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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Design basics, amid holiday survival.

My days  are currently spent in the hubbub of the Christmas-time retail world. The evenings are chilly, and it’s dark long before I get home. Most days it’s hard to re-center my mind, from selling gourmet dog supplies to doing research and laying out plans for low-cost building and agriculture in a distant place. These are two entirely different worlds, and for now, I feel stuck between the two; already departed from one, yet still far from the other.

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So, I write letters. Writing helps to center my mind; it’s perhaps the closest thing to meditation that I can bring myself to do. Writing, especially by hand, on quality writing paper (yes, that is one of my materialistic weaknesses, cheap paper just won’t do), feeling pen glide over paper, having ample time to consider each letter, each word, brings great peace to my mind. It gives time for introspection, to consider and reconsider ideas, whilst explaining them to someone who won’t read the letter for days, or even weeks. There’s no pressure. I used to think that every letter must be perfect, must be entertaining, exciting, and lively. Then I came to understand that letters are less about the contents, and more about the process; the healing it brings, to both writer and reader.

Meanwhile, the Tiny House. While still many miles and several months away, there is much plotting and planning to be done. It all starts with the constraints that I have set for myself. The building shall be around 200 square feet. My basic requirements include excellent natural light, good ventilation, a partial loft for added space and privacy, a functional kitchen and bathroom, and of course a certain degree of resistance to hurricanes, earth tremors, and the interminable humidity of the tropics; particularly of the “rainforest” of St Croix, where everything is known to grow moldy in a matter of weeks. The other factor at play is what materials are already available on the land (trash timber, stone, and soil), what materials may be available at low or no cost (construction remnants, reclaimed lumber, bricks, windows, etc), and what low-impact building materials are locally available at a low cost. The final consideration is in keeping the entire process, including the materials needed, as low-tech as possible, so as not to require great amounts of knowledge or skill to construct such a dwelling; less pertinent for this particular project, but possibly more so for future projects of a similar nature. In light of the latter consideration, my design ideas aim to minimize potentially complex carpentry, metal-work, or large-scale concrete pours, etc.

After much consideration of all the above mentioned constraints to this project (including an almost-nonexistent budget), it seems that field-stone, for the foundation, a combination of wattle-and-daub and ferro-cement techniques, for the walls, and a ferro-cement based technique for the roof, will be the most practical. This requires a basic framework, of re-bar, wood, or bamboo, which is then covered with wire mesh, fishing net, burlap, or any coarsely woven fabric, then plastered inside and out with cement. Whilst labor intensive, none of this requires any great skill, and aside from the initial framework, can be done in relatively small sections. The precise materials are still under consideration, as it emerges what exactly may be available. The roof, in particular, is awaiting some technical experiments, as my extensive research on Google procures ever more intriguing variations on cement roofing techniques. Ahh, Google, how did we ever live without you?

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After only a few days of brainstorming designs, my eye was caught by an oval house plan, though it was far too small, at less than 120 square feet. The majority of tiny houses are designed to fit on a standard trailer, and are thereby rectangular, not more than 12′ tall, and have little overhang. Thus, the idea of an oval layout, with an unusual roof-line, was quite appealing. At around 6′ high at the eaves, and 13′ at the apex of the roof, an oval 22′ by 12′ structure gives ample room for the necessities of a compact life. This shape considerably reduces the wall length, for the same interior footage, and brings a lovely organic feel to the space, without the low, dark, hobbit-house feel typical of small, roundish, “natural” feeling spaces. The design has a curved roof-line, further increasing interior space, with an ample number of windows, double doors, and a generous loft-space to be used as sleeping quarters. As experiments with roofing ideas progress, the roof concept may change, though the current single-directional-curve lends itself fairly well to ferro-cement over a light plywood form

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More specifics shall be procured after the holidays, along with a detailed post outlining my experimentation with sourdough breads! Don’t forget to follow Nidulari to get notifications of new posts!

Thanks for stopping by! Please feel free to participate in the “comments”: share your experiences of living small, ask me a question, link to useful resources or interesting ideas, or just cheer me on!

The Begining.

The journey has begun; even before I shift an inch from my current abode. Mentally, I have already swooped down upon the sunny island of St Croix, to dig and build, to grow and cook, and to seek the harmony of a small, simple, sustainable life. Already, layers of sketches cover every available surface of my Baltimore apartment; sketches of tiny house plans, of construction details, scribbled notes of natural, sustainable building techniques, diagrams of sun and wind direction, calculations of weight-per-square-foot, and ponderings of just how small of a bathroom is acceptable.

There are over two months left, before I leave this city; Baltimore, who once charmed me with her graceful, historic facades, and her understanding, weather-beaten sigh. Whom I shall miss, on the warm foggy mornings, when she bears the gentle scent of woodsmoke on her moist breath, and on those cold clear days, after a heavy snow, when she is so silent, sleeping, peaceful at last. Baltimore, whom I shall not miss when she turns to filth in the putrid summer heat, when needles lie, used, in the alley; when their users curse you down the street for refusing to support their wretched life, of addiction. Of city streets. Of city beats. Of wretched misery in a debt-ridden, down-trodden world of cement and plastic and questionably edible substances from plastic bags, plastic boxes, plastic, plastic, plastic. They never see the earth. They never see fragile plants, cautiously emerging into this world, taking root and becoming bountiful nourishment. They never see the stars, lighting up a clear night sky. Most of all, though, they never see a way out; they are trapped. Trapped in this world of corporations and below-poverty-line minimum wage, this world where to live is to be in debt.

Baltimore, then, I have to thank for inspiring me to take a different path, one not of college degrees and making millions, but of a simple way of living. Having grown up aboard sailboats, the idea of the Tiny House is not new to me; it holds no terror of downsizing my life, or of having my style cramped by the confines of four walls. Or one wall, if my plan of an oval-shaped dwelling is realized. A small space is efficient, compact, and maintains a sense of simplicity. Environmentally, it requires few materials, little energy, and has minimal effect on its surroundings. Spiritually, I believe that less is more; that a simple lifestyle, closer to nature, brings more peace, more time for contemplation, and more time and energy to simply be happy. Building a tiny house, mainly from the land and found, foraged, or free materials, will be an adventure in and of itself; hopefully a project in which I, and anyone who may be involved along the way, will learn, teach, and absorb skills and knowledge related to inexpensive, sustainable construction of very small, compact dwellings. Learning and building, working with friends and family as a community effort is always a rewarding, fulfilling experience, and is something that most first-world communities lack the opportunity of doing as a constructive enterprise. I do believe that it is time for that to change.

Here, I shall be sharing my steps along this path; from the first stages of the design process of a tiny house, to the actual construction and habitation thereof, plus life along the way. This shall, of course, include many mouth-watering photos of food, as I perfect my sourdough bread techniques in preparation for an outdoor bread oven, and as the bounty of the land overflows into my kitchen. That’s the pretty way of mentioning that I can’t resist cooking (and then photographing) amazing, beautiful dishes and meals. Food porn aside; other than being that crazy woman who lives in a tiny hut in the forest and is amusing to watch, I really do hope to provide inspiration to others who may wish to pursue a similarly minimalist lifestyle, and to help them to find a way to do so, reasonably. By which I mean, without having to become bearded, unwashed hippies smoking pot and living in a leaky-roofed commune. Well, ok, that’s just how I imagined such a lifestyle to be, back in the day.

Cheers, for now.

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Thanks for stopping by! Please feel free to participate in the “comments”: share your experiences of living small, ask me a question, link to useful resources or interesting ideas, or just cheer me on!