Tiny House, Big Plans
When Greg and Carla Short decided to follow a trend and downsize, they received a lot of community support—as well as national attention.
As water whooshes over rocks and cascades into two streams in a ravine below, Greg Short makes a list of the projects he has planned for the home he and his wife, Carla, just built: a wraparound porch, a deck overlooking the gully, and a tree house—or, he jokes, a tree “tiny” house.
After all, the Shorts’ new abode measures about 250 square feet, qualifying it as part of a recent residential trend that takes downsizing to a whole new level. A tiny treehouse would coordinate with the Shorts’ 24-by-8-foot tiny home—that resembles a log cabin—featuring a metal frame, concrete siding, and tin roof.
The Shorts currently live in a 960-square-foot home in the Sabraton area—not a mansion by any means, but definitely enough space for three bedrooms, a traditional kitchen and bath, a common living area, and a place for Greg, a musician, to display his guitars. In their new home, the downstairs consists of an entryway and—for tiny homes—a good-sized kitchen and bath.Two small lofts provide zones for sleeping and hanging out.
Everything else must be shrewdly stowed away in cleverly created storage spots around the home. “We started looking into tiny living about four years
ago,” says Carla, who recently took a voluntary separation from Mylan. “We decided we wanted to become more mobile and pull up some roots to be able to go wherever the wind might blow.”
As a singer, songwriter, and musician, Greg already spends a winter month each year in Florida playing gigs; when the couple returns in March, they plantheir big—or would that be little?—move into the home located on the outskirts of Morgantown. They have been preparing for their new lifestyle by getting rid of belongings. “We’ve spent the past year and
a half purging items,” Carla says. “It’s very psychological. I think for people, that’s a big thing. That’s the hurdle. ‘What it is that I really need and love versus the fluff and gravy we have in life?’” Friends have told her that they do not know how they would fit their clothes and shoes in her tiny house.
According to U.S. Census figures, average square footage in homes has been growing since 1973—the first year listed in online data—from 1,660 square feet then to 2,392 square feet in 2010. The tiny house movement, which began to gain national prominence in the past few years, goes against that trend. Proponents usually cite the freedom to relocate—although the Shorts do not anticipate doing that, even though their home has a hitch attached to one side—as well as being unencumbered financially by a large mortgage. Opinions differ on what actually constitutes a tiny home—some say 500 square feet or under; others believe the Shorts’ 250-square-foot setup is the maximum size.
A 2013 documentary available to stream on Netflix, Tiny, as well as television shows such as HGTV’s Tiny House Hunters, have helped to propel the movement into the imaginations of the American public. And as the Shorts prepared to build on 8 bucolic acres of property that they bought and developed—including by cutting in a road—they applied to appear on a DIY series called Tiny House, Big Living. They were accepted, and crews traversed the rough passageway to record the 15-week build, which took place from last July to October. Their episode, Greg and Carla’s Musical Tiny House, premiered in early January.
That meant that the show’s schedule affected the construction timeline. The episode illustrates how Greg’s fellow members of the Brother Short Band did their share of hammering, but in reality, it actually took a village. “We had a lot of help,” Greg says, noting that everyone from friends and family members to fans pitched in. Carla adds, “At one point in August, we had a work day and just invited everybody out. There were a number of people who came out to work and be there for moral support, cook food, and do what they were able to do.”
The Brother Short Band also thanked the crew with a concert—shown at the episode’s end—held from a stage on the back of the home consisting of three movable panels. “We intend to have small music events out at the property,” Greg says.
Also for the benefit of the cameras, Greg retested the water in the stream below that he knew was good to make sure it would be drinkable. “There were elements of drama,” he jokes. “‘What if the water is not good? We don’t know what we will do.’” Water will be drawn from the stream, semi-filtered in a tank, transferred to a holding tank where it will be filtered again and then gravity-fed into the home.
The couple had other issues to figure out along the way. Solar panels will be used to provide electricity; Greg plans to clear trees to create a “sun lane” to set up the panels. Carla gives a tour of the bathroom, which features a composting toilet, a tub and shower made from a metal horse trough, and a sink atop a drum that serves as a vanity. “When we first started talking about being off the grid and having a composting toilet, I thought, ‘I don’t know about that,’” she says.
At $1,000, the composting toilet was one of the more expensive items they purchased for the home, which cost $25,000. In contrast, the front door and windows are all made of reclaimed wood. The frame on the door leading into the bathroom has stamped writing on it; it came from a pallet used for a wood delivery. “The only thing new are the appliances and the water heater,” Greg says.
Although Greg would like to figure out more storage solutions after moving in, ingenuity can be found in several spots. For instance, the stair landing— accessible by a step kept underneath— also doubles as a desk. Clothes can be hung underneath the steps that lead to the bedroom loft. A shelf over the front door holds books.
And then there are the musical touches—microphones made into bedside lamps and nightstands that double as speakers. Carla also made a bathroom shelf by hollowing out the body of a guitar; the crafty couple hopes to build a business offering items exclusively for tiny houses.
Once they move in and add on the porch and deck, the couple believes the space will be just perfect for them. “We spend a lot of time outside,” Carla says. “We’ll end up sleeping and eating in the home.” Greg adds, “It’s tiny, but it’s big.”
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