A Tale of Two…

A little tongue in cheek title for this post, with a purpose. You see, two years ago I was beginning construction of BentoBox. Wow. Two years. That was work.

Years

Yeah, I had a number of starts and stops. I’m proud of where I was, and although I thought I’d be living in it after 12, certainly 18 months, I had a lot of life changes and, to be honest, depression to deal with. It was a long journey. I did things to be healthier. To be more open, kind and honest with myself and others. Breaking free from years of doing things in one way. That takes a different kind of work.

Well, today is the beginning of a new era. The journey I started with BentoBox will continue with new owners and a new location in the coming months.


I had a cupcake to celebrate and I bought enough to share with the whole studio at my new job at NBBJ London. These magnificent cupcakes are from my new favourite London baker, Tegan the Vegan, who caters events and will deliver custom orders. I am not afraid to admit in the more than two weeks since I arrived, have had cupcakes from several places here and these are the best.

Cities

It’s hard to have two homes. I love Seattle, however I love travel and living in London for the next two years (likely) will be such an adventure. I’ve already started exploring and taking photos. Many of which I’ll post here and Instagram. Seattle is still home to me. Although, I’m getting settled into my flat just one block from the office in a fairly trendy part of the city.

THoWs

So, the acronym goes Tiny House on Wheels. What about Tiny House on Water? I was able to explore one of the many canals in the city last weekend: Regent’s Canal… where for several miles (yes, distance is still imperial units) there are canal boats. So many canal boats. In fact, a coworker lives in one, and I’m vying for a tour. Some are long, some short, and some are single or double wide. The narrow boats are compatible with the ancient Roman aqueducts that still exist in the country. Locks on the canal are still manually operated. It’s such a wonderful community that’s formed round this lifestyle and the canals edge is a very pedestrian and bike friendly way to get around.

This one is Eddie approved.

Seattle & London

These two cities are each amazing. Comparing them is just not possible. Sure, there’s unfamiliar things like the right-hand drive cars, looking over your right shoulder when crossing the street (important), and the mix of measurements. Pints are bigger here, cups are smaller, and the mile is still a mile, yet recipes for baking are in grams. So, I went native and bought a measuring scale. After seeing all these boats on the water, I somehow needed to make pizza or two, so that happened (see my IG for drool-worthy food posts).

There is more history in both the architectural fabric and art in museums here. For that, I am blown away by every cobblestone street I turn down. And also incredible new architecture. You might ask why the strange title… it’s a reference to ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, by Charles Dickens. I’m sort of having my own revolution of sorts. The dual nature of our world and comparisons of old and new are very much on my mind right now.

Reminders of Dickens are everywhere, including some of the streets around me – there’s an Ebenezer Street just five minutes walk away. Actually, I’ve barely dented the city and have been walking everywhere. I’ll need to ride the trains and black cabs more. And sign up for a double decker bus tour. The weather was Spring-like today, at 16C (60F). Life is good.

The vegan food options here are completely mind blowing. Don’t let anyone tell you the food in the UK is bland. They haven’t been recently. A foodie and (thank the universe) a coffee snobbery have invaded at least in my small corner of the city.

I am missing home, however I can still get my Ethiopian single origin Yirgachefe medium roasted organic fair trade shade grown coffee. Mmmm. I blame my friend Maxwell in Everett, WA (who btw is one of the best baristas I know) for my levelled up coffee taste buds. He’s opening a new shop, which you should all visit. Shameless plug, if you can get there when he opens, go.

Tiny is relative

Everyone defines tiny houses in their own way. I travelled here because I have become a minimalist. It wasn’t easy. I’m thankful for the process that led me here. I will build again another, different tiny house. Will it be from a container? Maybe. There are plenty to go around. Besides the pop up shops and BoxPark and container malls I’ve found, there are apartments and signs, and street art.


I will continue this blog, hopefully helping to document BentoBox with the new owners some time soon. The nice thing about unboxing the future, you are never sure what’s to come. I find that exciting. Stick around, I hope you will join me in the next chapter. Time to pass the keys and trust in the universe. With each end, a new beginning. I love you all.

