Lara Nobel and Andrew Carter considered affordability, home size and environmental impact when designing their very tiny house on wheels. The architecture graduates teamed up with builder Greg Thornton to bring their design to life. The new home, which they live in in Brisbane, Australia, and also take on road trips to display at events, addresses their needs without compromising modern comfort. —
Nobel and Carter met at college while studying architecture, and the two graduates have since sidestepped into carpentry apprenticeships. They teamed up with builder Greg Thornton to form The Tiny House Co., a small business that specializes in the design and construction of compact dwellings. The business started with a research trip to Portland, Oregon, where the tiny house movement is well established.
The house serves both as the couple’s home and the company’s prototype. It has made nine trips in the months since its completion, going on display at events such as the Woodford Folk Festival. It’s now residing on leased land in Brisbane, and has the beginnings of a subtropical garden around the home.
The couple kept the home to a footprint of 24.5 by 8 feet with an efficient layout and smart storage. Their goal was to create a spacious and generous feeling inside.
One space-saving feature is the retractable bed, designed and built with the help of the couple’s friend Nathan Nostaw. It was an expensive extra, but it adds to the comfort of living in such a small space. By night, the remote-controlled hoist and track system that’s built into a full-height storage wall lowers the bed, turning the living area into a bedroom.
When the bed is up, the couple can access the storage wall, where they keep their clothes and shoes. They keep the bed raised during the day for the extra space.
On the opposite side of the house is a cozy loft just big enough to fit a bed for two. It’s accessed by a sturdy removable ladder. The back wall of the loft was painted dark gray to make the space feel more intimate, while the tiny louver window lets in natural light and fresh air.
Nobel says they’re considering putting up a railing on the edge of the loft for safety.
Carter keeps his treasured record collection in the loft and enjoys listening to music there.
With almost everything visible from the living area, it was important to the young architects that clear patterns and aesthetic rhythms be carried throughout their interior design. This helps to organize the space and make it feel ordered, and the views tend to feel bigger. “Clear sight lines and long views, good cross-flow of air, high ceilings and a strategy of organizing the space using the structural grid were important ideas in creating that feel,” Nobel says.
Environmental considerations were also at the forefront of the designers’ minds. Recycled Australian hardwoods were chosen to help bring warmth and history to the house.
The wood boards have “lived a life before this house, as bearers and joists in old Queensland cottages,” Nobel says. “Old nail holes tell their story.” The hardwood is also featured on the doors and windows, the decking boards, kitchen countertop and shelves, all of which contrast nicely with the white interior.
Nobel’s mother, Annie, often stops by for a cup of tea. Nobel and Carter entertain a fair bit in the tiny house. This living room setup at the main side entrance to the home can comfortably fit guests and visitors. Nobel says the most guests they’ve had at one time (using the deck and garden area as well) was 30.
In the living room, this modular storage unit also serves as coffee table and extra seating.
The kitchen has everything a good home requires, including a refrigerator, oven, stovetop and sink. Using a large mirror for the backsplash gives the illusion of more space. A compact laundry setup is opposite the kitchen.
For mealtimes, a folding table is suspended from the large window that faces out to the deck.
If you need an extra bowl or spoon after you’ve already sat down to eat, all you need to do is reach over to one of the kitchen drawers.
When the table isn’t in use, the dining chairs can sit outside on the deck. These are on loan from a friend while the couple research the best option for them.
The wood shelving in the kitchen provides storage and display space. The couple waited until the home had settled in its current location before dressing up the shelves with their earthy collection of functional handmade ceramics and glassware.
The design of the home lends itself to off-the-grid living. Greywater is used in the garden, and the home has a composting toilet and is wired for solar power, though it’s currently running on A/C. (Solar panels are next on the couple’s wish list.) The greywater runs off through a hose toward the lush green garden behind the home.
On the other side of the sliding door in the kitchen is the bathroom. It features the same dark gray paint used in the loft, creating atmosphere without making the space feel any smaller. The tall louvers run almost floor to ceiling.
The shower is a good size, and its glass door opens in or out to make the space more functional. The tile shower wall has the same design as the black tiles seen beneath the windows in the kitchen.
The composting toilet creates nutrient-rich soil and requires no water to operate. “Now that we have the Nature Loo toilet set up we are big fans,” Nobel says. “It works great and there is no issue at all with smell.”
Nobel and Carter acknowledge there were plenty of design challenges in creating their tiny house. “Fitting a fully functioning house within the confines of a 24.5 x 8 foot area is difficult enough,” Carter says. “Add to the mix the complications and competing interests of weight distribution, transport, off-grid systems and Australia’s appetite for huge homes and you start to get an idea of just how challenging it was.”
It was interesting being both the designers and builders, Nobel says, and she and Carter each juggled many roles.
“We were acting as client, architect, builder, project manager and apprentice carpenters,” she says. “Sometimes these roles were at cross purposes and the internal — and external — arguments that resulted were an interesting part of the project.” Reconciling the competing interests among all three of them gave them some understanding about how to consider one problem from multiple angles.
The modular deck off the side of the house was a key element in helping expand the space, and it’s one of the couple’s favorite features. If they want to travel with the house, it takes about two hours to pack up the deck, which is transported in a trailer.
The house and deck are all organized around a 3-foot grid, which dictates the placement of exposed laminated veneer lumber frames, kitchen cabinets, doors and windows.
Having the deck as an additional living space has made the tiny house lifestyle even more enjoyable for the pair.
The couch pictured here conceals the tires of the house’s trailer. Carter is planning to add a breakfast bar outside to provide an optional dining space.
When the couch is moved, the tires are visible. The house is classified as a caravan, or trailer, which removes some of the hurdles of living off-grid — paying for city services you may not use, for example, which a caravan isn’t required to do — and it also gives the homeowners the flexibility to move the house within or between properties.
There have already been plenty of fun moments living in their tiny house, Nobel says. One of her favorites was when they were at the Woodford Folk Festival. “While everyone else was camping in muddy tents, we were set up in pretty luxurious conditions with a shower, cooking facilities, comfy bedding and all the while in the heart of the action,” she says.
Her parents came along for the festival, with three other guests. “There were seven of us sleeping in the house, two in the loft, two on the bed and three on mattresses along the floor,” mom Annie says. “It really is amazing just how much you can fit into this space.”
A home small enough to fit on a trailer bed will always have a relatively low environmental footprint, Nobel says, especially if it uses recycled local wood and off-the-grid systems.
The couple are proud of what they’ve achieved with the house and hope to inspire others. “The goal was to build something that’s small but still beautiful — big enough and well-equipped enough to make it a legitimate long-term housing option, not just a short-term gimmick,” Carter says.
Builder: Greg Thornton