...because home doesn't happen overnight.

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It’s no secret that I’m slightly obsessed with tiny houses. There’s something about fitting life into a tiny, tidy dwelling that appeals to me. I love the way it encourages creative space planning, minimal possessions, intentional choices, practical organization, financial responsibility, eco-friendly features and a reliance on community. We are a family of five living in ~1,600 square feet and I often dream of living in a smaller home. So when a long-time reader and her husband offered to share their tiny house story, I was all ears (and eyes). I’m happy to share their story with you today. I found it so inspiring and I think you will too.

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LeAnne and Derek bought a foreclosed fixer-upper shortly after graduating college and getting married. The original plan was to DIY the house into a modern cabin. But after a few grueling months of renovating and living in an apartment off-site, they made a conscientious choice to turn a small, detached garage into their living space. Find out more about their 350-square-foot tiny home (affectionately named “Bunker”) below. Plenty of photos included!

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What prompted you to convert your detached garage into living space?

When we purchased the foreclosed property in January 2014, we immediately started on the house which was a wreck. After a couple of months of renovating and an impending apartment lease coming to an end, we knew we needed to either resign a year lease or come up with a better option.  At the time, we were living in a 550 sq. ft. studio apartment in downtown Indianapolis, so living in a garage didn’t seem too far-fetched! Before Bunker was Bunker, she was the garage that was holding all of our tools, leftover doors, windows, and anything else we thought we may want to save. I specifically remember standing in that little garage crammed full of stuff and trying to imagine all of Derek’s ideas. He really was and is the visionary behind this project.

In April 2014, we officially switched our focus from Longshot (the house) to Bunker (the garage). Our original goal was to be moved into Bunker by June, but a stop work order hanging from our door two weeks before the move kept that from happening. We ended up going through the whole inspection process and moved into Bunker October 1st, 2014.

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What were your must-haves for the space?

His? Tall countertops. Mine? A closet. We actually ended up with both! Our kitchen is Ikea but we did the countertops ourselves. Ikea has a variety of legs to choose from, so adding height wasn’t a problem.

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The closets are Ikea wardrobes. We put two separate units together to create a closet space and to break up the “box” feeling of Bunker. We didn’t come up with the closet idea until three weeks before moving in. I was getting a little nervous about how we were going to store things!

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How did you make the utilitarian space feel cozy and livable? (i.e., How did you make the space feel less like a garage and more like a home?)

Our style has morphed into comfortably modern with an industrial cabin twist. Is that a style?! Every piece or detail in Bunker has been chosen just for her. Decorating a small space has been great because it forces me to be very intentional with what I buy. If I don’t have a quiet squeal moment in the store, I won’t buy it. My favorite pieces that add to the cozy factor is our DIY painted (blue!) refrigerator, our orange Ikea couch (which is also a full sleeper), and the cedar accents throughout the house.

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What is the hardest thing about living in 350 sq ft? The easiest?

The hardest part is keeping it clean. The easiest part also happens to be keeping it clean. With such a small area, when mail is sitting on the kitchen table, the whole place looks cluttered! The good news is that cleaning up takes barely any time at all. I try to straighten it up every morning before I leave for work. Then when I get home, I can swing open the double doors and don’t have to worry about it looking like a disaster. I would not describe myself as a clean freak, so our home has forced me to be more organized.

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What is your favorite Bunker project to date? Least favorite?

My favorite is the cedar siding wall we created to cover up the backs of the closets. It was a Sunday afternoon and I had mentioned that I would LOVE to get something to cover up the closets and shoes. We headed to Home Depot and strolled through the aisles. We came across packs of cedar siding and I quietly squealed. The project was so simple. The cedar planks were already the exact length of our closets. We just lined them up and screwed them in! Within an hour, we had a great accent wall for under $50.

