It all started with an offer to house sit. We met Bonnie about three and a half years ago. She was a student attending one of our plastering workshops, but we quickly became friends. For the last few years, we’ve been spending some time in our second home, our twelve foot yurt, which was perched at Bonnie’s place in Kaleden, BC. It was clear though that Bonnie’s ambitions to experiment with growing food and fruit trees was really outgrowing that little place, and this year she became the proud owner of a beautiful, but rickety old orchard overlooking beautiful Skaha Lake. So, when she said “how would you guys like to house sit this winter?” we jumped on the opportunity. See, as much as we love and are grateful for our community in Calgary, being natural builders and doing what we do, we’ve sensed that our souls were suited to a smaller, quieter place. Calgary felt like a pair of boots that didn’t quite fit. And this was a perfect opportunity to test out that hunch.
But just two weeks before we were supposed to move out there, Bonnie called, with the news that the house was unlivable. What started out as a suspicion that the cat pee smell was was emanating from the ratty old carpets (that had been removed, but the smell had not at all in the least bit gotten any better), turned into the realization that the entire crawl space had been a communal litter box for dozens of feral cats. Knowing that we would be disappointed, she suggested we still come out and have a look at the place, and if we were so inclined, we could take up residence in the small pickers shack attached to the garage. So we said, what the heck, goin’ to BC.
We arrived late that first night, to a suite that was made up of one large room, with a sink and a hot plate and an attached bathroom. The walls were painted pale blue, full of holes and the ceiling consisted of a white stipple over dark blue paint that came down a foot on the walls. The floors were beat up laminate that ended abruptly two thirds of the way through the first room. Small blocks were put under each two of the casters to make the bed level. It was nice Bonnie’s partner Jamie had left us a comfy chair in one corner, and a bed in the centre of the room. It wasn’t what we expected, but we knew instantly that we could transform this place into something beautiful and we were excited to be in our new home.
Those initial first days had us washing walls, scraping stipple, and mixing up batches of clay paint. And with a foot print of 13ft by 15ft (but with 10ft ceilings!) clearly having a bed in the centre of the room wasn’t going to work. Besides, who wants their bed in the middle of the living room anyway? So Ashley got to work, drawing some plans on graph paper to make a self supporting loft – a glorified bunk bed really, but without the lower bunk.
We headed off to our neighbourhood boutique saw mill and put in an order for the lumber. Douglas fir in this case, harvested from the local region. While we were waiting for our wood, we realized that with winter setting in, we needed to address the heating situation. Not being a fan of electric base board heating, we set out to find a wood stove slightly bigger than a sailboat wood burner, but much more diminutive than you’d find in most home of greater proportions. We settled on the Norwegian made Jotul. Read more about that here. A quick internet search revealed a local wood sales man that would deliver salvaged orchard wood cut and ready to go, perfectly sized for our little unit.
Shortly after our wood stove was installed, our wood order was ready. We got to cutting, sanding, joining and finishing right away. This was one honking big unit, so we had to build it in pieces and assemble it in the suite. Though our mastery of clay is much better than our mastery of wood, we think it turned out pretty darn well.
With some new flooring put in, a perfectly sized bookshelf that Ashley built, a little furniture, we’ve really grown to love our new diggs, and it’s proven to be a really great home base for our work and other adventures. After the renovation of our little suite, Bonnie paid us a visit, and with a little cajoling, she convinced us to take on the restoration and eventual renovation of the main house. But that’s a story for another article.
Living small is about living simply. With a small space, we’re only able to have the stuff in our lives that is really important. There just isn’t room for more. Our experience is that the world is moving too quickly for its own good. We’ve all become too “busy” and this busyness serves to disconnect us from the things that bring contentment and joy to our lives. To remedy the speed of modern life we’ve chosen to live simply. This gives us autonomy over our time and allows us to observe and appreciate the many graces of the world around us. Living simply allows us to do the work that we do, and also have balance. We hope that the work that we do also helps others to bring this balance and appreciation to their lives as well. Our next step at living simply will be designing and building our very own right-sized straw bale home!