A Glimpse into the Social Movement
Instead of thinking big, more and more people across the country are choosing to downsize their living spaces. The average American home is around 2,600 square feet; the typical “tiny house” ranges in size between 100 and 400 square feet. In our area, Dusty and Ashley Foster set out to embrace the social movement and even caught the eye of a television show. While zoning issues have kept them from living in their tiny home for now, the couple and their experience is a lesson to all of us on how to choose quality over quantity.
The Fosters used to travel with Children of the World, the child sponsorship program and extension of World Help, a local humanitarian organization. As team leaders, they traveled for over two years living in a Fifth Wheel Camper. When they finally came off the road, they began to make plans for a more permanent dwelling. The Fosters were most comfortable with a small, compact space since that is what they were used to.
Since an RV takes a lot of maintenance and can’t be altered to reflect their personalities, they opted to build a tiny house instead. It helped them achieve their dream of building their own home and was an efficient way to stay within a budget.
Once the Fosters officially decided to build a small house, Ashley got in touch with the television show “Tiny House Nation.” After going through the application process, they were accepted and signed a contract with the FYI Cable Channel. With television cameras rolling, the couple built their tiny house over the span of just three weeks.
Since Dusty owns a home remodeling business, building the tiny house himself was only a natural progression for this young couple.
“They filmed it all. We built it,” Dusty said. “We built it from the ground up. We were the contractors, roofing and electrical—the whole family was out there working. We could have saved a lot of money, but we wouldn’t be where we are today without the show. We spent more because we did it in such a short time frame. It’s supposed to be our home, so we really had to go all out. It’s a very nice, upscale tiny home for a fraction of a bigger [home].”
When the Fosters started the building process, they purchased home plans based on a layout they liked the best that would accommodate sleeping up to six people. The entire house is only 310 square feet; it’s 28 feet long, 8.5 feet wide and 13 feet at its tallest point.
With limited space, they found ways to maximize every inch throughout the house. Since they enjoy cooking, they made the kitchen a priority and installed a huge kitchen sink, decent-sized apartment fridge and a five-burner gas stove and oven. They were able to do a trade out for their granite countertops in the kitchen thanks in part to the television program. Underneath the cabinets they installed Mason jar lids that screw into the upper cabinetry base, holding common pantry items such as nuts and chocolate for easy access. Their small space is equipped with all the essentials including a washer and dryer combination unit. There are even two loft spaces in the house that function as both bedrooms and a sitting room for reading or watching TV. By enhancing the footprint they have, the guest loft bed turns into a couch when they push a lever, utilizing the area not just for a guest bedroom but for watching movies and escaping from their two dogs. The bathroom door is a barn door that slides to cover a bookcase, maximizing both vertical and horizontal space.
“It feels like a regular house to us,” Ashley said. “We utilize every nook and cranny. We’re constantly thinking of ways to improve that.”
The couple admits there are challenges to living in a small space. There is limited storage for items such as clothing. Tiny homes also have to be cleaned more frequently since dirt and clutter are more noticeable.
When the Fosters consulted with the television program about the layout and design of the house, the network asked for their design desires. The couple’s preference for the interior was that the house reflect the outdoors. They achieved this aesthetic by installing wood-paneled walls, airy, fresh accessories and nature-inspired colors (teal, light aqua and sky blue) that are much like the wide open skies that Dusty flies as a pilot.
While prepping to be on the television show, the Fosters gave the network a certain amount of money for some of the furnishings and finishing touches, including accessories like bedding. Then the network staged the house for a surprise reveal. There were many aspects that were a complete surprise to the Fosters during the reveal, reflecting their true reactions.
“The main perk was we were able to do trade outs on the windows, insulation, floors, cabinets and countertops,” Ashley said. “We didn’t pay the full value, just taxes on trade outs.”
Though the Fosters did much of the design themselves, program staff lent their expertise. While consulting about design, the producers wanted to know if they could “go wild” decoratively or if they preferred to keep things within a normal design. The Fosters told them that on the outside, they could go as crazy as they wanted, but on the inside, they wanted a clean, rustic, natural aesthetic. On the exterior, they built the house with a shed roof to maximize head space instead of an A-shaped roof. Then, they wrapped it in sheet aluminum to reflect an old polished war airplane—something dear to Dusty’s heart as a pilot. From the side, it even looks like an airplane wing.
