Photography by Paul Flessland
Between driving through traffic and spending nearly all of your paycheck on rent, city life can be stressful, which is why Richard Wright said goodbye to his urban apartment and built his own tiny house in the country. He told us what it’s really like to live inside of 260 square feet and about the challenges of leaving material possessions behind. Read on to find out how he survived his first winter and see the amazing space that makes it all worthwhile.
The small specs: 260 square feet
After getting his master’s degree in architecture from NDSU, Wright was living with a burden that affects many young adults today: student loan debt. He was also dwelling in an apartment and becoming increasingly disillusioned with spending a large portion of his paycheck on rent. It was then that he recalled his experience as a student. While in school, Wright was inspired by professional skier and host of “Tiny House Nation” Zack Giffin, who travels in a tiny house from slope to slope.
“I finished architecture school, and I really wanted to have my own space,” Wright said. He then took part of every paycheck and put it toward materials for the tiny house.
A Little Help from a Family Friend
After working on the tiny house in a friend’s driveway and even at his church, Wright needed a place to put down roots. Luckily, he was able to strike a bargain with a family friend that would benefit everyone. “I’ve known her since I was a kid and we’d always come out here and help her with the farm. Now that she’s getting a little older, she actually wasn’t sure how much longer she is going to stay out here, so it was fortunate that I ended up talking to her,” Wright said. He has agreed to help maintain the farmhouse and outbuildings in exchange for keeping his tiny house on her land on the outskirts of Hawley, Minnesota.
Tiny Learning Curve
After he had already started building it once, Wright redesigned and rebuilt the bookshelf to display some of his favorite photos.
Wright designed this double sink to have removable covers that can convert into a single sink or extra counter space.
One of Wright’s favorite features is the sunroom, which doubles as an additional sleeping area.
“You end up prioritizing things and then you’re much more organized, so when I sit down in here, I have a book that I’ve never read or I have a book that I really enjoy. You get the richness of life and take all of the junk away.”
– Richard Wright
Because he tackled the construction by himself with occasional assistance from his girlfriend, Ruvie Chitemere, the entire project took Wright a lot longer than anticipated. What he originally hoped to accomplish in four months, or one summer, Wright has spent the last two years perfecting. This is partially because Wright redesigned some features of the tiny house until he found exactly what he wanted. “I built some things and then I ripped them out and rebuilt them,” Wright laughed.
In the end, those little changes made a big difference. However, if he had to start all over again, there are still some things Wright would like to do differently. “Weight was the biggest thing. There’s so much that you have to take into consideration. If I did this over again, I would’ve done steel studs and lighter materials,” said Wright. “The trailer is everything when it comes to the tiny house. Then you’re talking about weight, what kind of material you can use, how big it is, how tall it is-it was a really big deal in the beginning,” Wright explained. Before he started building, Wright spent hours in AutoCAD redistributing weight on his drop axle trailer.
Although Wright is an Estimator at D&M Industries in Moorhead, he had to teach himself a few new skills along the way when building his tiny house. “It was more of a learning experience because I went through architecture school, got my masters, and I really wanted to learn electrical, plumbing and propane. I had never done any of that, so this was my intro,” Wright said. “There was a little learning curve there.”
After making the big transition to tiny living, Wright made a small lifestyle adjustment by paring down his material possessions. Though it was difficult to let go of the bigger things, Wright felt a sense of satisfaction from eliminating the unnecessary.
The corrugated metal wall is a big wow-factor in this tiny bathroom.
The heated shelter Wright built for the water tank.
When he finally moved to his current location, Wright rushed to winterize his tiny house in preparation for the cold weather that was quickly approaching. From his research, he knew that many tiny homeowners rely on boat heaters as their main heat source, so he installed a direct vent boat heater in his own tiny home.
After he installed the heating system, Wright faced a big challenge during his first winter in the tiny house. “There’s no septic system here, so what I ended up doing during the winter—because the water would freeze—I just ended up making my own heated shelter for the water tank,” said Wright. He also tried using leaf bags for extra insulation, but replaced them with hay bails around the bottom of the trailer.
Settling Down with Freedom to Roam
Now, Wright can haul his tiny house all over the U.S. without needing an over-sized permit. However, he doesn’t see himself going anywhere any time soon. He also doesn’t think he could bear to part with the product of all of his hard work. Years from now, Wright can see himself turning the tiny house into a little lake cabin. “To me, it’s temporary. It’s all about that next step of life. For me, it was all about student loans. Once my student loans were done, this gave me a lot of freedom. I didn’t know where I was going to go, where I was going to move to or if I was going to be here. I liked the mobility of it,” Wright explained.
A Little Advice
To anyone thinking about building a tiny house, Wright says, “Do your research and have fun with it.” If you want a taste of that it is to live in a tiny house he also recommends renting one for a week or more. There are even some dog friendly cottage rentals near Padstow which could do the trick. When you are ready to start he also recommends that you avoid putting yourself in harm’s way and to have your plumbing, electrical, and propane done by a professional.