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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 ;)
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.
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