack $30

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reflections on Space and My Dollhouse

Before I graduated high school, I had already redecorated my room several times. At 15, I could no longer stand the hippie aesthetic of the painted "peace" coffee sack and teal green walls. I decided I wanted my room to be a dark moody blue, the exact color of a patch of rain clouds I had seen creeping up that summer on a baseball stadium. I felt that if my soul were a color, it had to be this one. My mom was wary of so much dark blue so we compromised on two white walls and two blue walls. I had also planned to paint a large quote above one of my windows (blue on white) with my favorite quote, by Socrates: "There are but two tragedies in life: one is not to get your heart's desire, the other is to get it." I was a rather introverted teenager and spent much time writing poetry. To me, this room was a sanctuary for music and written words.

Psychologist E. Prelinger said that "as a person's self-image changes, he or she is able to put away or dispose of objects that no longer reflect who they are, and acquire or make others." For four years in college, I lived in a condo my parents had bought in Austin. About a year into my life there, the bedroom walls became silver metallic.

I put a string of white lights up around the ceiling and lanterns hung above the head of the bed. A single chest of drawers of pale, smooth birch wood nestled in the corner and a soft ivory shag rug lay at the entrance to the room and matched the soft ivory blanket on the bed.

It was like sleeping in a soft, ethereal, metal jewel-box. As I got older, the celestial blue and silver no longer seemed to reflect who I was. After a tumultuous season of unrequited love, I painted the pale living room walls a passionate deep red. The kitchen walls adjoining it became a bright happy marigold. The change was exactly what I needed, but eventually I had to leave.

Over the next few years, I continued to tire of the pale and artificial. My love of birch gave way to naturally imperfect and dark brown woods. My curtains were pink raw silk, blanket pumpkin-colored, tables the color of dark tobacco stain. The last bedroom I painted was the color of dark chocolate, with dark brown pillows to contrast against that first ivory blanket.

Every year, I moved somewhere new and redefined myself in the space surrounding me. One year I was bright and fun. The next year, dark and sophisticated. Finally, I moved to California and found a place that was most everything I wanted to be: beautiful in its simplicity, open yet unassuming.

A place so small that there was no room for extravagance, where everything inside had no choice but to be both efficient and an aesthetic focal point.

My little doll house was only about 250 square feet counting the loft where my bed and clothes lived. While a lot of terrible things happened in my life during the 7 months I lived in that house, and though I had many problems with its builder and landlord, the house itself remained a source of peace for me. I was sick 5 times and had 2 deaths in my family. But this little house drew wonderful things to me. Tyson has told me that half the reason he came back to Santa Cruz to see me after completely freaking out after our first date (when he realized that we would inevitably be in a relationship) was the little house I was living in. When I had strep throat 4 times in two months, two little kittens adopted me and my house and would come visit me almost every day, happy to find a more comforting place than the house they lived in with young screaming children a few yards over. When it was rainy, Tyson and I would make a little nest for them in the bathroom.

For ten years, personal space and physical location have been a huge part of my life, significantly impacting my headspace and relationships. I can not write a poem without including many details about a space in which an event occurred.

It says so much about what’s going on. The character of a space can affect what happens within it. It also bears witness to the mindset and desires of its owner. Soon I will be living in a tiny house with a man who I love. We are working on this house together.