On writing, and an intended quick update…

If you didn’t figure it out yet, that last post was just a silly April Fools. I do love me some donuts, though especially mini vegan donuts like those found at Mighty-O Donuts in Seattle. I digress… So, I’ve been doing some traveling (which I plan to share more pictures and possible a video or two soon), some thinking, a bit of building, starting a few new hobbies, and lately – although it may not appear that way – a lot more writing. Some of you may not realize that I’ve been freelance writing professionally for a couple of years now in the architecture world. Sure, go see, it’s not all boring software stuff – OK, most of it might be to my readers here. The most interesting assignment to date was to write about the state of women in the architecture profession, by attending an event in Seattle: Carve Your Own Path and Other Takeaways From AIA WLS 2015. As an advocate of equity in the working world across all spectra, this was a very challenging and hopefully respectful look at the challenges, opportunities and success stories for women within work and home life. I share this not because I want to boast, but because my incredibly talented and trusting editor, Wanda Lau, gave me the opportunity to stretch myself out of a comfort zone of technical writing. Being surrounded by and inspired by many excellent writers, you know who you are, I have found it a new passion and have sought further opportunities to “use my words” and hope one day to approach their poetic prose.

And so, begins another new chapter in my life of being a tiny house enthusiast. In addition to the writing I mentioned above, I’ve now begun contributing to Tiny House Magazine. Full-disclosure: there are now affiliate links on this page, including the magazine mentioned. The goal is to do my best to hace minimal impact on your reading, and will only display products and services which I would support. Please feel free to let me know if you have an issue with this direction.


One of my housemates, Malissa Tack, encouraged me to reach out to the editors of the magazine to share my voice. She’s also written a bit about our Tiny Acre Collective, and a few more recent photos of my BentoBox are in there. Yes, I’ll post more about progress, hopefully soon. In the current issue, number 41, I have a review of Ryan Mitchell’s new book, Tiny Houses Built with Recycled Materials in which (I’m quoting myself, and that seems so strange),

The book successfully stitches together a narrative
from these stories, gathered through interviews
conducted by author Mitchell and Amy Annette
Henion, in a way that keeps everything fresh and
interesting. The homes are all very different
expressions, while some have been made with
similar materials, all have a unique character…

.

And I’m already started on another article for the next issue. Stay tuned for more goodness. You can subscribe to the magazine as a PDF, for Kindle, or through iBooks for Apple devices (link on the home page).  As the tiny house community continues to grow in leaps and bounds, malong the opportunities for other new voices to join in, and the content in the magazine will always be fresh.

home-page-book-8-turning-tinyOne other thing I’ve been up to in the tiny house world; I’ve contributed to a nearly released book book (whuut?), named Turning Tiny, along with dozens of other contributors. I’m actually most excited to read all their stories and it nearly escaped my noticed that I’m about to become a published author. My brain melted, just a little. It’s amazing to feel starstruck when you then realize, we’re all stars in our own right for dreaming of something new. Some are in different stages of the dream. I just never want to wake from it – it feels like a warm mug of cocoa. I hope you all get your cocoa, with #vegan marshmallows, of course. 😉

 

Exterior Progress

IMG_2601.JPGI have a significant number of posts in draft form, especially from houses and Tiny Housers I have visited in the last few months. I’ll get those up soon enough. Let’s talk about now. I’m celebrating, for two reasons – I’ve created some tangible evidence of activity happening on this project, and I made my first little video. I’m sure production will improve over time. For now, I’m just trying to document what I can as I work. Nothing fancy.

I made a trip with the pickup I have access to get some materials; 2×3 studs and the first of many poly-iso boards. I set up a chop saw with a stop to quickly cut each to length.

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My lovely assistant Betsy came by the house to help. She held the studs in place while I tapped the metal corrugated wall and initially anchored them. IMG_2609.JPG

Here’s a little video walk around…

Now I can finish this part of work on my own. Each stud will be held by self-tapping 1 1/4″ #12  hex screws at 8″ on center and construction adhesive. Once I’m finished with this process, the insulation boards will go on. I will be welding a steel relieving angle at the bottom and attaching anchors at 4′ and top. Notice how they fit neatly into the valley of the corrugated wall?

IMG_2612.JPGI like the way these fasteners look on the interior and they will tell a story of the assembly of the house. The rubber washers will also prevent any moisture from the interior getting into the wall cavity.

That’s all for now. There’s much work ahead to prepare for the insulation and siding – which will be a rain screen of 1×4 and 1×6 western hemlock. So exciting.

