Our Little Skinny Nook Closet

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Recently we build our four in one clothing closet. One thing you may have noticed (if you’re paying REALLY close attention) is that we haven’t created storage for our shoes yet. I mean really, where do you store shoes in a tiny house? We can’t put them in the bottom of our clothing closet since our laundry box is there. In the nook couch is too inconvenient. And, much to Drew’s annoyance I’m sure, I have around 20 pairs of shoes. (And yes, I’ve ‘paired’ them down, so to speak.) So, like the inventive tiny-housers we are, we got creative.

Within our house there is a space between the front door and the nook that is about 11″ wide. We decided to use this space to build a thin, floor-to-loft closet to hold odds and ends like our shoes. This is another thing that I (Sierra) designed on paper around a year ago (which was particularly fun since deciphering my own handwriting and logic-trains a year later is always a challenge..) I took inventory of all the stuff we were planning to bring to the tiny house and then designed storage to fit our needs.

Behold!

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Because we only have 11″ width to work with we decided to slant the boards for our shoes so that they would fit straight in instead of sideways. We did a couple tests and it works!

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The shoe section. We built room for smaller shoes (like women’s flats) on the bottom and larger shoes (like boots) in the top section.

We began by building the box for the closet out of 3/4″ pre-finished maple plywood. From there we added in the shelving based on the measurements I’d gathered when designing the closet. We used a similar process to the clothes closet when creating the shelving by making them 1/2″ shorter for trim. The process involved simply cutting the shelves down to the right size and then screwing them into place with 1 ½” wood screws. We also remembered to keep everything square!

Luckily, installing this closet was a bit easier than installing the clothing closet. We plan to build a ladder on the end of the closet out of red oak so we can get up to the secondary loft and won’t need to switch our other ladder between lofts (thereby accidentally stranding one person in one of the lofts). That’s the last piece of custom furniture we need to make! Our home is now fully furnished with custom cabinets and shelves. We may add some more small storage in the future, but we’ve gotten all of the big storage boxes taken care of. Finally!

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The light-switch to our porch light is in the closet. Hey, whatever works!
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Our Graywater System (plus Drew’s take on plumbing history)

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Have you ever wondered where your water goes after you flush your toilet? No? Well, gather-round children, and I will tell that time honored tale of the birth of the first plumber. Back in the wet times, the earth used to be covered in water. It sucked. Take it from me. Nobody could say “Good morning neighbor! How do you do, and what’s with this weather anyway?” without choking half to death on a pufferfish. Everybody’s basements, waders, and undies were swampier than a sleezy bar in downtown Washington DC in August and the ducks were completely out of control. This had to end. So one day Mario Lopez, Nintendo’s first carpenter, said “This has to end!” and he made the world’s first toilet out of parts he found on eBay. “Flush!” went the ducks, and everybody got drunk. And thus ends the tale of the world’s worst bathtub. At least, that’s how I (Drew) heard it.

Anyway, if you haven’t guessed already, we have a few new plumbing features. Now, the water actually goes somewhere besides on our floor! Here’s how we did it.

First, I should point out we have some new sinks and faucets. Take a look!

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Yeah, we think they’re pretty cool too. The tiny bathroom sink is probably my favorite, but I think it was probably the hardest to install. The hardware kit it came with required a set of drywall anchors, but seeing as we don’t have any drywall, we had to improvise. We ended up raising the sink about ¾ of an inch above the window sill so the sink screws could mount into a horizontal wall stud. After that, all we had to do was drop in a faucet. The bathroom tub went in very easily by comparison. We had made the shower stall exactly the right size for the tub so all we had to do was slide it into place and drop it onto our custom made tub holder which we then screwed into the floor for stability. All we have to do now is silicone it into place and cover up all of the seams with stainless steel L-channels.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that we also installed our kitchen counter top! We screwed the counter top down to the kitchen cabinets and lined up the two parts to make a flat surface.

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The kitchen sink literally just dropped into the hole we cut in our counter top. No problem.

