Eliza Brownhome

Reality TV & Bus Design

Posted on Aug 3, 2013 in Eliza Brownhome, Featured | 3 comments

Reality TV & Bus Design

I’m not much of a tv person. I do have a few shows that I like, but I watch them on the computer as I haven’t owned a tv in over 10 years. By watching on the computer, I avoid most commercials and I don’t flip channels mindlessly watching whatever is on. As a result, when I was approached by HGTV Star about having our bus featured in one of their episodes, I had never even heard of the show despite it being in its 8th season. For those of you like me, HGTV Star, formerly Design Star, is a reality show where contestants are given interior design challenges, and each week one designer is voted off until there is a winner. Every season, contestants are also given an unconventional space to design, like a yurt or a shipping container, and this season it was a school bus. That’s where we came in. We were asked to submit pictures of our bus to be briefly aired on screen as examples of real life school buses that showed good design. We submitted five photos and one was used in the episode, along with two pictures of other buses. The school bus episode is Season 8, Episode 6 and you can watch it online here. (We appear at roughly the 4 min mark). I watched the episode this week and was struck by two things: first, I was surprised that our bus made the cut, and second, I was really disappointed with the way the show approached the school bus design challenge. While I love the layout of Eliza Brownhome and I think we’ve done some creative things design-wise, I would say that aesthetically, there are some things that need to be updated. Compared to the other two bus photos used, Eliza is very dark and our soft-furnishings are worn out and dated. I would love to change our paint colour (to something much lighter), re-upholster the seats and get/make new throw cushions so that we can brighten up the place.  The other two buses shown look more recent than Eliza. We have to remember that our conversion was started 10 years ago and she’s been extensively lived in during that time (not just part-time for traveling, or as a studio or guest space). Furthermore, our temporary table is shown front and center in the picture that was used, and it definitely makes the space seem unfinished. Eliza just doesn’t have the same polished feel of a newer project.  For that reason, I was surprised that the show’s producers still used our photo. But on to the challenge and how the designers fared. The design task was to create a no-limits, creative space inside a bus of their own. The designers were given no constraints for this challenge and were told, “You need to show the panel that you can create something unexpected, unconventional, and most of all, inspiring.” The results were disappointing, but the blame for that goes to the producers not the designers. The mistake was that the challenge had no limits, and that they were designing a creative space IN a bus, rather than FOR a bus. Granted, it probably is important to have at least one challenge where the contestants can really go out on a limb and  show their individuality. The problem here is that the school bus itself is the unconventional part of the design challenge – the space inside the bus didn’t need to be the wacky unconventional part. Furthermore, designing a bus presents a lot of ways to show ingenuity, but it was all wasted because the designers didn’t even have to design a bus. In fact, one contestant actually cut off the wheel wells, and another completely painted the  inside including all of the windows. The result was long rectangular rooms with low curved ceilings that could have been anywhere and had nothing to do with designing a bus at all. In the end what made their spaces unconventional was their crazy ideas, like a Mad Hatter Tea Party and a futuristic...

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A Little Early, A Little Late – An Unveiling

Posted on Jan 9, 2013 in Eliza Brownhome, Simple Living | 8 comments

A Little Early, A Little Late – An Unveiling

When we made the decision to move back into our bus with our family of five, we knew of some specific shortcomings of the bus as a permanent living situation on a farm without other amenities: Laundry facilities – we do at least a load a day, and we cloth diaper the baby toddler. A real bathroom – a flushable or composting toilet (rather than chemical toilet) and either a bath or shower. With little kids, a bath is really a priority. Space for sleeping and for some of the kids things – we did manage to sleep the five of us in the bus for five months but the sleeping arrangements were far from ideal and not something we would want to do long term. We were also very short on space for storing clothes for five people. We put all seasonal clothes in Rubbermaid bins under the bed, and tried to downsize the amount of clothes each person had, but less clothes also means you have to do laundry more often (which brings us back to point number 1). The kids also have some bigger, nice quality toys like a dollhouse, castle and play kitchen that we didn’t want to leave in storage indefinitely. A Dining Table – we prioritize meals together, and while we could (and should) build a bigger table in the bus, the table in the bus is not the ideal place to eat meals with young kids on a regular basis. Because the place where we eat is the same space where they play, colour, read, watch movies, lounge, and goof around, it is very difficult to discourage that kind of up and down, wiggly behaviour at meal times. Spills were every meal occurrences and our seat covers have taken a huge beating. Imagine eating every single meal on your couch. We decided to build an additional space to house: a bathroom/laundry room some hangout space & a dining area a loft bedroom for the kids We were originally going to build a little conventional style two room shed/cabin, but Aaron has had an interest in timber framing and natural building for many years and we thought this would be a good chance to explore and learn about building in those styles. Aaron had a book with complete plans for a small timber frame garden shed and we decided to give that a try. We took the initial plans for a 12’x16′ shed and stretched to 12’x24′. We added 2′ to the height to give a little extra headroom to the 12’x12′ loft. We also added a 4′ bay window on one side (between two bents 12′ apart) and a 6′ porch on one end to accommodate our chest freezer, coat & boot storage, and to create an entry way for the bus. The bathroom/laundry room is 12’x8′ tucked under the loft. **A word about materials: all of the windows, the bathroom door, the wood stove, the bathtub, the mirror, the washer and dryer (and our furniture though that’s not pictured) have been obtained through Craigslist or free from friends. The front door was bought from a used window and door retailer – it was a factory second, never even hung. The lights and bathroom vanity were all purchased new. All of the wood except for the 2×4 framing for the drywall was milled by a local sawyer from trees from on site at the farm.** The resulting space (especially coupled with the space our bus provides) is by no means tiny. We feel very comfortable with this much space for our family of five. It is, in fact, very spacious. What we love about the design of this house is that, in the future, by removing the bus and adding kitchen facilities (either in what is now the porch, or in one corner of the main room), this house could easily be a wonderful small house for a couple – for us after the kids grow up or if we wanted to rent it out. We could also potentially add a kitchen...

