The Tiny House

One of the ongoing struggles of eking out a living in any of the world’s big cities is the shortage of affordable housing. Houses and condos are out of reach of many, and apartments are expensive rent plantations run by greedy and evil landlords. Meanwhile, in rural America, most new housing consists of trailers, euphemistically known as “manufactured housing”. Trailers offer interesting possibilities, even for urbanites. But while it’s possible to pimp out an old trailer and make a decent living space, it’s hard to escape the fact that these structures were meant to be hauled down a highway and used for camping. Trailers often have a transient and less than homey vibe.

Between the extremes of conventional housing and trailers there is an interesting, and revolutionary alternative. In 1997 Jay Shafer took it upon himself to try an experiment in radical simplicity and create the smallest possible living space he could. Measuring just 100 square feet, his tiny house violated local building codes for the minimum amount of living space required for each occupant. So Shafer attached wheels to it and called it a trailer. But unlike a trailer, his house and subsequent houses he designed have an attention to detail, and a coziness not found in your typical Winnebago. His first tiny house has a kitchen, bath, and upstairs sleeping loft. Subsequent designs even have room for stacking laundry.

His passion for living on a very small footprint became a business, the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, which now sells both competed units and plans for do it yourselfers. We particularly like the look of the X-S and the X-T house.

While certainly not for everyone, we like the flexibility that these building have. Put wheels on them and you can move your house with you. They are small enough to fit behind someone else’s house allowing for the possibility of both renting a small space and owning your own building all in one cozy package. If you can find a vacant lot, such a small house could be the ideal start of your urban homestead, leaving plenty of yard space for growing your own food.

And these small building literally sip utilities making them ideal for hooking up to solar power and very cheap to heat and cool. They are also expandable as your needs or family grows. And perhaps most importantly, they prevent expansion of all the things we don’t need, the giant plasma screens, the inflatable Christmas decor and all the other clutter causing detritus of our consumer culture.

For more information on the tiny house movement, author Shay Salomon and photographer Nigel Valdez will do a free slide show and talk about their book Little House on a Small Planet as a part of local permaculture expert David Khan’s introduction to permaculture on Saturday January 20th 2007 at 10:00 am at the Audubon Center at Debs Park:

4700 North Griffin Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90031

Salomon and Valdez will also be appearing at the L.A. Eco-Village on Sunday January 21st at 8:00 p.m. ($10 sliding scale okay). For reservations for the talk at the L.A. Eco-Village call (213) 738-1254 or [email protected]
. The L.A. Eco-Village is located at 117 Bimini Place.

Street Signs and Solar Ovens

If SurviveLA put together a museum show it would, pretty much, look like an exhibit currently at the Craft and Folk Art Museum entitled “Street Signs and Solar Ovens: Socialcraft in Los Angeles” which is on view until December 31st. Curated by the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, this timely show focuses on objects that demonstrate creative, low-tech solutions to the environmental and political mess we find ourselves in.

We were particularly struck by the display case full of soda cans transformed by LA survivalist Christopher Nyerges into a variety of uses including lamps and stoves (see SurviveLA’s earlier post on creating a Pepsi can stove). Nyerges also contributed two improvised solar ovens, one made out of a discarded pizza box.

Other highlights include a functioning still by Alison Wiese, the stunning knitted clothing of Lisa Auerbach, items from the Path to Freedom urban homestead and contributions from the fine folks at C.I.C.L.E.

So, get on your bike, head down to the Craft and Folk Art Museum, and see this provocative show!

Craft and Folk Art Museum Hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 11am – 5pm
Thursday 11am – 7pm
Saturday-Sunday 12pm – 6pm

Museum Admissions:
$5.00 adults
$3.00 students/seniors
Free for children 12 and under
Free admission on the first Wednesday of every month.