Once we had all of our sinks in place, we got ready to go spelunking under the trailer! We bought a long and skinny drill bit to go through our subfloor so we could line up a hole saw and keep the 1 ¼” holes we were about to drill both inside and outside in a straight line.

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Once we had cut a 1 1/4” hole on all the way through the floor under each sink, we were able to install P-traps and run the pipes through the floor. This part was a little tricky because most P-traps made for sinks are not made to go straight down. Drainage pipes in big homes typically terminate into a wall where the pipes then connect up to the main Drain Waste Vent (DWV) stack, but seeing as how we couldn’t do that, we went through the floor.

One challenge we faced was figuring out how to contract the negative air pressure created by water flowing down a sealed pipe. Big homes usually overcome this problem by hooking up the drainage pipes up to a vent that usually comes out of the roof and replaces the lost air with air from the roof. Thankfully, we were able to buy a product for the kitchen sink called a cheat valve. This is a small device that attaches to a pipe and allows air to flow into the pipe and replace the lost air every time water travels down the pipe. We had to find a different solution for the tub. Traditionally, big home tubs also have a p-trap with standing water. Because the p-trap has to go under the tub, most builders place the p trap in the crawlspace or basement. However, because we will be living in the house over winter, the tub will not be able to have a traditional p-trap with standing water because it could freeze and bust the pipe! We found a product called the Hepvo-Pro, which is a waterless P-trap specially made for Rv’s and boats! The Hepvo uses a small rubber membrane that opens to let water and air pass through, but closes after the water stops flowing in order to keep sewer and tank smells out of our house, just like a normal P-trap does. What’s great about this little valve is that it can be mounted outside with risk of freezing, so we placed it under the trailer in line with the rest of the drainage pipes.

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That dazzling, luminescent white thing is the Hepvo-Pro waterless P-trap under our tub.

Once we got all of the pipes leading down from the sinks and under the trailer, the real work began. Earlier, we put together a 3” pipe with T junctions and pipe converters, and then we mounted it underneath the trailer. All of the drainage pipes would head towards this main pipe and drain out into a water tank or out of a hose and that would be the whole installation! We had to make sure to slope the pipe about 1/8” every foot, which worked out to about an inch total across the width of the trailer.

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Once all of the pipe connections were soldered together using pipe solvent, our job was done! We did a few “test pours” to see if water would flow correctly, and we were please when we saw the water we poured through the drains come out of the main pipe without any leaks! Success!

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The Four In One Closet – A Design Adventure

Take a moment and think about a tiny house. Now back to me. Now back to the tiny house. (Just kidding.) Now think about all the possessions you’d need to put in it. Your mind might wander to kitchen gear and a toothbrush, but what about clothing, a router, a modem, laundry, and a full-length mirror? Where can you keep small things like that? Unfortunately, we find that a perplexing number of tiny houses seem to lack simple storage for daily items. That’s where we got to thinking, and building. Behold our new closet!

We recently embarked on building more walls in our tiny house. (Because, you know, every house needs more walls.) We decided to turn this closet into a wall as well!

About a year ago I (Sierra) made up a design for our closet, based on a combination of designs I had seen in other tiny homes. We decided we wanted to have our closet on the back of the bathroom wall. While this took a little room in our bathroom, it was well worth it to have that closet space. We’ve noticed on a lot of tiny house TV that show the builders/designers often forget about clothing storage. They’ll remember storage for kitchen gear and hobbies, but clothing is often overlooked or at best tacked on at the end. We’ve seen people who move into the TV houses who have to buy storage solutions for their most basic amenities! We wanted to make sure we had the space we needed (which luckily isn’t much since we’re both minimalists and we’ve been paring down for years), plus we put in a little extra just in case we lapse in our minimalism…

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As you can see in the photo above, there are shelves in the top part of the closet. Those are for folded clothes. Being the detail-oriented person I am, I folded all of my clothes and double-checked to make sure they would fit when I was designing the cabinet. (Same for Drew’s, but he kind of just made an “eh, it’ll fit” statement when he looked at his. But to be fair, he does have less clothing than I do.)