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Reflecting on 2012

Posted on Jan 8, 2013 in Eliza Brownhome, Featured | 2 comments

Reflecting on 2012

At this time last year I was lying in bed trying to think of my word for 2012 and I was terrified about what the upcoming year held. Sure, I was excited, but I was also feeling a lot of doubt about moving back into the bus with SO MANY CHILDREN. A year ago, this plot of land where I am now sitting was a clearing in a forest on the edge of a dirt road through a farm. This part of the forest was thinner, with fewer trees to remove,  a lot of salal and rocks, and unfortunately, plenty of 60 year old glass bottles. Apparently, this spot had long ago been a dumping ground on the farm. Today, where once salal dripped with rain, there is now a toasty warm 500 square foot cabin joined up to our bus. We moved in to the cabin in November after driving Eliza under a little carport and inching her right up against an open door frame on one side of the cabin. Then Aaron insulated the gap between the two structures, and finished it nicely with a pretty jam, and suddenly our space was doubled. I have been waiting to announce that the cabin was finished and we were moved in because it isn’t really finished. Still so much left to do (details, details), and I didn’t want the pictures to show the boxes, the plywood tub surround, the tarp and lumber outside the front window…but I can’t really sum up this past year without the recognition of what we accomplished. Every year, I spend the last week of December reflecting on the closing year, and visioning for the upcoming year. To see what my practice looks like you can read this. Today I also want to share with you some other nice formats: The Liberated Life Project (similar to mine, but includes option for yoga/meditation AND specific goal setting as part of the practice) and The Art of Non-Conformity (if you’re a little bit more Type A – it has a spreadsheet!). And you can always check out these others that I shared in the past. A year ago, none of this was here. A year ago, I was so worried about how we were going to do it, about how crazy it was. Now? We are once again living in a home of our own creation, on land that is shared, in a situation that feels symbiotic, and with a rent payment that allows us some financial independence. Funny how in 4.5 years we’ve come full circle, to echo the very living situation we were in in Vancouver in my sister’s backyard. The place is different, the people are different, and we are different, but the fundamentals are the same. (Now if only we can get my sister close by). And here’s the thing: despite how hard we have worked, despite how tired we have been, despite the tight spaces and lack of amenities, we have loved this year, particularly the latter half of the year, once we finally moved on site. This year we came home to Eliza, and despite my panic and worry, it went perfectly, and we’ve felt perfectly at home, every minute. Honestly. The word I chose for 2012 was Energize and something I’m discovering about the practice of choosing a word of the year is that I’m far better at summarizing the past year in a word than I am at focusing on a word for the next year. What can I say? I have a short attention span – ahem, which is why I don’t like resolutions. While we certainly poured a ton of energy into our project, we never really felt energized. In fact, a more apt word for 2012 might have been ENDURE. We worked really hard and we made something huge out of nothing, but it was mostly a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-slog rather an Energizer-bunny-hop. I also fell off the wagon of my Project Energize posts after one post summarizing 4 months. Alas, once May came around and we were...

