A TINY HOME IN PARADISE: When Way Less is Way more
Anne and Adam Nickamin followed the route that many have taken toward home ownership. They rented a small cottage for years while they were building their businesses. Both work in healing professions – she as a couples therapist and he as a massage therapist and structural integration specialist. Their daughter was born, and a few years later, their son. They moved to a condo, then purchased an open-market three bedroom house in a new neighborhood in Carbondale – a brand new home with gorgeous stained cabinetry and marble countertops, custom trim work, lots of windows, walking distance to everything. It felt like they were following their path.
“Three years later, we started looking around, realizing how much stuff we had, and how much money we spent paying for enough space to store all of it,” Anne said.
“We were working so hard just to maintain our lifestyle,” Adam said. “Annie and I both love our careers, love what we do. We run our own businesses and we have plenty of work. But at the end of the day, we felt stretched, and we wanted our lives to be about something else.”
NOT ALONE IN THE MIDDLE
The GRFR report indicates that a significant number of local households in the Missing Middle might be feeling similarly stretched. The study sites 14,100 “cost burdened” households spending more than 30% of their income on a mortgage. The estimated impact is an average of $320 / month / household. The study identifies this as a net loss in discretionary spending of $54 million annually across the area. This impacts local businesses, as well as each individual family’s ability to travel, invest, build savings, or plan for their children’s college education or their own retirement.
The Nickamins chose the “less is more” route and started researching tiny homes.
Shrinking their possessions down from 1800 to 450 square feet was a lengthy process.
A book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo helped. “She helps you go through a brutal process, slash and burn, to get rid of anything that does not bring you joy,” Anne explains. “It was incredibly liberating and emotionally cleansing. As we cleared out things, I started noticing the visual noise that so many possessions had created. You feel the energetic impact of owning so much.”
Adam’s full rack of rock climbing gear. Linens. Clothing. Gadgets. Toys. Books. Furniture. A lot of it needed to go. Moving in stages helped. When their house sold, they moved back into the 1000 square-foot rental where they lived when their daughter was a baby. Anne said, “This was a sweet, full-circle stage of the process. We could not believe how much we had accumulated in a few short years.”
You can find countless builders of tiny homes online, as well as plans that you can buy and build. Anne and Adam chose to work with Jim Garratt of Tiny Healthy Homes in British Columbia because of his focus on non-toxic, consciously sourced materials. To protect healthy air quality, no glues, adhesives or spray foams are used in construction. Garratt uses natural wool batten insulation, hemp oil stains and timbers free of chemical treatments. High-performance vapor barriers and heat recovery ventilation systems ensure that the whole house breathes, preventing mold and maintaining continual fresh air – a big priority in a small space. Garratt builds each design for off-grid living with propane cooking, heat, hot water and refrigeration, as well as a composting toilet. He carefully considers every aspect of the design, both for environmental impact and for how each family will live in their space.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Finding a home for a tiny home might seem easy – it’s small, after all, and it’s on wheels. However, options here right now are limited. The Hideout Cabins & Tiny Home Community in Glenwood Springs is transitioning from RV sites to Tiny Home sites, and space is available on a waitlist basis. The Tiny Homes at River Run is a new development adjacent to the Silt KOA, offering 70 one-bedroom + loft units. Aspen Skiing Company’s tiny home village in the former KOA campground near Willits is for employee seasonal rentals only. The Nickamins found an opportunity to locate their new home on private property as an Accessory Dwelling Unit or ADU.
ADUs are emerging as a mostly untapped option in discussions of open market solutions to our community’s housing needs. Planners, designers, architects and city-county reps all seem to agree that ADUs are good. Smaller and separate from the main home on a property, they can help homeowners offset the costs of their mortgage through rental income, while increasing the rental supply. Town codes emphasize infill over sprawl, and differ throughout the Valley regarding what is allowed, though each municipality and county offers a set of criteria and a delineated approval process.
TINY HOME IN PARADISE
The Nickamin’s tiny home arrived on a snowy spring day when Adam was out of town. So Anne needed to meet the delivery truck, with both kids, to guide it up a steep, icy driveway to its destination. The delivery truck got stuck in the snow. So friends and neighbors came to the rescue with multiple tractors. The family completed site prep after snow melted and moved in this summer.
When you walk inside, the first thing you notice is how big it feels. Vaulted ceilings in the living-dining area feel expansive and filled with light from large operable windows on either side. Pale blonde pine walls give the home a sparse, Scandinavian cabin feeling, with built-in colorfully upholstered seating and a high, rustic dining table. The kitchen’s butcher block countertop offers plenty of workspace, and the deep industrial stainless sink is bigger than in most houses. Their narrow yet heavy-duty gas range / oven and open pantry Mason jar storage belong to people who, you can tell, know how to cook and love doing it.
An office in back is where you’ll find the family’s stacked washer/dryer and all of their clothing – hanging and folded in baskets chosen specifically for this space, an area designed for precisely what they need, nothing more. The bathroom truly is a marvel – with a full-size enamelled cast-iron shower / tub, mod porcelain sink and composting toilet. Bedrooms upstairs are cozy and private, with each child in their own space. The master looks out at an endless horizon, rolling sage hills, mountains in the distance – and not one building nor road in sight. In the evening with the slider window open, you can hear crickets and breezes. You can actually hear what feels like peace.
After work and school, the family prepares dinner together sharing stories about their day. A framed print above their dinner table reads: “Love grows best in little houses, with fewer walls to separate. Where you eat and sleep so close together you can’t help but communicate. And if we had more room between us, think of all we’d miss. Love grows best in houses just like this.”