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Tiny Homes, Big Deal

Depending on which headline you read, tiny homes are either all the way in or “so 2016.” Whether the tiny homes glass is half full or half empty, it is certainly a trend that has caught the public eye. One reason it is difficult to track the numbers of American tiny homes is that many typical housing permits don’t apply because the dwellings are so small.

How small is small? What’s the definition of a tiny home? You won’t find much consensus here either, with fans, critics, and even city ordinances decreeing a variety of maximum sizes between 200 and 800 square feet, while others have decided that only mobile dwellings qualify. The lack of a standardized tiny home definition further confuses the movement’s vague statistics. However, this lack of structure and the resulting freedom for creativity may also be part of the movement’s appeal. For the purposes of this article, a tiny home is a small mobile or permanent residential dwelling of under 400 square feet, parameters that a majority of tiny home owners agree on. Something else fans agree on are the reasons one might choose to live in a tiny home.

Minimalism, the empowering cultural shift behind the tiny home movement, also precipitated the rise of experiential gifting, strict organizational techniques such as KonMari, and a host of books, blogs, and gurus. The tiny home movement has a complementary relationship with many of these aspects, most notably the attitude of valuing life experiences and relationships over possessions.

As cultural movements do, minimalism began as a reaction, bucking the perceived materialism of the most recent decades. Yet, minimalism also has a root or two reaching back to mid-19th century Transcendentalism. “My greatest skill has been to want but little,” claims Henry David Thoreau, the author who famously penned Walden, the foundational work of his era’s philosophy.

“I believe in the lifestyle,” says Ben Sciacca of Cascade Country Cabins. The homebuilder is a self-espoused contributor to and proponent of the expanding housing trend that continues to attract a widening demographic. The movement’s early adopters include groups with generally more flexible lifestyles such as young singles and retirees. However, a growing ratio of young to middle-aged couples without children and even some successful career people, are joining the minimalistic mix, with women owning a significant percentage of tiny homes.

“People are working hard with little reward,” Sciacca muses, citing consistently increasing housing and living costs as a significant impetuous to the movement. The mindset is a common one. According to U.S. census results, young adults are more likely to live with their parents than a romantic partner for the first time ever in our nation’s history, and the percentage of young adults living with a relative hit a 75-year high in 2015.(1)

However, some people value quality over quantity when choosing a living space, opting for a smaller, private home over a larger, shared one. Sciacca empathizes with the free-spirited approach, having spent an entire fall bicycling through Europe on a shoestring budget. After returning to the States, Sciacca lived in a Dodge bus for three years while working the construction circuit building custom homes.

“Awesome,” Sciacca says,? when asked about his tiny living experiences. “I cooked over an open fire, and later a wood cookstove. When you start with nothing and acquire things later because of hard work, you come to appreciate things.” Tiny home owners are equally enthusiastic about escaping the tyranny of stuff, with many tiny home websites and books listing it as a primary reason to adopt the lifestyle change.

After nearly a decade in construction, including two years at his company, Klickitat Valley Construction, Sciacca started his log home building business in the Columbia Gorge. Sciacca’s home-construction approach also favors quality over quantity. “I’m real small potatoes when it comes to my businesses. We build one house at a time, in-house. We don’t sub [contract] much. I draw all my own drawings on my own antique drawing board.” While he admits his method is slower, “you have to be part of the process,” he explains. “It all starts with a visit to my own home,” Sciacca says, gesturing at the log walls and river-facing windows, “And we become friends. We build every home like it’s our own.”

Sciacca devotes the same care, empathy and enthusiasm to his tiny homes. “If someone can make a 100,000 square foot compound to live in, it should be possible to make a luxury 250-square-foot home, too,” Sciacca reasons. He echoes Thoreau’s mindset in Walden,
“It is possible to invent a house still more convenient and luxurious than we have, which yet all would admit that man could not afford to pay for. Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes to be content with less?”

Ben Sciacca’s first true tiny home (according to this article’s definition) is a pine dwelling of 323 square feet, set on a black Iron Eagle trailer. He first conceived of the idea of building a tiny log home after receiving quite an enthusiastic response to the tiny coffee drive-thru log cabin he took along to trade shows. “So many people said, ‘Wow, this is all I need!’” (That small coffee lodge now houses The Cabin Drive-Thru, a local favorite of residents and tourists, serving breakfast, brunch, coffee and frozen custard in Stevenson, Washington.)

The result of Sciacca’s log home building expertise mixed with literally coffee-fueled inspiration is a one-and-a-half story tiny home on wheels, boasting a front porch and built-in storage bench. The home’s Leavenworth pine logs were sourced from a central Oregon reservation. Though beautiful, the weight of the solid pine is somewhat inconvenient for extended periods of driving. “You’d need a big truck and a permit, because it’s wide,” Sciacca adds, recommending adventures with stops not too far apart. He has plans for tiny home log cabins as well as the trailer type. “People want something different,” he says, “I have something unique to offer.”

Inside Sciacca’s mini masterpiece, the first story is bare to give prospective customers the opportunity to choose wall and flooring materials, he points out, professing an aversion to the “cookie cutter” tiny house. “Give it a little jazz,” he encourages. A matching ladder leads to the low-ceilinged loft with peeled log railing that is meant to hold a queen-size mattress. The tiny project took two men about six weeks to complete.

If you are considering building or purchasing a tiny home, remember to research your city and county ordinances up front to ensure that your dwelling will satisfy their requirements.

Ben Sciacca applies more than 30 years of construction experience to building custom, luxury full-size and tiny log homes from his business, Cascade Country Cabins in Stevenson, Washington. For inquiries, visit cascadecountrycabins.com

Photo Credits: Hal Johnston