Location:
5814 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Build Your Own Furniture

We live in a 4 by 8 world. This is why we can’t get all that excited about things like geodesic domes, straw bale and rammed earth houses. All of these innovative architectural ideas may have great potential, but when it comes time to buy supplies at the lumber yard, the overly creative builder will soon realize the difficulty of utopian designs in a world of 4 by 8 sheets of plywood and drywall. That geodesic shape is hip, but what do you do with the rest of the plywood sheet once you cut it out?

The same limitation applies to making furniture. Thankfully a generation of designers back in the 60s and 70s left a few highly useful and groovy how-to books on making your own suburban-workshop-modernist furniture with a humble 4 x 8 sheet of plywood. The amazing art/architecture collective Simparch tipped us off to the world of plywood modernism how-to books and we at Homegrown Evolution recommend the stunning Sunset Magazine produced Furniture You Can Build, which is sadly way out of print and very expensive on Amazon, but available at the L.A. Public Library. Most of the designs in this book would work well with found materials and scraps. What we appreciate most about this book and others like it, that we will discuss in future posts, is the economical use of common materials.

A good example of this efficiency are these handsome stools — one sheet of plywood will make eight stools. Here are the instructions from the Sunset book:

Simple, versatile, and inexpensive — that’s the quickest way to summarize the virtues of these handy plywood stools, They could hardly be easier to build and are surprisingly inexpensive. Except for the nails and glue, every part of the eight stools shown in the picture at the top left came from one standard 4 by 8-foot panel of 1/2-inch plywood, the same as the panel shown behind them. As the cutting pattern shows, a 2-foot square of plywood yields one stool, and only the shaded areas are wasted.

Each stool is 17 inches square and stands approximately 10 1/2 inches high. If you wish to use a cushion, you can glue and nail a 1/2 by 1-inch hardwood frame around the top’s edges, which will give a 1/2-inch high rim to keep the cushion in place.

To start, draw the cutting pattern carefully on heavy paper and transfer it to each 2-foot plywood square with carbon paper or pin pricks. If making several stools, you can have the lumber yard cut your plywood to uniform 2-foot squares. Cut the legs and top from each square with a saw.

As the underside view shows, each leg abuts on and is nailed to the inner end of the next leg. Assemble with glue and just two 4-penny nails in each leg. Before the glue dries, turn the assembled legs right side up on a smooth surface and attach the top, As you glue and nail on the top (use 6-penny finishing nails), the legs will level themselves evenly. Finish the stools as you prefer: with paint, varnish, or stain wax.

Crapper Livin’


Your house should be like this National Park Service bathroom. Located on remote Santa Rosa Island, forty-six miles off the coast of Ventura, this handsome building features a solar water heater and a 12 volt electrical system to power the lights. Built of durable materials such as cedar and recycled plastic decking, this building should see many years of service.

SurviveLA advocates the virtues of living small. Why not, for example, live in the Santa Rosa Island campground bathroom? The average American house has been super-sized to a gut busting 2,400 square feet and living in a structure the size of this bathroom would probably violate city codes in many places which mandate a minimum square footage for habitable dwellings. The nice thing about a small house is that it discourages the accumulation of crap and requires a lot less energy to maintain.

Sure, there is less convenience with a building like this. With a very simple solar water heating system showers need to be taken at the end of the day and the very modest solar panel would not be able to power any major appliances. But these are minor sacrifices compared to the enormous benefits of self-sufficiency, namely one’s freedom.

An aside here – SurviveLA encourages a trip out to beautiful Santa Rosa Island to enjoy the natural wonders and to visit this bathroom of the future. Unfortunately the vile and corrupt San Diego congressman Duncan Hunter wants to restrict access to the island so that fat cats can continue to go on $16,000 trophy hunts while drinking beer on the back of a truck. Read more about his plan to turn Santa Rosa into a retreat for disabled vets (an excuse to keep the fat cat hunt going) in the Washington Post. Please fax Hunter at this address ASAP and tell him that Santa Rosa Island belongs to the people, and should be run by the National Parks Service: Rep. Duncan Hunter, 2265 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515-0552. Fax is 202-225-0235. Let’s give Duncan the flush!