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My least favorite would have to be the DIY steel & wire railing in the loft. I absolutely love the way it turned out in the end but it took a while to dream up, assemble and finish. In the meantime, I was sleeping in a loft with no railing to keep me from falling. The railing was Derek’s baby. We bounced around a lot of ideas. (We went months without any railing.) Eventually, we settled on steel frames with a single wire roped through a pulley system. The black portion of the railing is leftover metal roofing material, trimmed out in leftover cedar. My husband completely geeked out during this project and I love the way it came together.

Are you motivated to start work on the house now that you’ve conquered Bunker? Or are you content living in Bunker for a while?

This is a constant topic of discussion between the two of us. At this point, we are planning on being in Bunker for a few more years. We really enjoy what we have made, the convenience, and how much money we’re saving. (Our mortgage is 85% less than what we were paying in rent.) Longshot is currently being used as a workshop. We aren’t necessarily committed to any one thing and are keeping our options open.

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What is your next project?

As you can see from some of the pictures, we are still working on finishing touches. Most of the trim has yet to be completed. I have been avoiding some painting projects, and we would like to work on the outdoor patio area and landscaping.

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I have never been a flower girl since I prefer to eat plants instead of smell them. Therefore, we opted to do edible landscaping this year. We tilled up some beds around the house and grew kale, cabbage, tomatoes, onions and lots of herbs. We also had our first ever garden which keeps me on my toes! Next year, I would like to trim out the beds and mulch. One thing at a time. As with most homes, there are ALWAYS projects!

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Are there any other tangent stories or details you’d like to share?

We like to keep it real in the Lavender household so you must know that living in a tiny home isn’t always glamorous. When we first moved in, we were essentially taking over the space from spiders, mice and, the worst creatures of all, crickets. There was a point where we were literally up several nights in a row at 3:00 a.m. desperately trying to find the crickets that were chatting with each other. One of my favorite memories is my husband standing on the kitchen countertop sporting a head lamp with shop-vac in hand, trying to vacuum up a cricket when it would peek out of a crack in the concrete. There were many sleepless nights…which made us realize we are NOT ready for children ;)

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On a final note, Bunker was a complete DIY project except for the electrical work (which Derek did do, but when we got busted by the county, they made us tear it out and hire an electrician) and the water line.

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Thank you, LeAnne and Derek, for sharing a big peek at your tiny life!

You can see more of LeAnne and Derek’s tiny house on their blog. I have to say, I’m so envious of the couple’s mindfulness at such a young age. We could all stand to learn a thing or two from them: living within your means, choosing patience over instant gratification, making the most of what you have, being resourceful with DIY and having the courage to resist the (expensive!) norm. As for Bunker, she’s quite the cutie. I love the mix of homey accents (warm wood tones, sputnik chandelier, greenery, etc.) and practical elements (concrete floors, freestanding wardrobes, double screen doors, etc.).

Would you ever consider living in a tiny house? What would be on your must-have list? I don’t think I could live happily without a washer + dryer.

If you’re interested in reading more about tiny houses, I’d highly recommend Tiny House Living and The Big Tiny. And I really enjoy seeing how one growing family is making their tiny house work for them.

images: LeAnne Lavender

22 Comments

03.September.2015

I applaud this couple! The vision! The dedication! The work! I am so completely fascinated by tiny living, Chris–not so much. Although we both agree we bought too much house. While we both love our current home, its location, the price and the way we are making it ours, it is very large at 3400 sq ft–which I am finding a challenge to keep up with. Because it is a Rambler style home, the square footage is divided in half with an upstairs and downstairs each at 1700 sq ft and we find that we live 90% of our lives upstairs. We’re staying put for quite some time, but I can already see ourselves downsizing quite a bit to somewhere closer to half of what we’re living in on our next home–probably in ten years?

