Tiny house provides big livability lessons

April 4, 2013 - 9:48pm

What do literature and architecture have in common?

April Anson’s “tiny house.”

Anson, a graduate teaching fellow in English, has built – and lives in – a house about the size of a shed. It’s 114 square feet, sitting comfortably on a 16-foot trailer in west Eugene.

“I had been long stressed by the amount of stuff that I own,” Anson said. “I’ve become acquainted with what I need and don’t need.”

Anson, who studies literature and the environment at the University of Oregon, was inspired by the small house movement, an architectural and social movement that advocates simple living in small homes. Working with friend Jason Reitz – “he was the brains and I was the brawn,” Anson laughed – she built her tiny house as a hands-on experience in combining her studies with her commitment to sustainability.

The house, which has drawn local and national media attention, is composed almost entirely of reused materials. Anson salvaged a large, half-moon window for $30 and installed an old school desk that she found by the side of the road. She’s especially proud of the wood floor, composed of old bleachers from a gym in Wyoming.

“There’s this joy or high I get in recognizing that an object has multiple uses,” Anson said. “It’s this little logic puzzle.”

The walls are made of beetle pine wood that was sustainably harvested; the wood has deep hues of purple and blue, a result of toxins that are emitted to fend off beetle infestations, Anson said. The wood is considered irregular and is cheaper for that reason, but Anson cherishes the swirls of color that give a marbled effect to the wood.

“You don’t even need art work,” she said. “The walls do it for you.”

Water is supplied from a hookup on the property and electricity comes from an AC/DC converter that runs off a standard outlet. Total cost: $13,000.

Anson studies post-colonial, eco-critical theory – essentially, the domination of people and land and how that is represented in literature. She likens her exercise in simple living to someone who signs up for a marathon as motivation to get in shape.

“I wanted hands-on work with the theories I was dealing with,” “This was creating the environment where I had to watch how much water I use – because I don’t have a choice. It was putting my money where my mouth is.”

Anson has developed a new appreciation for community, and for the “luxury” of space; she has found herself occasionally envying people with the sprawling mansions regularly featured in the media. But she’s also learned to embrace the privileges she’s been given – namely the family and friends who put in countless hours to help her realize her dream.

Just one problem: The close quarters means she can’t host everyone for dinner at the same time.

“Having people over is a test of the comfort level of your friendship,” Anson said, laughing.

-- story, photo and video by Matt Cooper, UO Office of Strategic Communications