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I did the same process with hanging clothes, which hang on a rung in the open space in the bottom of the closet:

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Now check out the bottom of the closet. The compartment on the left is for the modem/router for our Internet. We knew we needed a hidden space for those that was out of the way that wasn’t taking up space in our nook couch. (Details on our couch will be in a future post.)

On the right is a box where we’re going to put our laundry. We’re going to build up the trim on the box to match the height of the Internet box, and then install doors on the front of the entire closet. On the inside of one of the doors we’re going to install a full length mirror:
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Ain’t it a beaut?

Now the fun part… Building it all!

It took us around 4 full days of working for the closet to be finished. We took 3/4″ pre-finished maple plywood and created a basic box that fit our maximum exterior dimensions. Then we installed more plywood for shelving. We lucked out in that both sides of our closet would be covered, so we could screw in our shelves for a permanent fit and we could still hide the screw holes. We made sure that the shelving was set back ¾” from our maximum depth so that we could add trim on the edges to hide the layered core of plywood.

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We then added in the poplar rod for the hanging clothes and built the router/modem box in place. We added a hinge to the box for easy access. It actually makes for a cool place to sit in the closet. Not that you’d ever want to, but hey.

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Then the fun part was installing the closet in the house! And by fun I mean tricky. The problem was that our loft beams above the closet required us to cut down our design by a few inches. We wanted our closet to go all the way up to the loft boards for extra room, but we couldn’t install the closet around the loft beams. So we instead cut the height of the closet down to fit underneath the loft.

Then we screwed the box into the floor, the house wall, and into the bathroom pocket door wall to secure it. Then it was time for siding!

We went about installing the same boards we used for our walls along both sides. We had to use shorter screws in order to make sure we didn’t accidentally punch through the frame’s very thin wood and into the cavity where the door was.

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Lo and behold, it’s installed! Success!

New Bathroom Door and Wall

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We decided our next project would be building the the bathroom wall. It was the next “big thing” we needed to have in our house so we could start measuring and drafting up plans for our closets, one of which would actually make up the back wall to the bathroom. We already installed the short wall that surrounded our tub, so now we needed to extend that wall over to the other end of the loft. This was a huge change for us! The kitchen and bathroom became two different and distinct rooms, and the final form of our interior was finally beginning to take shape.

So we went to the blue store (one of our many journeys there) to get some ideas and look around for supplies.

Now, you need to understand something here. We go there ALL THE TIME, And that is NOT an understatement. Pretty much every day we go there to buy something. (Seriously, we should buy stock in their company.) Exhibit A: Drew and I were there around 8:30pm one night looking for god knows what. We were both exhausted and covered in sawdust. Drew was looking for something in the electrical aisle, and suddenly, a young employee said, jokingly, “I feel like I see you guys here every day. Do you live in here?” Note, we’ve never seen this guy there before (and trust me, we recognize workers. We know which ones know their stuff and which ones are hard of hearing and therefore shout at us when answering our questions.) Drew replied “Yeah, we practically do live here at this point.” I guess we don’t blend in anymore…

Anyway, we found the door section and discovered they had pre-made pocket door frames with the rolling track and everything we needed to put up a wall in our house in less than a day. We found one that was just large enough for a 24″ door and discovered we could make that fit perfectly in our space. But what about the door itself? We looked at their selection and found some solid wood doors that would have been perfect, only they were a bit too tall for the space under our loft. They were the perfect width though. So, we decided to get one anyway and cut it down. Simple enough.

What we both liked about this door was that it had glass panes! It would look really nice from the kitchen and would still let bathroom light pour into the kitchen. The problem? The glass was see-through…

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Our pocket door after we cut it down and put on a coat or two of varnish.

We just couldn’t find any with frosted glass panes, so, as we do, we got creative.

So here’s the plan: we’re going to frost the glass ourselves and then paint some sort of mural on the glass to add some style. It’ll be pretty cool! We plan to shelve this project for a little while, since we have so many more pressing projects to work on at the moment. We’re looking forward to it though!