Incorporating aviation elements throughout the house reflected the Fosters’ personal interests. Ashley is a professional advisor for Liberty University’s School of Aeronautics. Dusty has a bachelor’s degree in Aviation Maintenance and is currently a student with Liberty’s aviation program. Some of the more creative aeronautic details magnified throughout the space include a pilot tube for a toilet paper holder, a Magneto Box from a 1940s AT21 Gunner as their kitchen light switch and an airplane propeller as their ceiling fan in the main living area. Taylorcraft airplane elevators from a little airfield in North Carolina were used for the upstairs loft railings.
A wing rib was used as a decoration on their guest loft wall, and an altitude indicator became a decoration built into their moving stair case, which was designed to look like an airplane stewardess cart.
“There are so many little things that speak to who we are inside the house,” Dusty said.
The Fosters always intended the house to have a permanent location, so after building the house on wheels while airing on “Tiny House Nation,” they tried to find it a permanent home. In most cities, tiny houses are hard to classify—they are not mobile homes or RV’s. They are built to last like traditional houses by using traditional building techniques and materials with aesthetically similar designs to larger homes. These homes are built to the standard of a permanent house, but many times building committees don’t know what to do with them. To be a legal residence, the house needs to comply to all international resident codes, which means the home needs a permanent foundation, it needs to be connected to permanent power and it should have running water at all times.
As the Fosters searched for land, they ultimately found a location with a house already on the property that is 10 minutes from everything and inside Lynchburg city limits. But when city officials found out about the tiny house, the couple was told they had to move it off the property unless they made some big changes.
“They told us, ‘In order to keep it there, you have to put it on a foundation,’”
Dusty said. “So we started going through the process of that and started to realize that to do everything they said, it was going to cost us close to 10 thousand dollars to put it right where it’s at.”
Unable to justify that expense since both Dusty and Ashley are back in school, they are now trying to sell their tiny house.
As this issue went to print, they were working with one interested buyer, but no deal had been finalized. If a sale doesn’t happen, Dusty says they may reconsider putting the tiny house on a foundation.
Despite the discouraging ending to their tiny house story, Dusty and Ashley are trying to stay positive about the entire experience.
“It brought people together. It brought my family together,” said Dusty. “So much work went into [the house], so you hate to see it go,” he said.
For more information about Dusty’s Home Repair business, contact him via: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heather’s Helpful Hints For Your Home:
Maximizing small spaces in tiny houses, apartments or lofts.
1. Re-think Walls: Retractable curtains can create privacy in small spaces without the commitment of walls. Avoid partitions when possible in tight areas. Open floor plans create the illusion that a room is larger than it actually is as long as clutter is contained.
2. Make Rooms Versatile: No space should be given just one function. By using all of your space for as many purposes as possible you can achieve a home office, dining room and guest bedroom all in one area.
3. Look Upwards: Installing floor to ceiling bookshelves or cabinetry is an excellent way to utilize space and create additional storage. Floor to ceiling shelving can also generate effective storage for more than just books—it can hold dishes, clothing or baskets to organize items. Open storage draws the eye upwards and forces you to live organized since everything is so visible.
4. Let in the Light: Skylights and windows bring in natural light, making a home feel larger. Light colors and carefully selected lamps or task lighting can make a space feel more open and expansive. Strategically placed mirrors can increase the visual size of an area and semi-opaque materials allow light into windowless rooms.
5. Invest Outdoors: Design an outdoor living space to add the feeling of square footage without the cost of a lot of building materials. Patios, decks, porches or a gravel oasis can function as an extra room, adding to the value and footprint of your home’s livable space.
Heather Cravens is a Lynchburg native with over 10 years of experience in the interior design industry, including owning Becoming Designs. Heather is passionate about creating environments that inspire and build families through the hospitality of their home. She mirrors that passion with her own family by spending time with her husband, their two-year old son and their newborn baby girl.
By Heather Cravens
Photography by Tera Janelle Augh