Forestville Superintendent enjoying her ‘other’ residence

Tiny house, big dream

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl Forestville Superintendent Renee Garrett is pictured with her completed tiny house before it was moved to its permanent home in Kennedy.

For Forestville Superintendent Renee Garrett, a project that began as an idea one summer vacation evolved into a two-year hobby that she can now call home. In between her school and family responsibilities, Garrett built a “tiny house,” thereby joining the nationwide housing movement that proves when it comes to square footage, less is more. In fact, it may just be the secret to living large.

What is a tiny house?

Although there are no official dimensions that define a tiny house, most are 400 square feet or less. “This is about 250 square feet, which includes the loft space,” said Garrett. “It’s more than what you really need, to tell you the truth.”

The tiny house movement is characterized by an intriguing lifestyle shift, as some owners get rid of their much larger homes and the majority of their possessions in favor of a minimalist lifestyle that prioritizes experiences over things. “It’s really meant for us to be like a cabin, a retreat,” said Garrett, who still maintains her primary home in Forestville.

It now sits on their property in Kennedy on a cement column. They could have kept wheels on it to move it around if they wanted to, “but that requires a large vehicle to haul it, and we’re happy with keeping it in Kennedy,” she said.

Garrett's tiny house is approximately 250 square feet, which includes the loft space above. Soon, the kitchen will have an apartment-sized refrigerator/freezer, as well as a four-burner propane stove.

While Garrett just recently began to enjoy her cozy new get-away, it started as a “what if” dream a few years ago. “We don’t have cable, but when we went on vacation, on TV in one of the hotel rooms was this tiny house show,” she explained. “I thought, ‘It would be cool to own one of those!'”

In considering their ideal retreat, Garrett and her husband initially looked at recreational vehicles before exploring the tiny house idea. “With the tiny house, you don’t have the depreciation like you do when you drive an RV off the lot,” she explained. “Everything in an RV is manufactured; it looks all plastic. What I liked about the tiny house was that I could design it myself. You start with a vision, and you start collecting things to get you to that — little steps along the way — and then it just comes to life at the end!”

Garrett’s design

Garrett found her tiny house on Craigslist and began working on it in November 2017. “It’s taken awhile, but it’s not all work, all year. It’s seasonal,” she said.

The tiny house has the same kind of electrical hook-up as an RV, along with propane tanks for the stove and an on-demand hot water heater. “It was important to me to have a full kitchen,” she said. “I love to cook, but with that decision comes consequences. I don’t have closet space, and my bathroom is tiny.”

OBSERVER Photos by Mary Heyl The larger loft serves as Garrett's bedroom and includes a queen size bed.

Despite these minor compromises, Garrett has accomplished quite a bit in the small space. The four-burner stainless steel stove is complete with a hood; above, is a shelf for the microwave. The kitchen also includes an apartment-sized refrigerator/freezer and Amish-made cupboards with a gray finish, similar to the laminate flooring that Garrett and her sister, Jen, installed together. Nearby, a table connected to the bookcase flips down with two benches, which comprise the dining room.

One of Garrett’s favorite features of the house are the herringbone motifs that she designed using barn wood. The herringbone-pattern barn wood door slides to the right, revealing the small bathroom that has a tiny house tub (24 by 31 inches), with a rain shower head. “I have a machine that makes special etched glass vinyl for privacy,” said Garrett of the bathroom window. “I didn’t want a curtain because it comes into the room. I made the shelves, with barn wood on the front, and the medicine cabinet comes down for a makeup tray.”

The living room is a relaxing space, inspired by another television show that Garrett enjoys: “Fixer Upper.” “The walls are a luon flooring material, but instead of using it as paneling, we had it cut into strips and spaced like this to look like shiplap,” Garrett explained. “I saw it on a Youtube video and said, ‘You know, I think that we should try this.’ People thought I was crazy, but once you see it up, it really looks like shiplap … and it’s lightweight. That’s really important in a tiny house.”

The living room includes a window seat that comes out for easy transport, as well as a couch that folds out into a bed. “Rather than having a TV, I have a projection unit,” said Garrett. “I’m having an L-shaped deck built for the outside with steps down. I can put the projector screen out there when I have summer movie nights. I found some birch wood for free and will be using it to make a railing and banisters for the deck. “

Although the larger loft is big enough to accommodate a king size bed, Garrett will be putting in a Tuft & Needle queen size bed to preserve space. “The other loft is big enough for a twin size bed, believe it or not,” she said. “It’s a bit higher than the other loft, and I wouldn’t want to sleep up there! I’ll be using it mainly for storage.”

Unlike other tiny houses, Garrett’s has many windows, as well as plenty of interior lights. Hanging lamps take up valuable space in a tiny house, so Garrett went a different route. “One of my teachers, Jon, helped when we were putting the electric in. He found these tiny little LED lights that fit in a light box,” she pointed out. “That was a nice solution that he came up with. Every inch counts! The lights are all LEDs, and they’re four watts each, so the entire tiny house lighting is less than 60 watts.”

A rewarding project

For Garrett, designing her tiny house has been the ideal balance of creativity and collaboration. “That’s honestly how I operate any time: idea, idea, idea and then decision,” she said. “Even at school. Here, people have come in and said, ‘Hey, did you think about this? What about that?’ Some of it was too late; some of it was right on time. Some of it worked, and some of it didn’t. But I really like how it turned out, and I have flexibility to change it up if I want to.”

Ultimately, Garrett’s new little home is reflective of her personality and preference for a simpler lifestyle. “I think I’m a minimalist at heart, secretly,” she admitted. “I’m very organized, and I tend not to like a lot of things around. I also love being outside, so this really allows me to enjoy more of that. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but now that I’m here, it’s a relief because I feel like I have a place to go to relax and unwind!”


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