Okay. So we have our materials. Time to install!

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Luckily the frame was basically ready to install. Like most door frames on the market it was just too tall for our tiny house, but since the frame was made out of just wood we could take it apart, cut it to height, and then put it back together.

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Our bathroom ‘wall!’ The bucket is a stand-in for our lovely toilet, there for sizing.

Once the frame was the right height, it was a simple matter of sliding it into place and then nailing it to our loft beams and floor. We did have to cut small pieces of a 4×4 beam to act as a spacer above the pocket door frame, but it was a very quick process.

Next, all we had to do was add a door stop. Drew made one up from a piece of cherry and screwed it into place, and that was it.

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Next we’ll be working on the closet on the back of the bathroom wall. More to come!

A Little Fan for a Little House

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And by little fan, we mean little. Our fan is 24 inches across. Tiny indeed! We originally bought a 30″ wide fan, thinking that would fit, but then discovered there was a very real danger of hitting it on the way into the loft. So we had to rethink things a bit.

The fan itself is made by Monte Carlo, and we had to order it online. Its reviews said it had a lot of power for being just a little fan. We sure hope that is true; this is our only source of AC at the moment! We do plan on building a DIY air conditioner later on, but that’s a topic for a future blog post. (PS. You can find anything on the Internet.)

 

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Anyway, even for being so small, it was actually really tricky to install. It was surprisingly more tricky than our bathroom fan (aka the ‘fart fan’, as our friend called it) and that one was installed through a wall. The trickiest part about tiny fans in tiny houses is, and always will be, finding the right parts. Allow me to explain: tiny houses like ours have a beautiful pitched roof which looks great, but hanging a fan from the ceiling is a no-go unless you can buy a cathedral roof kit, which is obviously sold separately.

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I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say we had to pull up a part of our roof panels, buy a special fan kit for cathedral style roofs, buy a new electrical box, rewire the lines to the fan, and buy a specialty support rod off of the Internet. It was a bunch of work! But the end result was worth it.

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And now we have a lovely fan! Another project down!

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We’re glad to have another important part of the house finished, and this actually happened to be the last large electrical feature we needed to install before we could test electrical. Next, we only need to put in one light in the bathroom, and a few switches and outlets! Be on the lookout for our future post on testing our electrical system!

More Updates: Woodstove, Counter Top, Shower Stall, and Much More

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We’ve been hesitating to add any blog entries because our progress has been pretty scattered. For example, right now we are currently working on multiple projects: we’re installing our water filtration system under the sink, working on the stovepipe installation for the woodstove, and installing our shower stall. We haven’t finished any of these projects, so instead of waiting until they’re done we figured we’d give you yet another amalgam of updates. So without further ado:

Cabinetry

Let’s start in the kitchen. We were lucky to have a couple cabinets donated to our build, both made of maple! We installed those using 8″ long bold bolts that we used to hold it to the floor. Making sure that everything is lined up was a delicate and timely process, but we made it!

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Leveling the cabinets to make sure everything is in line with the wall.

We also have wall cabinets! Same deal: they were donated (luckily they all matched!) and we modified them slightly so they would fit. You wouldn’t know that the back left one had 5″ spacers we had to cut off of the sides, and the right one had a plate holder on the bottom. Smooth sailing.

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It’s starting to look like a kitchen!

 

Counter Top

Another thing we did complete was our counter top! It’s made from beautiful cherry wood. We bought three long boards of cherry, planed and sanded them down, attached them using biscuits and glue (internal pieces of wood mortised between each board), sanded them some more, and then finished them. We also had to cut the long piece in half in order to make two smaller pieces for the corner.

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Our two counter top halves before adding finish.
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The short half (against the back wall) with drying finish
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The long half with the sink hole cut out.

Additionally we made a cabinet within the short wall between the kitchen and tub surround. Anything to save a little space!

