In creating a home for herself, Kayla Feenstra has unintentionally become part of a movement towards small living spaces.
Since December, the Shuswap native has been constructing her residence in Abbotsford. Calling it her ‘Jack in the Box,’ this labour of love (documented on the Facebook page: Jack in a Box: my tiny home) has recently appeared in local newspaper and TV stories, was featured on the Huffington Post, and is rapidly being picked up by other websites world-over. This attention is largely to do with the size of the house, a 130-square-foot structure, built on a trailer bed, which puts it firmly in the category of “tiny home.”
“That’s what people are calling it. I don’t like being pinned to any movement, but it appears I am part of it…,” laughs Feenstra. Budgeted at $15,000, her house is 16 feet long and eight feet wide inside with an 11-foot ceiling. It includes a 70-square-foot bedroom loft, a toilet and shower, a small woodstove, fridge and oven, bookshelves – all the essential comforts of home. Feenstra’s favourite part so far:
“My bay windows. I haven’t seen a single (tiny) house that has those, and I’m so proud of coming up with that,” said Feenstra. “It adds so much light, and adds space for two to three more people to sit inside the little seating area. And it doesn’t look like a box.”
Feenstra’s inspiration to build her own home was a mix of upbringing, circumstance and lifestyle choice.
From 2004 to 2007, Feenstra was in Haiti teaching English. The following year, she was in the Dominican Republic, where she became sick. She moved to Abbotsford in 2008 to be near needed medical services. While living there, she said she grew tired of renting, but didn’t want to buy a traditional home.
“I started thinking about what kind of space I would actually need, and what I really wanted to do with my life,” said Feenstra. “I knew that I wanted to travel and I knew I didn’t want to be in debt for the rest of my life.”
So Feenstra started designing her little home – a concept that’s been with her since childhood.
“I remember being eight or nine or something and drawing up this little house that I thought would be really cool to live in.”
The home, though on wheels, is nothing like an RV or mobile. It’s framed and insulated like a normal home, with energy-efficient windows. It is also designed to be self-sustaining. Solar panels provide electricity. Water is captured from the roof, stored in a tank and filtered for use. Greywater is captured and the toilet is of the composting variety – the waste used for fertilizer. Feenstra says the home is a reflection of her organically-minded business, Dragonlily Gardens, through which she has set up five community gardens and maintains 30 others. She also established the Fraser Valley’s Farm to Food Bank program.
“For me, to live this way just made a lot of sense. I didn’t want to be one of those people who said one thing and then turned around and drove a big Hemi or whatever,” said Feenstra. “And the more people got interested, the more I thought, ‘wow, I have to be really conscious about what I do with this thing because there’s a lot of people paying attention,’ and this is going to be kind of a demo project or a prototype for a lot of people.:
As for property, Feenstra says she has received numerous offers from property owners in the Fraser Valley with agricultural land on which she can live and grow food.
Since being featured on Huffpost, etc., business opportunities have also been coming in from people wanting custom-built tiny homes of their own.
“It has to be very thoroughly thought out, because you can’t waste two-square feet – you don’t have that privilege…,” said Feenstra. “I have a bunch of potential investors that want to take a look at it. We’ll have those conversations and if those conversations go positively, I’ll look at putting a team together.”
Feenstra’s mom and dad, Murray and Wilma Feenstra, live in Salmon Arm. Murray has done some of the work on Kayla’s home, including the custom-built cabinets. He says small-space living runs in the family, explaining his first self-built home near Smithers was a 12’ by 16’ A-frame with no water or electricity.
“I lived there for a few years, and then got married and we lived in it for a few more years…, said Murray. “We’ve always kind of done different things. She grows organically, we’ve always grown organically. We’re not into the big, massive homes… So she probably gets that kind of lifestyle thinking from the way she was raised. We didn’t push it on our kids, it was just something we did and she just picked up on it.”
One regret Feenstra has over building her new home is that she didn’t do it sooner.
“Every time I walk into it, I can’t stop smiling,” said Kayla. “And I wish I had started this when I was 18. It makes a lot of sense and it would have solved a lot of problems for me.”