The Other Tiny House People

small house with chairs in front

Brendan Ward

This house was referred to as more practical than aesthetic.
This house was referred to as more practical than aesthetic.

The Tiny House road trip continues:

Luna, my research partner, and I arrived in Portland in the last days of July. It was 104 degrees F, unseasonably hot! Taking shelter in the cool Carioca Café we settled down with iced coffees and I flipped open my computer to take advantage of the Wi-Fi. The woman sitting next to me perked up when she caught a glimpse of the Tiny House website I had left open in my browser.

“Are you interested in Tiny Houses?” She asked, knowingly.

“Well sure” I said.

“You know, I live in one — have you heard of that new documentary Small is Beautiful …”

'Serenity' Karin's Tiny House, named after the ship from 'Firefly' a cult Sci Fi TV show.
‘Serenity’ Karin’s Tiny House, named after the ship from ‘Firefly’ a cult Sci Fi TV show

Her name was Karin and the next day Luna and I visited her Tiny House community, which was aptly named Simply Home. Karin and her “landies” (their special term for land-mates, like roomies) live on a typical plot in a residential neighborhood in Portland proper. Street facing they have a larger house that came with the property, but the backyard holds four Tiny secrets. Tucked behind the main house and nestled among garden beds lush with summer squash are four unique, homegrown Tiny Houses.

The first tiny house on the property and the one Jake was staying in at the time
The first tiny house on the property and the one Jake was staying in at the time

Karin explained to us that she and her landies shared the big house. Their community is small but diverse ranging from 22 years old to well into the silver years and from various walks of life. Each Tiny House was different as well, some more self-sufficient than others. While we were interviewing Karin in the big house a lanky blond guy, named Jake, tiptoed through the living room to take a shower that his Tiny House couldn’t offer him. Their garden was brimming with edibles and their hand built bike shed boasted a full rack of bikes. Karin and the Jake welcomed us wholeheartedly but with an excited air of secrecy. They were adamant about keeping their exact address private.

This was a very different Tiny House community compared to OM Village in Madison. Simply Home residents were neither homeless nor even struggling it seemed. The choice to live Tiny had been conscious and voluntary. They had built this community from scratch together and they were the first to admit that it was a work in progress. They were not publicly oriented and actively tried to avoid too much media attention. However, their sense of community and their connection to each other, their neighborhood, and Portland in general was palpable.

Raffy the cat sitting in the window sill of Jake's house
Raffy the cat sitting in the window sill of Jake’s house

We casually spoke about urban density resource allocation. The residents of Simply Home community could easily have been spread out across 5 or 6 conventional homes, but instead were happily living on a single plot. They shared amenities like the kitchen and the shower, but their individuality also flourished. We learned that Karin was chiefly responsible and very proud of the garden. They also participated in forms of symbolic community building, for example once a week one person would cook dinner for the whole community. What struck me most however was that they were constantly participating in the social dance of simple cohabitation. It is rare to find a multigenerational, non-familial, group of people cooperating like that on a daily basis. It felt like a village.

As we left, munching on homemade pickles gifted to us by a grinning Jake, Luna and I wondered what would happen if he had kids! Would that upset Simply Home’s delicate balance? Maybe it would have to grow a little? I for one was completely enthralled by the place and I hope it will eventually be regarded as one of the successful precedents that could bring this form of community into the mainstream.

This might be my last post, but the adventure continues as we make our way south and eventually east. See you all back in N.Y.C.

2 thoughts on “The Other Tiny House People

  1. Hi Brendan,
    Sounds like you have had an incredible trip, with such a fascinating topic as the focus–I took a communities studies class at Gallatin a couple of semesters ago and the tiny houses movement would have been an awesome topic to study! I am interested in the idea of the boundaries in community, in terms of inclusion and exclusion. In one way, this community seems very inclusive, in the way they welcomed you into their home. At the same time, you mention an air of secrecy around the community, keeping their exact address private and avoiding media attention. Do you think this dynamic is present in all tiny house communities, or just this one? Is it always such a delicate balance?

    Good luck finishing your project, and thanks for a wonderful post!

  2. Hey Brendan!
    It so great to hear a bit about how your trip is going! I love seeing your ideas put into action, and am remembering that time we talked about this in Architecture class last semester 🙂

    I love the spontaneity of your experience that inspired this post. As I am also on a road trip, I have found that some of the most exciting moments of travel for me have come from people I’ve met in coffee shops, through friends of friends, and surprising signs on the side of the road. I am wondering if you were surprised to find someone living in a tiny house at a coffee shop! Is this lifestyle something that is so prevalent in that area that it is likely to run into someone living in a tiny home? Had you heard of this community before you met the? (I’m guessing not, if there is secrecy surrounding their community.) What was it like to find this random connection?

    I’m so excited to see how your trip ends up! Good luck with the rest of your research and driving – see you back in NYC!


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