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We built boxes out of plywood and put them in the cavities and adhered them with wood glue.
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It only took a couple clamps to hold them in place…

 

Woodstove

The woodstove itself and its accompanying wall mounting-shelf are installed. It was a weird install, since we had to line up six screws and their cylindrical metal spacers simultaneously and then screw it in. It took a few tries to get it to work, but now it’s on the wall. Success!

 

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Tada! The woodstove has tiny screws that hold it onto the frame on the bottom as extra support.

Next we cut a hole in our roof for the stovepipe. Then we installed what I eloquently refer to as ‘the plunger’. It’s essentially a silicone, heat resistant gasket that seals the stove pipe as it exits the roof. From there we needed to wait until our stove cap came in in the mail.

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We’re not huge fans of cutting into our roof…
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The eloquent plunger.
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Due to the small amount of space on the wall for our woodstove we chose to line it up exactly on the roof seam so that there’d be less risk for leaks. The plunger bends around it and stays there due to the metal lining in the outer ring.
We also installed our LED light strips along the ridges of the house that goes behind the woodstove.
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The LED strip is the metal part in the background of this picture. In the forefront you can see a piece of trim hiding the electric wires behind the loft beam.

 

Shower Stall

We started by building a short wall between the shower stall and the kitchen. We then put wall siding on the side with the kitchen and then kerdi board within the bathroom stall. It was expensive material, but definitely worth it. Kerdi board is a very lightweight material that is made of polyethylene fabric and a foam-board core. It is often used today for tile and tub surrounds. The reason we decided to use it, besides the weight that is, is because if installed correctly, kerdi is completely waterproof. That means no water can get behind our walls and ruin our day! After we screwed the Kerdi in place, we mixed up some thin-set concrete over the screw holes and around the faucet inputs as per instruction. Then we had to order stainless steel sheet metal (which was a process in itself, which was fitting seeing as how complicated the whole finding-a-tub process has been.

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We had a hard time holding in the wool as we installed the wall panels, so we ended up using tape to hold it in. It worked for the most part. The orange board in this picture is the kerdi. It’s very lightweight and was easy to install. The plumbing pipes sticking out were for the hot water heater we were going to install in this wall. However, we decided not to go with the propane model and settled on a different model that we’re putting under the sink.  See below for details.

Next, we had to cut some holes in the steel to fit it around our outputs. Stainless steel is a very tough metal that infamously gets harder the more you work with it through a process called “work hardening”. Talk to any metal worker in the states and ask them what metal is their least favorite to work with and you will almost always receive the same reply: stainless steel. As you heat up and cool down stainless a number of times, the steel actually hardens and becomes more brittle, which quickly wears out drill bits and tools. Aside from that, the chromium coating that makes stainless rust resistant can evaporate under high heat and form a toxic fume that is never safe to expose yourself to. It can cause something called “metal-sickness”, which is known for causing light headedness, and even vomiting.

We actually did end up making some simple straight cuts of our own using an angle grinder (and a face mask!) just to make the fit and finish of the panels easier, but we decided to leave the tough stuff for the professionals. For the panel that would be covering the faucet handles, we took our steel to a local steel fabricator and let them use a plasma cutter to punch out the circles we had traced on our steel. It turned out perfectly! Best $60 we ever spent!

After we got the panels cut to the right size, we adhered the steel to the walls using a high-stregnth, waterproof silicone adhesive. Next we’ll be adhering the corner pieces, which are L-channel sheet metal, and then we will install the tub! We ALSO have to set up the gray-water system, meaning drilling a hole through our beloved subfloor, before we install the tub. Yay confusingly tricky problems! We’ve had our fair share of those…

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Here we were installing the top and right metal panels. In order to keep them in place while they dried for 24 hours, we put plywood against the panels and held them in place with short wood boards. It looks ridiculous, but it worked!

For the shower stall we also built a stand for our tub. This will help keep it from bending and make sure it stays securely in place.

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Another one of our strange contraptions, but this is what the tub will sit on. The legs of the sink we ordered will sit on the wooden dowels in the corners, and the plywood will support the weight of the rest of the tub.
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Works perfectly!

