Dweller Interview – Adrianne’s Tiny Home Journey

This Dweller Interview takes us back to a build from 2019. Adrianne came to us with a tiny home shell she had built with her father. In an effort to move along construction while juggling all of life’s demands, she sought Wind River’s help to finish the build. Her journey to tiny living is a comprehensive one. She talks about everything from inspiration, design, tiny home communities, finding land, site work, and what it’s like to work from home in a tiny house. She speaks realistically about the compromises of living tiny and gives advice for others considering the lifestyle for themselves.

Adrianne has crafted an incredible site that is a direct result of her research, diligence, and patience with the process. Her self-described “dogged obsession” kept her “why” at the forefront of each decision along the way. Now, she has the financial freedom she so desired, a home that is a reflection of what matters most to her, and an idyllic property deeded in her name and nestled in the North Carolina mountains. Like a true craftsman, her patience paid off in abundance.

Q:

I thought we’d start off by getting the background on the project you started with your dad.

A:

For several years, Kirsten Dirksen has been making videos on YouTube about small homes all over the world. Back in 2012, she made a compilation video called “We The Tiny House People.”  One of the couples she interviewed were living in this house they dubbed “The Innermost House.” The home’s size was less than 200 square feet, and it wasn’t on wheels but it was a little cabin and it was just beautiful. The way that they lived was really Thoreauvian. When you walk in, there are just two chairs and a fireplace, no electricity, and a couple walls of books. They spent a lot of time reading. They didn’t have a refrigerator. They would walk to the farmer’s market to get all their food, like fresh vegetables every day. She had one pot to cook in. And I just thought, wow, that would be a really cool way to live.

So flash forward a couple of years—I’m living in Nashville and really feeling ready to own a home and have my own space. I had been renting a 600 square foot cottage, but the landlord called me one day to tell me that to keep up with the current market he was increasing my rent by 30% starting the next month. I didn’t know that could legally be done on such short notice. Apparently, Tennessee doesn’t have rent control laws, so I decided to move out. I found a camper for sale for $4,000. I bought it and moved across the street to my neighbor’s driveway and was living there illegally. I actually almost bought a house—twice! I made an offer and had the inspections, but it just didn’t feel right. This entire time, I had been thinking about tiny houses, the quality of materials I could afford in a smaller footprint, and that it would be mine! 

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So, I sat my parents down and told them this is what I wanted to do and asked if they would give me a loan to buy a tiny house. I wasn’t even thinking about building one at that point. My dad said he wouldn’t give me a loan, but that he would help me build one. So I thought, great! We got a trailer in December of 2014 and started building in April or May of 2015. We just built slowly, and my dad was still working full time and building on the weekends. I lived in my camper for 3 years to fund the build, which worked out because my tiny home is paid off and I’m so glad to be debt free!

Q:

Tell us how you went about designing your own floor plan.

A:

I was able to start designing it before we got the trailer because I knew what size it was going to be. I knew that I didn’t want an open kitchen and I wanted each space to be dedicated for its own purpose. When you live in a camper, you know, your sofa’s right across from your sink and stove. That was something I didn’t want to experience in the tiny house. I wanted it to feel like a regular house. We knew that going with big windows was the way to go in a small space. I was watching a lot of tiny house videos and small space videos. The tiny house movement was just starting to pick up a little bit of traction. I had seen this one video about this woman living in Vancouver who had a raised platform living room and I really liked that design. There was another woman living in Asheville in her tiny home, and I just loved the layout of her home. 

Q:

You also had your 11”x17” sketchbook that you were drafting tiny home plans in.

A:

Yeah! It was definitely not up to an architect’s standards. I didn’t know how thick a piece of OSB board was or how thick the walls would be. My dad was really smart about all that. He made the whole thing in SketchUp and really helped make that a reality because otherwise I would still be carrying that sketchbook around. But yeah, that was the fun part, designing it.

Q:

Can you explain why you pivoted from building the home yourself to having Wind River finish it?

A:

You really saved me! I started looking for tiny house companies to finish the build because my dad was getting really tired. He’s in his 70s now—I don’t know how he did it. Finding someone to finish it when we had already started building was really difficult. Actually, y’all were the only company willing to take it on, at least in a 500 mile radius. So that was why we went with Wind River, but we’d also seen your work and knew you did a quality job. I’d seen Travis’s own tiny house online before your company had really come into realization and thought it looked really nice. I didn’t want just any company finishing my home—I wanted it to be nice. I was ready to finish it out myself if I had to, but it wouldn’t have been as nice as y’all made it. Not by a long stretch. So I’m really grateful that you were willing to take it on.

Q:

I remember when we came out to your parents’ house to check it out. He was impressed with the framing and siding job. Everything seemed pretty square and we felt like we could definitely work with you on it. It was a pretty good shell.

A:

All the credit goes to my dad. He’s an engineer, and one of his strengths is being very detail-oriented. He’d taken about 2000 photos of the build by then, so that helped, too, for you to be able to see the detail of how it had been constructed up to that point. But thank you. I’m glad you took a chance.

