If you are one of millions of Americans who can't afford to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars on a house worth half as much, then you are going to love Boneyard Studios. After spending several months searching for an existing community of tiny house lovers, to no avail, Lee Pera decided to start her own. Almost immediately after making that decision, she serendiptidously met Brian Levy, who had very similar goals. In March, 2012, Brian purchased an overgrown alley lot in Washington D.C. that has since evolved into an inspiring village of four tiny homes on wheels with a thriving organic garden, a 20 foot repurposed shipping container shed, and a 250 gallon cistern used for irrigation. An EPA geographer, Pera and the rest of the crew have invited hundreds of Washingtonians to visit Boneyard Studios, where they can learn everything there is to know about designing, building and living in homes that are no bigger than 200 square feet. They are also working hard to convince city officials to revise outdated zoning codes so that they can actually live in their low-impact homes full time.
Although Boneyard Studios promotes community and shared amenities, each of the four tiny homes is different – a reflection, perhaps, of their owners’ individual personalities. Jay Austin designed The Matchbox with help from Tony Gilchriest and Urban Density Lab’s Matt Battin. Just 140 square feet and clad in weathered shou sugi ban cedar, this sweet little off-grid home boasts wide windows and skylights (along with a solar-powered skylight blind to block excess sun), a rain chain to harvest rainwater, and an incredibly efficient and modern interior. After trying to survive the wicked DC summer without cooling or refrigeration, Austin finally broke down and installed a tiny window cooling unit and a small 1.7 cubic foot chest that keeps his food from rotting.
Pera found what would become the Pera House on Craigslist. An existing 18 foot shell that she picked up in South Carolina, this tiny home on wheels needed a lot of work. Tony came to the rescue again and essentially rebuilt the whole thing, including the gabled roof. Battin chimed in with a few custom details such as a removable four foot deck, rain screen siding, and a handy ladder that reaches the loft bed. All of the lumber was sourced from responsible sources. Although the interior is not yet complete (Lee has been so busy sharing the tiny house love through community outreach, a mini concert series, and open houses), the end is near.
Indulgent Restraint is a tiny house modeled on Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Lusby design. It has loft windows, a wooden door and floors, and a small welcoming porch. Painted in red and white – like a mini Victorian – this little home boasts all the amenities necessary for a single person, except perhaps a substantially-sized kitchen. Elaine says that she may remodel it some time.
The largest house on the lot, Minim House, has also garnered the most attention. Designed by Foundry Architects and Brian Levy, and built with help from Tony and Element Design+Build, this attractive 210 square foot home boasts a 960 watt rooftop solar array, a 290 gallon rainwater capture system, Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs) that mitigate the need for excess heating or cooling, and a host of interior innovations that maximize the living space. Fun fact: despite being really, really small compared to most homes, Minim House boasts enough room for 175 books.
Unfortunately, none of the four tiny house owners are permitted to live in their homes full time because of outdated zoning laws. In Washington D.C., an alley home must be at least 400 square foot before it is considered habitable, and the lots have to be at least 30 feet wide. The Boneyard crew is trying to change that through a rigorous educational campaign. At the time of our visit, the most recent open house visitors were taking their leave, no doubt dreaming about the day they too will live a more humble, affordable lifestyle in a tiny house of their own.
All images © Tafline Laylin for Inhabitat