I remember hearing about Boneyard Studios a year ago or so when Greg and I were looking into building a tiny house. And I remember thinking, "What a cool idea!" This nonprofit organization has a mission that I can fully support. I love how they demonstrate creative urban infill, promote the benefits of tiny houses, support other tiny house builders and model what a tiny house community could look like.
This is the story of Jay Austin, the owner and designer of a tiny house that sits at Boneyard Studios. If you are in the DC area, I'd encourage you to stop by and tour the house Jay has lived in the past three years.
Square Feet: 145
That number doesn't include the outdoor porch, lofted bed, or roof, all of which have plenty of room for sitting around.
Make, Model, Year: 2012 Self-Built Matchbox
I designed the house myself. It's called the Matchbox, and there aren't any plans available for it. Construction kicked off in 2012, though it took a few more years to fully finish building it.
Currently Living: Washington, DC
I built my small home in the District of Columbia back in 2012, and it's been here ever since. It spent a few years in a tiny house community with three other houses as part of Boneyard Studios, America's first intentional community of tiny homes on wheels. We're in the midst of a little relocation, and so over the past year, my house has traveled to the neighborhoods of Brookland and Ivy City (both in northeast DC), and it's now in an urban farm and garden center in northwest DC, where I'm hoping it (along with a few other small houses) will settle in for a little while.
Years Living Mobile: 3
What were you doing before you went mobile?
Right before building the Matchbox, I was living in a run-of-the-mill studio apartment in DC. I was paying more than $1,200 per month in rent for a space I didn't really like—one I didn't own, couldn't modify, couldn't move and couldn't really take pride in.
Why did you make the change?
I wanted something that I did own—something that wasn't just more affordable, but more sustainable, more mobile and more simple. That's why I decided to build small.
What was the process like to move into your mobile home?
I started building the house in the summer of 2012. Pleased with the initial month of progress, I put in the 30-days notice for my old place and got ready to move into my finished tiny house. Of course, progress stalled while waiting for interior materials, and I ended up moving into a simple plywood box—no insulation, no electricity, no running water or plumbing or shower. It was a rough few months of camping—something like watching industrialization in fast-forward as modern amenities returned to my life one by one. Still, it took almost a year to get a truly working shower, and many more months after that before I really considered the house "complete."
How do you balance work and living in a small space?
It's never been a problem. I work in a twenty-first century office environment, so sometimes I bike over to the office and sometimes I work from my cozy little home. Most people in my profession wear suits and ties and all that, but the minimalist in me doesn't want to give them the space or attention in my home, so I usually dress a bit more casually. Of course, as a mobile-but-not-so-mobile house, the Matchbox doesn't bring me far enough from DC for my work to be a problem in that respect.
What are your hobbies on and off the road?
Traveling, definitely. My tiny house is my home base, not my travel wagon. I tend to go even smaller on the road—crisscrossing the United States with a scooter, backpacking through Europe with a train ticket and a messenger bag, hopping buses through India and Nepal...that sort of thing.
Off the road, I love cycling (indeed, I have a six-week cycle tour of New Zealand in the works), photography, urban exploration or just sitting out on the rocking chair with a good book and a good tea.
What are your top three go-to items in your tiny home?
Fagor Induction Burner: I enjoy cooking, so my simple burner gets used nearly every day. For tea in the morning or toast in the afternoon or a hearty meal in the evening, nothing's nicer than cooking food off (the stored energy of) the sun in a little tiny home.
Kindle: The house is nothing if not a reading studio, with lots of fun little spots to read (on the couch, in the loft, on the porch, on the roof). It's how I spend a good portion of my free time.
Laptop: The digital native in me would have to say my laptop: I use it to write, to blog, to work on photographs and videos and to plan upcoming adventures. It's a luxury, sure, but one that keeps me from sliding into the dangerous territory of tiny house hermit, I suppose.
What has been the most rewarding thing about living small?
I've always been something of a minimalist, but living small cemented it as a foundation of my identity. I love the freedom it offers: not just the freedom from a mortgage or a big stationary home, or just the freedom from the water grid or the power grid, but the freedom from consuming, from always looking to buy and buy and buy. The house doesn't have room to always expand.
What is the most challenging thing?
Since building my home, tiny houses have exploded in popularity. I'm known by friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends as "the tiny house guy," and it's hard to go even a day or two without someone asking me to tell so-and-so about my house. It's attention I'm honored to receive, but sometimes it'd be nice to escape the novelty of it all for a little while.
What is your advice to future homeowners who want to live small or hit the road?
Just do it. We give tours every month, and so many of our visitors talk about how much they want to live small—but there's always a "but." Sometimes the concern is land, and other times it's legality, and sometimes it's something different altogether.
And so the best advice I can give is to stop worrying—you're a strong, capable person, and you'll figure out how to make it work. We all can.
What's next for you? Any news you want to share?
Our much-anticipated events are back! Tiny house concerts and tours are running all autumn here in DC—folks in the mid-Atlantic, check us out!