Q:

I know that you went through a process of looking into a tiny home community and ultimately decided not to do that. I think it would be helpful to talk about your experience with that because I think you have a good perspective on it.

A:

Thanks! I looked at a couple different rental possibilities. There were some folks around here who had an RV type space on their property. But I eventually came across Acony Bell Tiny Home Village in North Carolina. They have a really good setup. My mom and I visited there right when they were starting development of their second phase of tiny home lots. I was going to be able to pick which spot I wanted. There was one in the back right by the woods that I liked. There was a walking trail and a clubhouse. It was just really nice. I even put a deposit down, but after I left, I just kept thinking about how I would be in another rental situation again. And even though renting a lot is better than renting a house, I just didn’t want to be beholden to anyone’s rules but my own. So I looked for land for about 6 months and luckily found a property that was in a neighborhood but was zoned as unrestricted land. At some point, the neighborhood tenants were going to start an HOA, but it never took off.

So imagine this beautiful 1 acre lot in the western North Carolina mountains with almost 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains and no HOA—it was just perfect. There was a septic system in place, an 800 foot well, and a power pole. And a shed! I thought, I can’t not do this. So I did. And if I hadn’t found land I would have gone to Acony Bell because it’s a really nice tiny home community.

Q:

What was the rental situation for you going to be like at Acony Bell? What were the lease terms?

A:

The lease was for a year, and it was very reasonable. My decision was motivated more by not wanting to have neighbors that close and wanting to have my own land. I felt like I would have been making a compromise with what I wanted. It’s a great solution for people who are looking to park their tiny house and don’t want to find a permanent spot. For me, I knew I was going to be there for a really long time, so I didn’t want to put rent money into a space. I wanted to just buy land, but that wasn’t an easy process either. When you buy land you have to put like 25% down and you can’t get a traditional mortgage. My parents lent me the money. They really helped me out.

Q:

I thought that when you bought the land there was a house already there.

A:

No, there was a camper there. So because there was not a traditional home on the land, I couldn’t take out a traditional mortgage. There’s one company, Farm Credit, that will do land loans for residential lots. Their rates were better than if I took out a personal loan. Luckily, though, the land seller was open to owner financing. I’m paying him a few hundred dollars a month and then there will be a balloon payment in a couple years which I’ll refinance with Farm Credit.

Q:

So the agricultural loan was an option for you, but the owner financing was a better option. And some people don’t know to ask about that.

A:

That’s good information. It’s almost harder to buy raw land now because there’s so much interest in tiny homes these days. Probably a really good solution would be to buy land that has an old mobile home on it. That was something I was looking into, also. They’re out there, it just takes patience with the search process.

Q:

How has it been setting up your home? I know you had septic and a well already, but you’ve still done quite a bit of work.

A:

Yeah! It’s on the top of a little mountain. A transport company brought the tiny house to the lot, and I sent the driver a video of the driveway beforehand. He thought it would be no problem, but the tiny house got it stuck in the driveway for 11 hours. It was terrifying. We called a tow company and they burned out one of their hydraulics on their truck trying to pull it up. They worked well into the night until they decided it wasn’t going to work. This was Labor Day weekend and there were no hotels, so we all slept in our cars! The next morning we found a company that was willing to come up. They essentially dragged the tiny house laterally to straighten it out. That was an unpleasant adventure. Once we finally got the tiny house onto the lot, we didn’t put it on blocks for a few weeks. Then we hired someone to move it to another spot on the lot. It took some effort to get it on blocks and get it leveled. Because of the frost line, we had to dig 2’ trenches for the water lines coming from the well. Then we ran power lines. The well pump had a leak at one point and the tank needed to be replaced. It took my dad and I awhile to get around to building the deck and stairs, so it was a little slow moving.

Q:

So all your utilities were in place, it was just a matter of running extensions, getting some stuff underground, and getting hooked up that way?

A:

Yes, it was more about reconfiguring the stuff that was already there to get it right up to the tiny house. Any water that came up from the ground had to be wrapped in heat tape because of how cold it gets in the winter. I also stapled plastic underneath the house to create a dry space and put skirting boards around the home.

Q:

So when you put the water line underground, did you run it through a conduit or insulate it?

A:

There was a spot where the water came up where the camper had been which was about 50 feet away from where the tiny house is. We dug down to where the box was, took it out, cut the pipe, and then added a line and ran it up to the tiny house. The sewer was a little tricky, too, because the septic pipe was in the ground where the camper had been, so we had to dig down to find where the line was running toward the septic tank so we could tie into it. We were pretty fortunate because we found it quickly.

Q:

Did you put a propane stove in your living room?

A:

No, I ended up putting flat wall convection heaters in the bathroom and living room, along with a supplemental space heater for when it gets really cold. That’s worked fine. A Smartthings sensor triggers the heat to turn off when it reaches a certain temperature. It can be set to different time zones, too, so if you want it to be cooler at night, it can do that. But eventually I want to get a propane stove. Maybe even a wood stove!

Q:

One thing I remember about you is that you could research anything and figure out the answer. It was really impressive. I don’t know if it was just pure tenacity or if you have any tricks?

