Steve Areen is one of those people who turns everything into gold. And by gold, I mean magic. I mean soul. We saw it with his lovely dome home in Thailand, and now, what was supposed to be a simple dwelling in Australia evolved into an extraordinary modern caravan that he built by hand with mostly recycled materials. The roaming flight attendant, 52, started with a 5×10 trailer, to which a local artisan helped add a curved steel frame. Then the muse stepped in. Complete with custom furniture, a round window seat and wood-fired stove, the cylindrical Unity Wagon — perched on Yandoit Farm about 80 miles northwest of Melbourne — will set your tiny home-heart on fire. Read on for a closer look at some of the details that give Steve’s latest project such charm.
Steve says he has been living part-time on Yandoit Farm for the last few years. “My friends Michael and Lisa, with help from volunteers from around the world, are doing an amazing job transforming what was once a dried up ranch into a lush organic farm, using permaculture principles,” he adds. So, he decided to build a small structure that keeps bugs and snakes at bay (the experience with a poisonous snake in his bed elsewhere in Australia probably a motivating factor).
As we now know about Steve, he loves curvy structures, which have a range of benefits. For him, it’s about the look, feel and “amazing energy”. He told Inhabitat, “I decided to make my own version of a covered wagon, with a pulley system that made it easy to roll the canvas all the way up and a strap that pulls it down back down. I had never seen this done before, but it sure worked well in my head.”
Starting with the shiplap timber cladding, all discards from a local mill, Steve sanded and oiled each piece by hand. He said some of the worst-looking boards ended up being the most beautiful after a bit of tender loving care, though attaching the warped pieces to the steel skeleton was sometimes tricky. The name Unity Wagon was inspired by the way the various Australian hardwoods, each with their own history, came together. The double wall allowed him to create round cutouts that also serve as storage and lighting, as well as his signature round window seat. These details combined with rope trimming gives the caravan something of a nautical aesthetic, he tells Living Big in a Tiny House in the above video.
He calls his bed “optimistic”. Normally, it’s sized for a single person. But if he has company, he can expand it, sliding out the base and adding a couple of cushions. This extends to guests as well. Since the caravan is parked on the farm, he hopes other people will be able to enjoy the use of it, with all proceeds going to either educational programs or more “fun structures.” And when he is around, a sliding table pulls out between two benches covered in richly-hued fabrics, providing enough space for up to seven people to sit and share a meal. A full blown party on the cards? No problem. Unity Wagon was built for play. Steve promotes climbing on the roof and in general having fun in and with the space. At some point, he hopes to take his tiny home to festivals.
A work in progress, and an artwork at that, Unity Wagon isn’t designed for full-time living. Steve can use the stovetop to boil water and other basics, and he left room to install a cooking stove, but for now he has to use the farm’s ablutions (hot water powered by a giant compost pile – yay!) A small solar system provides power for the interior lighting. But because his home is small and compact, with plenty of crafty storage nooks, he doesn’t need much else. On a clear day, it’s possible to completely open the wagon to the elements. If the insects are out in force, Steve has fly screens secured tightly with velcro, and with any hint of inclement weather, he can pull the canvas cover in a jiffy. On his first night in the completed caravan, he left the cover off, sleeping under a sweep of stars.
All told, it cost under $15,000 to build the wagon, much of which went to skilled labor. Despite some frustrating moments, Steve describes the months he spent working solo in an open hay shed, dreaming up new ideas and solutions, as “crazy fun.” And this won’t be the last we’ll see of him. “Though I have no interest in being in the building business,” he says, “I do look forward to building more fun structures, ones that keep people connected to nature, are interactive and of course… curvy.”
All images by Steve Areen