Living small with style: Abbotsford's Kayla Feenstra builds her own 'tiny house'

Kayla Feenstra is building her own
Kayla Feenstra is building her own 'tiny home' in a 130 sq. ft. space.

While many aspire towards the ever bigger house, Kayla Feenstra is striding in the opposite direction.

The Abbotsford landscaper is building her own custom-designed home where she will live with her cat and her 100-pound dog. And she's doing it on a trailer bed with just 130 sq. ft. of floor space.

"I always wanted someplace just to be home, so that I could travel and go do what I want to do," she said. "I don't want to be a slave to a mortgage. I want to have the freedom to do what I want to do and not be seventy years old when that time (when the house is paid off) finally comes," said Feenstra.

She explains that custom-building your own tiny home is far cheaper and downright more awesome than an RV.

"Most tiny homes are really, really tight. You walk in through the door and it's all storage everywhere, but I don't like feeling squished…Everything had to be designed according to what works for me," said Feenstra, who is 6'2" tall.

The home, nicknamed "Jack in a box," will be fully self-contained and will have a bedroom, living area, kitchen, and bathroom with shower. Upon entering, the studio space opens up to an airy 11-foot ceiling. A large loft bed hangs above half the space, adding another precious 70 sq. ft.

Many items are dual or triple purpose, such as the back window bench that converts into a table, a couch, or an extra bed as needed.

Kayla FeenstraWhen it comes to storage, Feenstra doesn't need much.

"All my life, I've kind of had a rule of six months: if I don't use it in six months, it's gone. Because I spent my growing-up moving a lot," she said.

Building a tiny home has been on Feenstra's radar for many years. But what really set off this construction is when her offer on a standard Abbotsford house fell through in 2012. Just before signing the mortgage, she was told to provide a much larger downpayment because she was self-employed. Feenstra couldn't do that.

"And then I started thinking, do I really want a quarter-million dollar mortgage? Do I really want to have to take on renters?…How much space do I really need?" she said.

Feenstra grew up building houses with her dad. And she is used to living in tight spaces. She gave herself a budget of $15,000 to build her ideal tiny home.

The house is currently parked at a farm on Bradner Road while Feenstra finishes construction this month. She's been at it for several weeks full-time already. Wiring is going in now, with three solar panels to power the fridge, stove, hot water heater, low voltage LED lights, and electronics. An 1,800-litre tank will collect the many inches of B.C. rainwater that fall annually. The water will pass through a high-end filter before reaching the kitchen tap. There will be a composting toilet. Should Feenstra decide to leave the home in a trailer park, she has electric plug-in capability as well. The final building is within road restrictions and weight limits for a mobile home, which means Feenstra doesn't need construction permits.

Although she is building an off-grid house, Feenstra is not the fight-the-system, anti-government type. But she is a big believer in Earth-friendly community solutions. Her company, Dragonlily Gardens, helps people set up and manage organic gardens. She is behind the ones recently planted at Barrowtown Elementary and other Abbotsford schools. Feenstra also organized a program last summer called Farm to Food Bank, through which local farmers donated their excess food. The initiative sent much-needed 19,000 lb of food to the food bank in June 2013 when supplies were low.

In building her tiny home, Feenstra has found strong community support for her project. Many of the materials she is using were donated. The floor planks, in calming colours of taupe, teal, and black, are excess from someone's patio deck project. The outdoor siding is reclaimed barn wood. The door is from an old barn.

When she has had to buy items, such as framing and windows, she met support from businesses.

"I've gotten really good discounts from local dealers because it's totally different, totally interesting, and I've had to do a lot of the research and footwork for them," she said.

About 10 people have offered to buy a tiny house off her should she decide to turn pro. Investors have also offered to back her.

For Feenstra, the house is a grand experiment in home construction and living small. It may not be a forever home, but it is the home that suits her right now.

(Photo below: The frame of the tiny house when Feenstra started construction in December 2013. / Credit: Kayla Feenstra.)

Tiny house frame

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