The Eagle has Landed

I’ll be putting together a few images and possibly a short video of this over the next several weeks. So many things happening all at once, it’s very exciting. I’ve got some news about press coverage on my project to share soon, and will be hosting a project kickoff party with my local Tiny House Enthusiasts group.

I must admit, this is the largest thing I’ve ever had delivered. At nearly $1 per pound, it seems like I got a screaming good deal. Thank you Port Containers for all your great customer service. I wish I had specified which way to face the doors… hindsight being 20/20, I may need to make a few adjustments to my design. The towing company was professional, and I was surprised how easily it dropped where I needed it.

The container is now set on the driveway on exterior grade plywood, and this weekend I will jack it up on temporary cribbing to level it. I’ve made a couple of very crude renderings in Revit to mock-up the roof and materials. Am very pleased with where things are heading. The trailer design is also coming along – progress image below.

Foundations

A solid foundation is extremely important for any house. We have this thing called ‘gravity’ with which we must contend. Traditionally, house foundations are made of stone or concrete. I am not a traditionalist. In this case, that foundation happens to have wheels. A solid foundation of knowledge also allows one to build experience. Foundations symbolize beginnings. Up until now, this project has been mostly about a dream, a dream that is about to become a little closer to reality.

I am on my way to Charlotte, North Carolina drawn by forces that feel stronger than the pull of gravity. I’m defying gravity right now in an airplane. One pull, is toward the Tiny House Conference. There will be photographing of tiny homes that I tour, and writing about the people I will meet and skills I will learn.

While in Charlotte, I also will be visiting a childhood home of mine in the Pineville neighborhood. It has been a long time since I lived in that house, some 32 years. That house, in all its 1970’s modern ranch and open-floor-plan glory, helped form the foundation, the seeds from which my desire to become an architect sprouted. I sketched my first ideas of sustainable homes (and Dungeons and Dragons maps) while living there.

I also will be spending time with my good friend and former colleague, Phil Read, whom I have formed a bond with over design, classic cars, technology and a shared enjoyment of discomforting ambiguous political satire. He does not live in a tiny house, and that’s alright with me.

At the conference, in addition to blogging and tweeting, hope to find the right knowledge and camaraderie to help get my project off to the right start. Also, if anyone can help me procure the right trailer to haul my container, that would be an excellent beginning. Here’s one possible example, available through ChassisKing out of Florida. It has the twist locks to receive a standard ISO shipping container. I may need a higher weight capacity, depending on the final design. This is a good start.

An Early Plan Concept

While I still have a few details to work out, here’s a possible plan for my project. Some of my friends and colleagues have been bugging me to show something. So, here’s a little sneak peek. It started with a quick sketch, which I’ve had in my head for a while.

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Take a shipping container and unbox it by unfolding, opening and pulling out the heavy duty can opener.

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Then fill in the resulting space with wood, steel and glass.

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There will likely be a loft above the bathroom, and I have yet to settle on a roof configuration. This plan may change a bit, or a lot, however I would very much enjoy your feedback and comments.

Before I forget, I wanted to leave you with this last bit of advice:

Plan, but don’t plan too much. Don’t be afraid to fail fast and often. Dive in and do it. You might be surprised what you can accomplish when the fear of failure is overcome. Own the process. Don’t let it own you. Then, appreciate your accomplishments.

This past weekend I spent time with a few folks from the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry as well as some tech folks at a ‘hackathon‘. I’ll write up my impressions on my other blog – Paradigm shift, if you care to hear about it. Hanging on the walls in the Facebook headquarters was this:

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A Story of (my) Stuff

© johannes - Fotolia.comFor me, a smaller space will enable a certain kind of simplicity in living. This will also require some tough decisions. We will of course need to begin taking a serious look at reducing stuff.

I’ve never been very fond of moving, and our last move was a very painful and rushed experience, so it will be best to plan ahead now. New beginnings allow a redefinition of what makes a comfortable home.

So here’s the plan: Make a list of all the must haves in the new tiny house, and everything else will be sold, given away, donated, etc. The biggest yard sale (tag sale, rummage sale, garage sale, attic sale, or whatever else you may call it) I have ever had will happen this spring, and the plan is to donate all the proceeds to charity. That will make parting with some things much, much easier.

