The challenge was simple, or so Erin Adams believed. Design a tiny house on wheels complete with all the basic design amenities found in a traditional property, including a standard-sized refrigerator, bathtub, sofa, flush toilet, closet, a washer and dryer, fireplace, and a guest sleeping loft to fit a king-size bed. When the Associate Professor of Interior Design set her students this task for their first space planning project however, many of them struggled and declared it impossible to achieve.
“It was at that point that I decided to actually design my tiny home, and show them that it could be done,” explains Adams. “What began as a challenge from my students became my lifestyle choice to live more sustainably, and use my tiny home as a teaching tool for others.” Thus began Adams’ journey into the world of tiny homes. Let’s see how she got on.
“I have always placed a high value on sustainable design solutions and have taught my students that ‘bigger does not always equate to better design’. I wanted to illustrate that downsizing into a tiny home on wheels did not have to mean giving up all of the traditional amenities typically found in traditional housing.” – Adams
Hi Erin! What is about tiny home living that appeals?
First and foremost, the idea of tiny living appeals to me because I would be able to live more harmoniously on the land, without marring the landscape for a foundation. I also considered being able to actually move my home to different locations as an added bonus.
I previously purchased and was living in a 1,200 square foot, three bedroom, two bathroom home. I realized that I was only utilizing a small portion of my home, yet paying a hefty mortgage for the entire space. Once I realized this, the idea of living mortgage-free became a huge benefit to downsizing to a tiny house on wheels! The idea of living more sustainably, using the home as a teaching tool, decreasing my living expenses, and being able to spend my saved money on actual life experiences became my primary goals for the build.
What were the most difficult challenges for the students?
Students found fitting all of the client amenities (my wish list) to be virtually impossible. I asked for a standard sized sofa, full-sized kitchen and refrigerator with ample prep-space for cooking, a coat closet, a fireplace, a full-sized bathroom with standard bathtub, a guest loft to accommodate a king sized bed, a full sized closet at 7.6 ft wide, a full height dressing area with vanity in my bedroom, exterior storage to serve as my outdoor “shed”, a dining area that seats two people, storage for 30 pairs of shoes, a full-sized washer and dryer, and the ability to NOT have to crawl into my master bed via a steep ladder.
Furthermore, they needed to include HVAC for heating and cooling, a hot water heater to support my full-sized bathtub, and a unit to mechanically breath for my home. Needless to say, this was a tall order and in the end, students were unable to include most of these amenities in their tiny home plans.
Christened the ‘Luminaire Tiny House’ on account of its 14 windows, Adams’ design is a feat of magic, or at the very least some seriously clever design know-how. White wood panel walls and ceilings bounce light throughout, making the home feel bright and spacious. We also love Adams’ attention to detail in her styling. Just as with any normal home, artwork, trinkets and plant accessories breathe life into the space. A country rustic aesthetic with bursts of color makes for a delightfully homey overall feel.
What is your favorite part of this tiny house on wheels?
This is a tough question! I think my favorite part of the tiny home is my use of space to allow for standing height in the master bedroom, and the ability to simply walk up a few steps and sit on my master bed… like a normal person. Most tiny homes use a ladder to crawl into the bed, and you can’t sit up in bed without bumping your head. By employing a “split-level” concept into my master bedroom, it allowed for 7.6 ft of standing room in front of my closet, built-in dresser drawers and a vanity area.
The custom skylights allowed for plenty of headroom to sit up in bed, and the stairs (with piano hinges to open for shoe storage) allowed me to do away with the steep ladder and simply walk up the steps and sit on my bed. No crawling around on my knees! I think this was the most innovative design solution used in my tiny home design and the one I am most proud of.
What were the total costs for creating the tiny home?
The complete cost for the tiny home was US$72,000. This includes my custom 28 ft long trailer at US$7000 and all of the materials, appliances, furniture and labor costs to construct the home. As I am a designer, and not a builder, I had to hire experts for the plumbing, electrical and actual construction of the entire home.
Can you tell us a bit about the challenge of putting a full size bathtub into a tiny home?
To be completely honest, I selected my bathtub first and designed my entire tiny home around it! This was certainly the most important amenity for me as I soak in the bathtub every single day, and I wasn’t willing to give this luxury up. Admittedly, it took me almost a year to complete the design of my tiny home, but the entire design was centered around the bathtub placement.
Are you living on your own or sharing the space with a partner?
My boyfriend owns his own home just downriver from my tiny house. He was an integral part of the design, as he typically stays over several nights a week. He is not a small man, and at 6ft tall, I made sure that he is able to access all spaces in the tiny house without bumping his head.
For example, I had to rebuild the stairs three times to make sure that he could use them without hitting his head on the ceiling. I also had to increase the ceiling height in the bathroom from 6ft to 6.6ft so that he could use the shower successfully. This is why the custom skylights became integral to the design solution, as I had to steal inches from the master bed ceiling to give to the bathroom below. Without the skylights, it would be impossible to sit upright in bed without hitting either of our heads on the ceiling.
The ‘Luminaire Tiny House’ has made waves in the wider design world for its sustainable approach to living. In 2018, Adams’ design earned second place in the ‘Sustainable/Green Living’ category of the International Design Awards. The home also recently received an honorable mention in A’Design Award Competition’s ‘Interior Space and Exhibition Design’ category.
What are your future plans for the tiny home?
From the beginning, my plan was to utilize my tiny home as a teaching tool. I have towed it to several locations for tours that were open to the public, including the campus where I teach at Western Carolina University. I have had over 1,000 people tour the tiny home to date, and most are surprised to learn that it is spacious and quite livable inside!
After a year of ‘touring’ with my tiny home, I have now moved it to its final destination on a small parcel of land that I purchased on the Tuckaseegee River in Sylva, North Carolina. Although I still continue to give private tours by appointment, I am thrilled to be able to actually move in and begin living my downsized lifestyle!