As an art director in the film industry, my job takes me from city to city. It’s been hard in the last few years to feel like I really belong anywhere. I walked away from my belongings and apartment in Los Angeles in late 2011, and since then had only been back for three to four weeks at a time before leaving again. Lots of life-altering events occurred in the fall of 2013 and at the beginning of 2014, I again found myself on the road in New Orleans for another movie. At this point, I had just decided I was over leases, rent, and not living in a space I was paying for so I put all of my stuff into a storage unit. I bought an SUV and stuffed into it only what I needed – clothes, some electronics, work gear, a few cooking supplies, and my wiener dog.
This life on the road taught me how to live small and I honestly forgot about that couch from Ikea I enjoyed changing the color of every few years or that useless shelf I bought to fill an empty corner of my LA living room. Still confused about where to go next in life and not sure where I wanted to end up, I came across an article a friend posted about a young couple who built a tiny home on wheels and went off the grid, free from a mortgage/rent. As someone who has quite the hefty student loan to pay back and probably would never be able to afford a house in LA until he was 45 anyhow… I quickly became obsessed and read everything I could get my hands on from e-books, to blogs, to store purchased items. I originally thought I’d buy a piece of land and build a little 500 sq ft home, though, after visiting a friend in Jackson, MS one weekend, I stepped inside one of his friends tiny homes on wheels that was only 14’ long and was hooked. I remembered spending time with my dad while he was working away in NC living in an RV and those tree houses my brothers and I spent a lot of time in as a kid… there was something special about those small little places… something I felt the near thirty year old in me needed.
My line of work has been one that luckily allows me to be around design daily. I can draft and draw myself, so the design phase took off quickly. My father was a builder / wood worker and had my brothers and I doing projects very frequently growing up – so I thought with a little refreshing, it would all come back. With each step of the way, the initial plans, the model, the render, etc – it all came in handy; preplanning was key. My show in NOLA was ending and I had just been hired on a show back here in Pittsburgh, so I decided to order a 20’ tiny home trailer and just go for it – building it in my late father’s garage. It seemed like the perfect place – he has every tool known to man, it’s a good scale, and it has allowed me to be spend weekends with my family and get closer with my middle brother. I decided to hire a moving company to bring all of my stuff back from LA and when it arrived, I invited my 19 year old cousin over whom had just bought a house and had nothing… I gave him 80% of what I owned – It felt liberating.
The build began in early August 2014 and will continue throughout the spring of 2015. I’ve decided that I need to take this adventure on my own with the occasional help of my brother or a friend. I remember having ambitions as a teenager that someday I wanted to build my own home and now I’m doing that. I will surely hire a hand or two for the over-my-head electric and plumbing work, but for the skills that are just a You-Tube link or a book read away… I’ll make my own attempt to keep it all relative.
You can keep track of Shawn’s adventure on his own journal.