A:

I think it was just dogged obsession. I had a lot of free time on my hands. I was working an overnight job and we didn’t have super high volume at work, so I spent that time researching and watching a bunch of movies! Pinterest was the biggest resource, I would say.

Q:

What about any general advice or warnings for people wanting to go tiny? I feel like you have a wealth of knowledge from the DIY perspective, choosing a builder, and the site planning. You did the whole thing.

A:

I never thought about it that way! We experienced the gamut. The only thing I haven’t experienced is taking it across the country. I suppose the advice I would give would just be to make sure that your expectations and your ideas are going to fit with the reality of what’s possible and to ask yourself what your goals are. Do you want to go tiny to make life simpler? Do you want to get rid of your stuff? What are your reasons? Spend some time in a tiny house. Go AirBNB it and make sure you understand that what you’re getting is a tiny house. There’s novelty in that, and it’s really cool, but there are also practical challenges, so just be aware of those. Do a lot of research and make sure that that’s what you want. I had a coworker that lived in a traditional house and was always complaining about how much stuff she had, how long it took to clean her house, and she just wasn’t satisfied. She was really interested in going tiny and I told her it was great, so she did. She sold her house and got an RV, like a motor home, and it turned out to be a nightmare for her because she has 3 big dogs and works from home. The dogs would bark all day and she ended up having to work a night shift because of how noisy the dogs were all the time. So for her, it didn’t fit her needs the way she thought it would.

Q:

 It seems like she wasn’t able to identify all the sacrifices she would have to make to make it work.

A:

Yes, it’s tricky with a dog. That’s a good thing to think about. I guess cats probably aren’t as hard. You give them a little kitty litter space and they’re chill. But having a dog, especially one that barks a lot or if you live somewhere with a lot of activity where the dog wants to engage with all of that, that’s something to think about. Along those lines, I finally ordered curtains! They just shipped and I’m really looking forward to them because any time my dog sees a car go by or someone walking down the road, she will start barking. If I’m on a call, I have to mute it and wait for her to stop barking, and that can be stressful sometimes. That’s just something to think about. If you have children, you can’t get away from your kids. Another thing is the composting toilet. If you want to have a composting toilet, you better be OK with troubleshooting. Some things are not easy to anticipate!

Q:

You work from home full time. Tell us a little about that. You’re in your tiny home all the time. Does it make it feel tinier?

A:

I take walks with my dog and that really helps. Especially if you live in a place where you can get food delivered, I almost never leave. It’s become an anomaly. In fact, I got in my car today and went to press the start button and the car didn’t turn on so I thought it had sat too long and the battery died, but it turned out I just left the keys in the house! It had been a while. But I’m very comfortable in my home. One challenge with working from home is mentally separating my work space and my living space. I chose to put my workstation in the loft. It’s just a little table for my work computer and I sit on the floor. I work 12 hour shifts like that! Right next to my workspace is my bed. I sleep on a foam topper that I’ve cut to a width that’s actually smaller than a twin bed. If someone is looking for a traditional home setup, just think about your work setup and how to compartmentalize work from home. I have a hard time sleeping sometimes because my work is right there and I can’t turn my brain off. I’m thinking about getting another tiny home soon just as an office, and then maybe even another one with a little bathroom and kitchenette to rent out. I actually thought about renting my home out when I’m out of town but decided against it. If you want to do that, you would have to move out all the things of value that you care about. It becomes a logistical challenge, and having strangers staying in my home when I’m not there presented a mental challenge, especially with it being a tiny space. Dents in the wall or tomato sauce stains are much more noticeable in a tiny house.

Q:

One thing we always ask about is storage. You have these big drawers under your raised platform and quite a bit of cabinet space in your kitchen. Are you happy with the amount of storage in your home?

A:

I’m really happy. It’s been the perfect amount of storage. I do have a shed, so I do keep my tools there, and I have a couple clear plastic tupperware containers for things like decorations and extra pillows stored in the shed. Everything else is stored in the tiny house. It’s also been helpful to have extra storage above my bathroom. I would encourage anyone building a tiny house to include a small storage loft if you can.

Q:

We’d love to hear a little bit about what you like about tiny living. What are some zen moments you’ve had? Maybe also what has been hard about it?

A:

It gets dirtier faster, but the great thing about it is that it only takes 30 minutes to clean the whole house. When your house is dirty, you can’t escape that. You either have to live with it or fix it! That’s one of the biggest things about tiny house living—everything in your space is visible to you at all times. You notice all the detail, which is one thing I like about it, too, because you can make it really nice. Zen moments—Just sitting in the home looking at the trees. At night I’ll just lie down and look out the big windows and stargaze. It’s just really amazing. From my window seat, you can look out and see the distant mountains, and the sun rises on that side, so you can sit there and watch the sunrise. And you can be in the living room and watch the sunset. It’s a really cool setup!

Q:

Thank you so much for sharing some of your journey with us, Adrianne. It’s a pretty incredible one and we love seeing you settled into your tiny home.

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6 models, 100's of configurations. Your perfect tiny home awaits.

6 models, 100's of configurations. Your perfect tiny home awaits.