Ulster County’s Rowan Kunz Builds a Tiny Home That’s Entirely Self-Sustainable


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Categories: Tiny House

With a little help from her friends and family, a young Ulster County woman builds a tiny home that’s completely off the grid 

Free-wheeling: Most tiny homes have the door on the gable end, but Kunz avoided the railroad-apartment layout by using French doors on the long side. Willow the cat has her own entrance. The deck, which almost doubles the living space in warm weather, is constructed in three pieces that, unbolted, will fit in the back of a pickup when it’s time to move. “I lived in 10 apartments in 10 years, and there’s still a bit of the gypsy in me,” says Kunz

Rowan Kunz’s mother, Penny, remembers how, when Rowan was a toddler and tackling something for the first time, she’d resist any help. “No!” she’d declare. “I do it I-self!” Rowan’s grammar has improved greatly over the past 30 years, but her independent streak remains as strong. When she decided to build a tiny home, she meant she’d build it herself.

In 2010, Kunz, then 30, moved back to her parents’ house in High Falls after a 12-year absence to take a position as an art teacher at Ellenville Elementary School. She’d long dreamed of building a small house on a large property; but with a new job, “serious student debt,” and an iffy economy, realizing the dream looked a long way off. “So I decided to work backwards: Build a tiny house and save up for land,” she says. Kunz, who’s spent time in Kenya and other spots where people live simply, was intrigued by the small-house movement. Building a tiny house on wheels (actually a heavy-equipment trailer) would make it movable, and required no permits. It would be a pay-as-she-went project, so no mortgage, either.

FRIENDS AND BENEFITS: A LOFT BED WITH STORAGE UNDERNEATH AND A SHALLOW CLOSET AT ITS FOOT ANCHORS ONE END OF THE HOUSE. AT THE OTHER END ARE THE KITCHEN AND BATH

The small-house movement has been growing fast over the last decade or so, and plans for such homes are available. “But no one system really worked,” Kunz says. “There’s not much info on winter living, so that required research. I looked at what other people were doing, and then let that inform my choices, rather than copying.”

Kunz drew designs, gradually paring them down. “It was a challenge, seeing how much I could do to have a positive impact on the environment. When I realized I could go off the grid, I thought, why not? We think of certain things as necessary, but we haven’t had them long in our history.” 

MAPLE COUNTERTOPS (LEFT) WERE MADE BY A FRIEND, WHO JOTTED A NOTE ON THE UNDERSIDE: “NOT MADE IN CHINA.” ANOTHER FRIEND BUILT THE CYPRESS BATHTUB

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