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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Learning To Make A Tiny House At Summer Camp

BY: JON KALISH

The tiny house movement is getting pretty big. Tiny houses are 300 square feet or less and are used as vacation homes, guest cabins, offices and even as primary residences.

The appeal is that they’re cheaper to build and maintain. A rising star in the tiny house scene is Derek Diedricksen, a 35 year-old rock drummer and father of two. Diedricksen lives in Stoughton, Mass. and produces a popular web video series called Tiny Yellow House, which has been described as “Wayne’s World” meets “This Old House.”

Earlier this month, 20 people from around the country gathered on his property in northern Vermont for Tiny House Summer Camp and built a couple of tiny houses in the woods.

Teaching Tiny House Building

Yet Derek Diedricksen is not tiny. He’s six foot four and exhibits a child-like delight in finding discarded material and incorporating it in the micro-structures he assembles in his suburban backyard, some of which are big enough for a single occupant. He wrote and illustrated a highly regarded book, “Humble Homes, Simple Shacks,” and has appeared on a number of cable TV shows devoted to home design. The New York Times featured him on the front page of its home section not long ago.

“Until you start swinging that hammer and actually seeing what you’re doing, you can read textbooks but it’s not going to help as much as just doing it.”
– Derek Diedricksen, tiny house builder

But most of the people who showed up at Diedricksen’s 10-acre spread in Vermont’s North East Kingdom are fans of the wisecracking tiny house evangelist’s blog Relaxshacks.com. So much so that they referred to him by his nickname, Deek.

“I’m just trying to give people the opportunity to develop some hands on skills,” he said. “You can read books or watch videos on YouTube till you fall unconscious and you’re not going to really learn the skills that you would where you have hands on experience. Until you start swinging that hammer and actually seeing what you’re doing, you can read textbooks but it’s not going to help as much as just doing it.”

Regular visitors to Diedricksen’s blog are quite familiar with the various outbuildings on his Vermont property, all of which he built with his brother Dustin. They came in handy during Tiny House Summer Camp.

From Tree Houses To Stilt Cabins

“There’s all these cool little cabins where people can stay,” he said. “We already have a tree house, we have a stilt cabin, we have a log cabin you can stay in, there’s people tenting it up in the field. It’s like this redneck Oompa Loompa village.”

Among the campers for the tiny house building workshop were two teenage brothers who were dropped off by their mother. They attended a book talk Derek Diedricksen gave at a library near their home in Madison, Connecticut.

“I love little houses, uh, that’s not very popular in my grade but I’ve always been a kind of enthusiast for small dwellings,” said 13 year-old Chet Simms.

Sims and his 17 year-old Maxwell stayed in a log cabin that belongs to a neighbor of Diedricksen’s known as Uncle Bob.

“We’re sleeping with a black bear rug that watches us at night. But it’s good,” said Maxwell Simms.

Another teenager, 15 year-old Wilhem Smith-Clarke and his father came all the way from Oakland, California. He and his dad slept in a treehouse that was just tall enough to sit up in. Back home in Oakland Smith-Clarke is into wood turning.

“I’m not some super, hard-core DIY person but I just sort of like woodwork in general and the idea of taking raw materials and turning it into actually a finished product,” Smith-Clarke said. “Now that this is all level we’re going to put about five nails in each of these ends here. Once you put the flooring and things like that on, it’s going to further tie everything together. So these boards are going to be less likely to pull away.”

The 20 aspiring builders enthusiasts constructed a couple of tiny houses during the long weekend. The larger of the two was just eight feet by 10 feet but had a roof high enough to accommodate a sleeping loft. A professional carpenter from the Adirondacks helped Diedricksen supervise the building. Because Diedricksen’s camp is off the grid, gas generators were used for power tools.

Living in A Tiny House

One of the participants already lives in a tiny house. 62 year-old Jan Kenny worked for years as a large animal nurse. She is currently living in a tiny house parked on a friend’s property outside of Philadelphia. Kenny admits she was drawn to Tiny House Summer Camp by Diedricksen’s wacky on-line persona.

“I thought this guy is crazy but in a good way. And so, looking at the various structures that he built, looking at just his imagination, his ideas, it just presented the whole thing as anything is possible. I love tiny spaces. I have his book. I look through the pages of that and I just think, ‘I could live there. I could live there. I could live there,'” she said.

Kenny hopes to start a tiny house community in Maine when she retires and it won’t be difficult to transport her tiny home there because it’s on a trailer. Three different Vermonters at Tiny House Summer Camp said they keen on the idea of a tiny house on a trailer because the structure would be deemed a recreational vehicle and thus exempt from property tax. Psychotherapist Jonathan Stein is one of them. The son of a carpenter, he is currently living on a friend’s land in Putney, Vermont.

“I don’t really have the money to buy even a couple of acres of land right now that would be the kind of land that I would want. So, I’m on a friend’s property. I bought a very large expedition tent with a wood stove. I’ll build it there. It’s beautiful where I’m going to be building it. So, I could actually live there afterwards if my friend lets me,” he said.

Stein has obviously caught Derek Diedricksen’s zeal for using found material in tiny house construction. On the way to Tiny House Summer Camp he came upon a small stairway on the side of the road and promptly tied on to the roof of his car. Diedricksen plans to do another tiny house building workshop at his home in Stoughton on the first weekend of November.


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