"We could totally live here," I tell my husband, after squishing my duffle bag into a narrow closet in the entryway of the guesthouse we’re renting in Del Rey for the night. It’s 80 degrees, and there’s not a cloud in the sky. The breeze is blowing off the ocean, making all of the palms outside dance through the unit’s five windows, casting shadows on the handsome wood floors.
I survey the space, which doesn't take very long because it measures all of 145 square feet. "But we'd have to get rid of all of your DVDs,” I say, too gleefully. He quips, looking at the lone, skinny closet: “Or all of your clothes.”
The tiny house movement has not hit Los Angeles. Dreams in this metropolis of subdivisions are built on owning a single family home with a lawn. If you can't afford that, you rent a hip micro apartment. But there is an impressive supply of tiny and weird vacation rentals in the area: train cabooses, kitschy trailers in the desert, and yurts on the beach. They beckon guests with fantastical visions of "watching Malibu's landmark sunset from a magical yoga deck" and the "tranquility of sustainable living in the midst of an organic orchard and organic gardens watered with our own well."
I had done enough camping this summer and was not about to be tempted by magical yoga decks. So I was delighted to stumble upon this little guesthouse on the Westside that was everything I had ever imagined a tiny house would be. A standalone unit; a miniature version of a house, with a bathroom, pared-down kitchen, and living area. It had subway tiles. And a rain shower head. And a yard—with jacuzzi.
After years of watching House Hunters, I know there are three types of people. The ones who check all of their must-haves off a list; the ones who compromise; and the ones who feel the space. I’m the latter. And, in a small space, when you forsake function for character, the consequences can be dire. This is how, in 2012, I ended up signing a lease for a closet-sized Santa Monica studio that had hardwood floors and a vintage stove—but no kitchen sink. I spent a year washing dishes in the bathtub.
Now I have a husband (6'2"), and a dog (75 pounds), and a relatively roomy 500-square-foot one-bedroom with a full kitchen. We don’t have a yard, but we do have embellished moldings and a little rose garden. And a bay window.
So when my husband and I set off for the tiny house with a bottle of red wine and our swimsuits, I was feeling confident. Maybe too confident.
The tiny house movement is easily romanticized (this Instagram account alone). The premise is so charming. Personalize a cozy little home for yourself at a fraction of the cost, prune down your worldly possessions, and live more simply. Sure, there are things to be nervous about—the proximity of the toilet to your pillow, for example.
Our tiny house is tucked behind another guest unit about twice its size, both in the lushly landscaped backyard of a Craftsman. The door, with a glass insert, looked out to a pool and hot tub, a communal space shared by both dwellings. In the main room, there is a murphy bed opposite a grey sofa. A long wood shelf serves as a bar; there are two bar stools. The living area flows into a kitchen appointed with open shelves, a red microwave, a red toaster oven, a red coffee maker, a mini fridge, and a sink. To the right, there's a bathroom with a sliding barn door that opens to a roomy shower, normal-sized toilet, and a vanity that's too small to hold my makeup, let alone extra rolls of toilet paper.
It's been said before that tiny houses force you to spend time outside of the house. Your park becomes your backyard, your neighborhood coffee shop your living room. It's true. It's ironic that part of the appeal of tiny house living is home ownership, when you don't actually end up spending much time in it. We didn't.
As soon as we arrive, my husband and I set out on foot to the local bookstore one mile away, where the clerk tells us to have a "groovy day." We hit one happy hour, then another, before returning to the tiny house, which, with our two novels and leftovers from dinner, is already starting to look cluttered. By this time, the sun has set, and now I'm going to emphasize that in booking this particular tiny house, I was not only tempted by its sheer adorableness, but also by the swimming pool and hot tub. It's lovely soaking in bubbling, hot water under the stars, but it's even more luxurious rinsing off afterward under a huge rain shower head. Vindication.
Our skin free of pool chemicals, we unfurl the murphy bed, the frame of which falls dangerously close to the bathroom door. In the morning, I bruise my shin worming my way out—a reminder that I had, once again, recklessly chosen charm over function.
When we pull two yogurts out of the mini fridge in the morning, I get a little sad. This makes me think about how on any other Sunday morning, we'd be frying bacon and eggs and heating up water in the kettle for a French press, trying to cure hangovers from a Saturday night dinner party. Living in a tiny house would put an end to home-based gatherings with friends—I'd miss that more than my clothes.
A big space actually provides more intimacy, because you can fill it with the people and things you love. I know from experience that I could making tiny living work; in an expensive city, when it's all you can afford, sometimes, you don't have any other choice.
Back at home in our 500 square feet, I'm more appreciative that I can roll safely out of bed each morning. I'm also a lot more conscious of the fact that in choosing older apartments in quaint buildings, I've sacrificed some amenities—a pool, central A/C—that would making living in Los Angeles a lot more comfortable. I'll try to keep this in mind, because, these days I'm dreaming of scaling up. Certainly not into a McMansion, but a place at least as big enough for a dishwasher and maybe some built-ins.