It will feel really good to reduce the burden of stuff – less to maintain, less to clean, less to replace due to planned obsolescence. Things accumulate over time. Just remember one thing. I am not judging anyone. I am simply evaluating my own situation.

Some people I’ve met have tiny and maintainable junk drawers, while some other folks have a tendency toward hoarding. A few close people to me have series disorders. I still love them, however every time I visit, it makes me rethink my own situation. I’m somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, and it feels exhausting. Even just this week, I needed to prepare to move my office desk to another workstation, and I realized that I have had a file cabinet full of papers a nick knacks accumulating over the last four years that don’t really help me with my job, nor do I appreciate having as many of the decorative items around. So, a lot of it hit the recycle bins.

I’ve seen how little I can get away with – first year of college, I had so little in my dorm room, – snacks, music, clothes, and very little else – and guess what? I survived. In contrast, over the years I’ve also had difficulty keeping things like garages and basements from filling up with detritus. When finally dealing with a mess that gets out of control, it does feel good. The stuff in our houses can be like goldfish in a bowl, regardless of how much wealth someone has, it seems really common to have more and more as the amount of space you have grows.

The smallest apartment I’ve had was about 28 m² (300 SF), and the largest house was about 167m² (1800 SF) – still far under the national average. The smaller places I’ve lived don’t always feel better, and that’s a matter of how they’re designed. Natural light, storage, layout, quality of finishes – all of that will be completely within my control, this time. Oh, and any future ‘stuff’ will be purchased with an eye towards versatility, durability, and environmental impact across all stages of the life cycle.

The last box I should have to pack for a house move will be 2440 x 6100 x 2590 mm (8 x 20 x 8.5 ft), made of steel, and will not require unpacking when arriving at a new destination; wherever in the world that may be. Have a yard you want to sell, or rent or barter? I’ll need a place to park the new container home when it’s finished.

The irony of it all; most of the stuff I have likely arrived on a store shelf by way of shipping container in the first place. This story is just beginning. When the big sale/giveaway time happens, I’ll be sure to share some key stats and photos.

If you’ve not had the chance, I recommend you check out the short 21 minute documentary, “The Story of Stuff” from 2007. It’s free to stream. My takeaway, if nothing else, is that I’ve developed a heightened sense of awareness the next time I buy something. Perhaps you will as well. We’re all in the same closed ecosystem together.

Watch “The Story of Stuff” directly on YouTube.

UnBoxing an Idea

Un-UnBoxed

This has been a long-time coming. I’ve thought about unconventional housing since I was 8 years old, sketching earth-bermed homes and frequently wondering what it might be like to live in a Hobbit hole. I guess that’s why I wanted to study architecture. And here we are now, about to embark on a long and hopefully survivable journey that I expect will be rewarding and fulfilling. This is my attempt at jumping into the maker movement in a big way. I plan to build a 20 foot container home on wheels.

Why am I doing this?

In the last few years, the ‘tiny house’ movement, and especially the ‘tiny house on wheels’ concept has grown in appeal. I know I’m not alone in this. The community of tiny house enthusiasts, builders and regional meet-ups is hard to avoid once you start looking. It’s not just in my region either. There are tiny homes all over the earth, in just about every continent. The overall phenomenon of tiny and mobility combined has caused me to think a bit more about challenging myself to take on a project. As I started researching the possibilities, I began to find that there was something about the shipping container as a system which lends itself to a less-restrictive palette than the traditional stick-built models that are so popular at the moment. The box doesn’t need to remain in it’s original form. They’re very sturdy, and also very pliable.

I feel a deep need to reduce my impact on the earth, with less stuff. If I am to experience a new freedom of living anywhere, and unshackling myself from the idea of a ‘dream home mortgage’, what better way to build a home than to start with one of over 700,000 unused shipping containers just waiting for a new purpose? These things are already weather-tight and extremely durable.

Ideas, shared

Now, I must actually design this thing before too long. My client is very fussy, and there may be some difficult battles ahead. I’ll share the messy process of design and research as I progress. Not the first to go down this road, there’s some fantastic work out there with all budgets by the likes of the cleverly named LOT-EK, HyBrid, and ShelterKraft Werks, I have yet to see other container homes on wheels. I’ll share precedent studies, sketches and study models. Hopefully, this blog can become a mechanism of reaching out to the community to refine my ideas from all of you. I want to get these ideas out there, and I welcome your feedback and support.

– Sean