Small Pleasures

written by Melissa Dalton | photo by Billy Ulmer


For a small space, tiny homes make a big statement. Advocates cite numerous benefits to building one, including less environmental impact and a smaller mortgage. Consequently, the homes have been gaining in national popularity, although many Oregon municipalities have yet to adjust zoning regulations to make room for them. Living small means living smart—we stepped inside two recent models to see what we could learn.

Bend: Rustic and modern

tiny home design

 photo by Mallory Torchio

Jessee Russell and Kit Blackwelder go way back.

“It’s fair to say that we bonded over building a crossbow in advanced woods class at Cascade Junior High,” said Russell. The Bend natives have been good friends–and collaborators–ever since. After high school, they worked various jobs together, from renting out heavy equipment to pouring concrete. Then Russell left the Pacific Northwest to pursue a television production career, while Blackwelder continued to work in construction. More recently, the pair decided to collaborate again by starting Tongue and Groove Tiny Homes in their hometown.

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photos by Mallory Torchio

For their 246-square-foot prototype, they took a time-honored building approach. “The tiny house is built like a traditional house,” said Russell. “Everything is exactly like a standard 2×4 stick-built framed house, except the foundation is on a trailer with an insulated subfloor.”

They clad the façade in rough-sawn blue pine and topped it with a standing seam metal roof. “We wanted the exterior to have a rugged, Pacific Northwest look,” said Russell. “But then when you get inside, have a more modern and light feel.” To accomplish this, they lined the walls with bleached birch plywood laid in a brick pattern. That pattern is then repeated in the bathroom using large-scale ceramic tile. Russell’s favorite feature is the desk installed across a picture window, which creates a pleasing focal point for the entire interior.

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photos by Mallory Torchio

Throughout the construction process, the friends sought to source materials nearby. These include white melamine cabinets from Havern Cabinetry & Design, maple countertops from Black Canyon Woodworks and exterior siding milled down the road. That local pride informs their goal to make these homes available in their old stomping grounds.

“We both have passion for this place that we grew up in,” said Russell. “We don’t want it to become a community where if you’re working as a bartender or waitress, you can’t afford to own a house.”

Portland: Light and bright

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photo by Billy Ulmer

In 2007, a two-month trip to Uganda proved eye-opening for Derin Williams. “It changed my perspective around what we need to live,” he said. “I saw how little people live with and how much more they invest in their community as a result. I came home and almost wanted to replicate that.”

Four years later, Williams would figure out how to do so. On a neighborhood bike ride, he met a tiny house activist and took a spontaneous tour of one of her projects. Inspired, he constructed a tiny house in his driveway shortly thereafter. It took eight months of nights and weekends and $22,000 in materials, but he was hooked. In 2012, Williams founded Shelter Wise, a custom design/ build company for small spaces and tiny homes.

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photos by Billy Ulmer

His latest model is the Hikari Box, a smart 286-square-feet fitted with a full kitchen and bathroom, as well as two sleeping lofts. Its plan started with the simple shed roof and the intention to bring in copious daylight. “People always ask for a lot of natural light,” Williams said. Fourteen windows and two skylights fulfill that goal. Interior finishes were then kept minimal and include a bamboo floor, white walls and walnut accents. “The white cabinetry blends in with the walls, so the stairs and countertop pop,” said Williams.

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photos by Billy Ulmer

Clever zoning means there is dedicated space for everything. The kitchen hosts a full-sized refrigerator, a four-burner stove and an exhaust fan. The adjacent dining area doubles as a prep counter. The home’s central staircase incorporates storage compartments beneath the treads. High-value insulation, Energy Star appliances, and a tankless water heater maintain energy efficiency.

Today, Williams sells the blueprints for all of his models to enterprising DIYers, should they decide to make the leap into building their own home. “That was really our goal in starting our company,” said Williams. “To provide the shelter that we all need.”

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