Our Fancy Rolling Loft Ladder

Admit it, you’ve always wanted this: imagine a leather armchair like your grandfather might have owned. Overstuffed, puffed up, dark, and covered in polished brass studs. Now imagine you, your beslippered feet propped up on a finely upholstered leather ottoman, the glass stem of a wine glass between your fingers. You wrapped in your finest gold trimmed robe with a puffy collar tied about your waist. You are in your study. Oak paneling, elegant moulding, shelves filled with heavy leather bound books. The shadows in the room so softly melding with the the faint amber light of a crackling fire and iron wrought table side lamp. Go ahead, take a puff on your bubble pipe, and enjoy the perks of a life well lived.

It evokes a certain scene, right? Perhaps you are caught up in feelings feelings of finery and elegance? Perhaps you can smell the aged tobacco and mulled wine? Well please allow me to present our newest creation that takes us just got one step closer to that overblown, clichéd estate ambiance. Yes, the very self-same!

Behold! Our rolling library ladder (brassy and plucky fanfare).

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First off let me point out, this ladder is legit. I’m talking about those 15 degree sloped steps. I’m talking about those mortised stairs. Those polished oak rails, those self-locking spring loaded wheels, those vintage cast iron metal slides. You know, the right stuff.

This ladder is a salvaged rolling loft ladder from New York. The hardware was originally designed and built in Chicago in who knows when, and it looks great. We were gifted this ladder Christmas of last year, but have not been able to install it yet because of all of the other things we’ve had to do! Now that we’ve finally been able to wrap up the gray water system and the kitchen, and the closets (both the clothing and storage ones, even our couch), we decided now was the right time to get a permanent ladder. So we pull this tall fellow out of storage and started installing it!

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When we first opened the package and started looking at the parts, we quickly realized that, while charming and vintage, most of the cast iron hardware needed some good TLC in order to work properly. First of all, the ladder was far too tall for our needs, so we had to cut off a couple steps. No worries there, in fact, we are thinking about turning the two steps we couldn’t use into a step stool! We’ll keep you up to date on that. Secondly, the cast iron glides were rusted over and the paint was chipping in several places. When we first tried to install it, the glides repeatedly seized up and refused to glide smoothly. On top of that, one of the wheels had an annoying squeak to it every time you stepped on the bottom rung. This thing was going to need some work.

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So, we got right to it. I spend a solid half of a day with sandpaper buffing off of the layers of rust that had built up in and around the hardware to get to the silvery steel underneath. Afterward, I applied a generous amount of mechanical grease to the insides of the metal slides and around the unfinished steel I had just unearthed. It was just the right old fashioned trick we needed, and after a fair amount of work, the slides worked with little complaint. The wheels were a bit dusty and filled with cobwebs, and after cleaning those out, I popped open a can of WD-40 and set to work fixing the squeaky wheel.

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While I was working on the mechanics, I also took some time to buff up the side rails and clean off some of the caked up dirt and dust. Besides that, some of the steps had a sticky residue left over by some rubber step grips that had peeled off some time ago. Some soap and water for the dirt, and some alcohol for the sticky steps, and it was good as new.

The rolling rail that came with the ladder was a different story. It just didn’t fit the rest of our décor, and we weren’t sure what the paint was made of, so we set off to make our own rolling rail. After poking around in hardware for many, many (MANY) hours, we found a great solution! ¾ inch black iron pipe and fittings! Except, we decided that it wouldn’t be black for long. After a short amount of time with a sander, I stripped off the top layer of black asphalt that seasoned the metal and once again got to the bottom layer of silvery metal. I then applied a coat of linseed oil to bring out the sheen of the raw metal and to keep it from rusting for a short time. It looks pretty great on our loft! And its strong enough for me to trust too.

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After we hitched the ladder on the rail and did some tests, we found that we have to re-learn how to climb a ladder that can move. The bottom wheels lock when you step on the rungs, but the top can still roll if you’re not careful. Sierra and I learned that the best way to stay safe is to plant our hands, lean back a little bit, and take one step at a time so we don’t swing the ladder too much. Its a bit of an adjustment, but the safety and extra piece of mind is worth it.

So that’s it! Our new ladder is probably the classiest addition to our house so far. Tell us what you think about it!

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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!

Seeking safe space for pocket change and snack crumbs : our take on tiny house couches

P1030896 (1)Before we started building furniture, our house was beginning to look a lot more like a yoga studio instead of, well, a house. To be fair, most normal houses built today are supposed to be empty, but because this is a tiny house and a single Ikea bedside table would probably fill the entire living room, we had to get smart about our furnishings. We knew we were going to have to build our own furniture, and because my dad has a wood-shop I had a few theories on how to make boxes, we ultimately ended up doing was what we do best: completely winging it.

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Because we’re 20 somethings, we needed a futon. Literally no other horizontal platform would do unless it was taco shaped and sounded exotic. Being practical, we decided that a tacoshapedcouchmass was nothing unless it could also act as storage for every possession we had to live with but couldn’t be bothered to look at every day. What I mean to say is we decided to build an overly complicated couch and closet from scratch, and, because we nurture a deep hatred for free time, we also decided that it had to act as a guest bed. Simples!

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Like the capable carpenters we aspire to become, we made sure to measure the space at least three discreet times and used these measurements to draft a simple box. The final couch would be L-shaped and was supposed to occupy a space beneath our largest front window and against one of our long walls. Sierra’s plan was to create what she called “a nook” where the shortest side of the couch would be walled tucked into the corner of the house to form a comfy spot for sipping tea (other hot beverages are available). Legally speaking, we had to include an enviable nook in our house, or else we wouldn’t be able to post pictures of our house on Instagram, Pinterest, or Snapchat without levying huge fines.

From the beginning of this project, we decided that the couch would have to Michael Bay into some kind of bed. Ultimately, we concluded that the couch would simply look like a big box with a lid, and a panel on the front of the couch would unfold into a platform for sleeping. With that in mind, we started dredging up as much scrap plywood as we could find and milling it to the right sizes. We used a few left over door and piano hinges for the lids.

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The box had to be built in two separate parts so it could fit through the door, and logistically speaking, this was probably for the best, because even just the first part weighed nearly too much for both Sierra and myself to carry. Of course, once we finally wrestled the box inside the house, we realized that we had forgotten to cut the back of the couch to fit around the wheel well. Woops. 30 minutes and about a pound of sawdust later, the first half slipped perfectly into place. Next was only a matter of measuring our remaining space, and building a box to fill it.

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Once we had installed both halves, I set to work building a panel that would unfold from front of the couch and drop down two legs to support itself and the weight of an exotic taco mattress. I could never seem to get the bench to hold much weight without the folding supports buckling, so I decided to make a piece of faux trim that would pop off of the floor and prop up the bench when it was in use. After that, the couch was practically done! Overall, I feel pretty pleased with it, even if it is a little rough around the edges. At the very least, the box itself is large and dark enough for me to take a nap in if I need it.

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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!