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replied on September 8th, 2015

I am fascinated with tiny houses, too. I know our family couldn’t live in <400 sq ft comfortably right now but it might happen later on in life when we're empty nesters. The thing I really love about our home right now is that we use every square inch. We could probably live smaller but it would have to be well-designed...like just for us and how we live. Probably not happening, but it's fun to think about. I so wish we would have started out with less when we were childless to save money for things we really wanted in the future. This couple is so inspiring!

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03.September.2015

I’ve lived in NYC my entire adult life – and am not a millionaire – so small spaces are the norm for me. Over the years I’ve gone from two roommates (in a converted one bedroom apartment!), to one roommate, to a studio, to a one-bedroom, and in my next apartment I definitely want a dedicated eating area and laundry at least in the building.

I do love going to my parents’ house to spread out though, if I ever move to a house it wouldn’t be huge but definitely wouldn’t be tiny.

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03.September.2015

This place and this couple are adorable. I love the look of it! And I love that it has a real, full bathroom and a real closet.

But…how is it not freezing in the winter? What do y’all do for heat? And is there AC in the summer? (Not even sure if AC is common/needed in that part of the country.)

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replied on September 3rd, 2015

Hey Val! Thanks for the encouragement! We actually have a hotel AC/ Heater unit up in our loft. It really keeps it comfortable in here!

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Adorable, the home and the couple! Kudos to them, they did a wonderful job.

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03.September.2015

Is the floor concrete? Our concrete floor in our garage forms condensation if the weather is cool & then suddenly turns hot & humid. I’m wondering if that’s an issue.

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replied on September 3rd, 2015

Mary- We do have concrete floors but I did seal them with a concrete sealant. They stay pretty cold. House slippers are a must!

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03.September.2015

And who knew you could paint a fridge????

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I really love your blog and the way you write. You’re one if the few I still take time to read all the words and then look at pictures. I appreciate your intentional thoughts, if that says anything right or you get what I mean. Either way, thank you.

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04.September.2015

Absolutely love it. I too am obsessed with tiny houses so this was such a treat!!

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04.September.2015

I want to know where those white hanging planters came from! I love them!! I am so impressed that they were able to fit an entire comfortable living space in the garage.

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replied on September 8th, 2015

We got the little planters from Target! We love them but keeping the plants alive is quite tricky. Good luck!

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04.September.2015

Thanks for sharing this tiny house with us! I really do like the ideal of living smaller don’t think our family of 4 could do a tiny house per say but I know we could go smaller than what we have. Our current house is almost 1900 sq ft so not to big but we don’t even use the upstairs bonus room which is 200 sq ft so basically we only live in 1700 sq ft. I sure wish my husband and I had learned at an early age all that this couple is doing it sure would have saved us tons of money and TONS of grief and heart ache!

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04.September.2015

What a beautiful little house! My husband an I raised our kids in a 1200 sq ft home (we are now empty nesters). Our kids never complained about the size of their home, an I personally feel it made us closer.
And now my husband an I are thinking of downsizing even further to a tiny home after we retire.

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04.September.2015

So impressive! This couple is clever and I applaud them.

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06.September.2015

Wow! What a great home. Love that blue fridge!!

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08.September.2015

love this post…their 85% smaller mortgage payment is a huge selling point for living small. we just moved to seattle from the east coast and one of my goals was to find a small house, so I could maintain it better, which we did, and I love it!

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08.September.2015

I love this! Great job guys! We live in a one bedroom about 650 sq ft with two adults, a toddler, and a dog. I feel like we could be so much more efficient with our space and we love the coziness, so we’re not worried that our house buying budget will only be able to get us something small. I think my biggest must-have (something that we lack now) will be a nice outdoor space. Having a nice outside area makes the house seem so much larger.

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09.September.2015

What a great use of space. I’m particularly impressed with the bedroom.

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14.September.2015

Wow great renovation, love the glazed apex. Its amazing what you can achieve with a little bit of creative insight, so many people find it hard to see a diamond in the rough but with project you have done just that.

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16.September.2015

Great renovation – love your website!

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