 

Kitchen Water System

This is a bit too complicated/intricate for me to explain (therefore a bit boring for you), so I’ll keep it simple. We planned to fit our hot water heater (a mini-tank 7 gallon water heater which we picked because it didn’t use propane). We discovered that our sink basin wasn’t quite big enough to fit the hot water heater, so we improvised by cutting a hole in the side of the cabinet, reinforcing the sides, and creating a platform for it to sit on next to our water barrel.

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Not pictured: the ledge outside of the cabinet that the heater sits on. To the direct left of this is our water storage barrel.

We also installed a Doulton water filtration system. From there we plan to drill holes into the water barrel that will hold our potable water and insert piping leading from the filters underneath the sink.

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Pipes pipes everywhere! By extending the cabinet’s interior we have more room to run even more pipes and install our water filtration system, pictured on the right.

Outlets and Such

And lastly, when we’ve had time we’ve been installing our outlets and light-switches. It makes the walls look a lot nicer when there aren’t random blue boxes with wires hanging out of them everywhere.
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Drew built this over the kitchen window (on the back wall) using some old cabinet shelves we had laying around. He did some beautiful work!

We still have a lot to do, but at least we’re making some progress, piece by piece!

Installing Window Trim

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There came a day where there was absolutely nothing we could think of to do on the house. No, not because we were finished (we wish), but because everything was waiting on something else to be done before we could continue. For example, we couldn’t finish paneling the ceiling because we were waiting on our wood-stove to arrive so we would know where the chimney goes. We also couldn’t do any more on the bathroom because we needed to order stainless steel sheet metal.

 

So, we decided to get a head start on trim.

 

Why not, right?

 

We decided on 2 3/4″ wide by 3/4″ thick boards for our windows. Remember, we’re making this all by hand, so we have no idea what industry standards are for these things. After some research, we found we were, luckily, in the ballpark. We decided on using poplar wood for a few reasons. For one, poplar is a lighter, inexpensive wood that is easier to work with compared to other hardwoods. We definitely appreciate that. And next, my favorite reason, is that we got to salvage some poplar wood that means something to me.

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I (Sierra) was one of those kids who was outside all the time, playing tag, building forts, having water wars (my house was known for awesome squirt gun water fights) and having other random outdoor adventures. Back then, there was an empty, overgrown plot of land in my neighborhood that my friends and I liked to explore. In the center of it was a giant poplar tree (you see where this is going). It was simply gorgeous. You’d walk by the lot and your eye would immediately be drawn to it. A lot of wildlife lived there too, and apparently once when I was out of town it was struck by lightning (shook the ground, the neighbors said). Anyway, when I became an adult (though I’m still trying to figure out what that means), a builder bought the lot and cut down the tree. He decided to mill the wood himself and use it for the interior trim of his own new house. And let me tell you it is beautiful! Anyway, I told him about my tiny house project and he kindly offered to give us some of his leftover wood from that tree. So for me, having it in the house is kind of like having part of my childhood home with me wherever I go.

 

Cue “D’awww…” in the audience.

 

Okay, the hokey moment is over. Back to the originally scheduled programming.

 

So we milled the wood down and created the trim boards. Next we wanted to sand them and then apply a color. A few years ago we visited a tiny house where the builder gave us the idea to apply paint and then wipe it off in order to still show the grain pattern and natural beauty of the wood. This is an old wood finishing technique called “pickling”. The term comes from a 16th century technique of whitewashing woods with caustic lime and other such corrosive materials so as to make wood resistant to insects. The process left behind a light, brushed on look that made the wood seem both aged and somewhat ethereal. That look really is making a comeback today, but we didn’t need to use harsh chemicals to achieve a similar look. The process today simply involves brushing on a coat of paint, and then wiping it off before it dries. You can also lightly  sand the paint off for the same effect.  So we decided to give it a shot with our green trim paint!

 

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And here is the result! We like it. It will match the green accents we plan to have throughout the house. We’re waiting to add trim in the bathroom and kitchen because we’ll need to work around the counter, back-splash, and bathroom sink, but so far so good! It’s coming together!

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