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  • A tiny home model by Portland-based builder Shelter Wise  
  • "We essentially miniaturize all of the features of a larger home into a creative, neat little package with all of the comforts that one could want," says Andra Williams of Shelter Wise  

03/11/15 Tiny Home Builder SHELTER WISE

Words by Margarita Buenaventura

We are constantly redefining the way we live, from thriving in tightly knit neighborhoods to existing anonymously in condos. It was only a matter of time we were introduced to a new way of living—one free of frills but certainly not of comfort.

In a way, that is what tiny home builder Shelter Wise advocates: a lifestyle that deviates from the ordinary but is still firmly rooted. Well, sort of, considering Shelter Wise’s simple but stylish homes can easily be towed. Theirs are the perfect abodes for those with a strong sense of adventure but a keenness to be close to home.

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Still, Shelter Wise homes aren’t mere boxes on wheels. The Portland-based company offers a number of tiny home models that do not skimp on the features of a regular house. The Cider Box home, for one, offers two lofts, full glass doors, and a functional kitchen and bathroom. And what is perhaps the ultimate bonus is that Shelter Wise homes are self-sustainable, so living small can also be guilt-free.

With a galaxy of knowledge on sustainable building, the folks behind Shelter Wise are all too familiar with the secrets to a tiny, albeit happy home. Emerging from the sawdust, Shelter Wise business manager Andra Williams talks to NOUS about finding inspiration in Uganda, how living smaller can make the world a better place, and how a Shelter Wise home feels like living in a work of art.

Let’s talk origins. What sparked the idea for Shelter Wise?

The idea for Shelter Wise was planted about 10 years ago when Derin (Williams, builder and designer) began exploring alternative energy sources like bio-fuels that then led to alternative dwellings research and eventually an education in architecture, sustainable building advising, and energy efficiency. We then had the opportunity to take an extended trip to a rural area in Uganda where we were inspired by their energy conservation, alternative construction, small dwellings, and emphasis on community. All the while there was a growing interest toward tiny homes and accessory structures until we finally put all of the pieces together to form Shelter Wise in 2012.

How does Shelter Wise distinguish itself from the other compact home builders that have cropped up recently? 

There are indeed a growing number of small home companies popping up all around us. This is exciting for us because it means that others are enjoying all that living smaller can offer and it is becoming more of a cultural norm. Some things that make Shelter Wise unique are our background in energy-efficiency, our emphasis on beauty, form and function, our experience with a vast variety of unique building materials, and our experience in building a variety of styles and sizes of tiny homes.

Could you walk us through the planning process of building a tiny home?

The planning process for downsizing from a ‘normal-sized’ home to a tiny home begins with an individual realizing their own needs and desires. Once all of the details are in place, we can begin the construction process of each customized home. No two homes have been the same. We essentially miniaturize all of the features of a larger home into a creative, neat little package with all of the comforts that one could want. We figure out what is most important to the customer and create ways to incorporate those things into the design. Everything from washer/dryer units, to bathtubs, to hidden storage, to kitchen appliances, office areas, and everything in between.

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You’ve mentioned on your website that you’ve made tiny homes for a family of seven. How do you accommodate families of that size to smaller spaces?

We have met many families that are interested in downsizing into much smaller spaces. One of the unique features of tiny homes is the flexibility that loft spaces provide. We can also divide areas of each tiny house creatively. Some people even consider placing two tiny homes side by side or having a small accessory structure to meet everyone’s needs. Ultimately, it involves working closely with the customer and figuring out how they live, what they need, and what they value. A determined family can make it work and even thrive. It creates an increased sense and opportunity for community, an increase in communication, and awareness that the world does not revolve around the individual—all great things to be learned in life.

Shelter Wise also builds accessory dwelling units. To which individuals or families would you recommend an ADU versus a tiny home?

We create Accessory Dwelling Units for people that have a complimentary space within their existing property for such a structure. Tiny Homes on wheels won’t fit on everyone’s property logistically and we work with each customer to figure out which option is the best for them. We look at things like property placement, existing structures, intended uses and goals, neighbors, accessibility, budget, and size needs to help determine the most suitable option. For example, if someone wants a home that is mobile, under 300 square feet, off-grid and less expensive, then we would suggest a Tiny Home. However, if someone wants something a bit larger, maybe up to 800 square feet, on a foundation or incorporated into the existing home, permitted by their local municipality, hooked up to standard utilities, and has a higher budget, then we would suggest an ADU.

What would one gain from living in a tiny home that they can’t get from larger house?

Some things that people can gain from living in a tiny home versus a larger house would be a built-in sense of conservation, lower utility bills and overhead, less environmental impact, a simpler lifestyle, more encouragement to engage in the outdoors and community resources, less maintenance and cleaning, pride in knowing that every piece has a purpose or is multi-functional, and the feeling of being surrounded by only the things that you love and add value to your home life. Plus, it’s like living in a work of art!