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Shelter

Posted on Oct 27, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome, Featured | 6 comments

Shelter

When we moved out of the bus and into a house in July 2008, I found myself often pondering the difference between home and shelter. At the heart of it, our walls and roofs are there to shelter us from the elements, and I suppose, from danger (animals, strangers, thieves, and so on). For most of us I’d wager that they are far more than that. My thought when I first made the transition from bus to house was that our modern world has taken this concept of shelter much farther than is perhaps necessary. In our duplex, I was so completely sheltered that I no longer had a daily, intimate connection with the outside world, including the weather and the neighbours. The living space was at the rear of the house and the side facing the street (and our neighbours) was dominated by our garage. Other than when we chanced to see someone as we came or went from our front door, we had no interactions with our neighbours. We also felt completely cut-off from the natural world, behind our double-pane windows and cozy with our electric baseboard heaters. In the bus, our lives were intertwined with the weather. We could hear the rain dripping, tapping, drumming, slamming on the metal roof (only a few feet above our heads as we slept). We had a woodstove to stoke and a propane furnace to feed (40Lbs of propane—two BBQ tanks—every 4 days in the winter). We monitored our propane usage to try to avoid the dreaded scenario where we would run out in the middle of the night, which meant waking to see our breath in the morning and no chance for hot tea (propane stove) or a hot face cloth (propane water heater). Without leaving our home, we could tell when the temperature dipped or climbed outside. We could tell if it was stormy by the sound of the rain on the roof and the rocking of the wind. In the winter, we had to wrap our water lines with insulation and cover our 26 windows with plastic. In the summer, every window and both doors would be wide open to circulate air as the temperature in our metal box home climbed to the 40’s. Those rows of single pane windows also put us in touch with our neighbourhood. We learned quickly the value of curtains, living on the corner where a city bike route intersected with one of the most well-used East Vancouver parks. Being an unusual sight in the city and being in a high traffic location put us in touch with our community: the dog-walkers, the families, the bicycle commuters, the Farmer’s marketers. We certainly didn’t blend in, try as we might. We felt as if we were an integral part of a vibrant community. We heard stories of people in other parts of the city talking about the bus at Trout Lake. Our community included strangers who would only nod as they walked by, it included the regular passers-by that we would recognize around the city or on The Drive, it included the neighbour who babysat for us, the neighbour who brought back gifts from Bali, the neighbour with a hat collection. We lived in our duplex for a year and never really got to know anyone in our community. Our street was a cul-de-sac but there were no street hockey games, no block parties. Often when we got in the van to go somewhere, nothing would be moving, no life would be visible. The duplexes around the cul-de-sac were all the same. We disappeared. Our neighbours disappeared. Once inside, we were sheltered, cut-off. No chance to create or feel a community. Our time living in that duplex felt like a year of sensory deprivation.  Our duplex never did feel like a home because homes are not meant to shelter us from community. Our four walls don’t just ward off danger; the keep family together. They embrace us. They connect us. In most parts of the world, homes are not built in isolation, but...

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Why We Do It

Posted on Oct 25, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome, Featured, Simple Living | 8 comments

Why We Do It

The Tiny House Listings blog recently asked Why Do People Fall in Love With Tiny Houses? I have a lot of thoughts on this ranging from financial freedom to humans are wired to like cute, diminutive things. Tonight, I would like to explore the question a bit and give some of our history at the same time. I’m sure for most people who meet us or stumble across our story, there is a big silent (or not so silent) “WHY?!?” hovering in the air. On more than one occasion, there has also been some question as to whether or not we are doing this because we are poor, as one lovely 8 year old put it. Why do we live in a converted school bus? Is it because we are poor? No, we’re not living in a bus out of financial necessity per se. It wasn’t  a case of losing our home and having to move our family into a bus or be homeless. In fact, our previous rental was $1200/month and we were managing that. And yes. We are too poor to buy into the housing market where we live. One of the “mistakes” we made was not getting into the market earlier with a starter home (a condo or an 800 sq ft 1 bedroom bungalow). Now, with three kids and a business with multiple business vehicles, our needs in a home have put us in position where all the suitable homes are far above our income level. Furthermore, with the rental market the way it is, we don’t have much opportunity to save a down payment while we’re busy paying the mortgage on someone else’s investment property. We also can’t afford to buy property and build our own home. Property values in our area are inflated by out-of-province and off-shore interests to the place where raw land is almost as expensive as buying a home in town leaving no extra funds for bringing in services and building a home, and the required down payment on land without a house further prices us out of the market. Still, in a lot of ways, we don’t see any of this as a mistake, but rather a choice as I’ve discussed before in my post Just Renting. We have consistently made decisions to prioritize our family, rather than the financial success–whatever that means–of owning a home. Why have we chosen to live in a converted bus? For Fun!! Yes, our initial motivation was because it seemed like a fun project. We were caught up in our new relationship (read: we were suffering from the impulsiveness of those newly in love). We were excited by the idea of doing the project together (as opposed to buying an RV). I personally (I don’t speak for Aaron here) was in a place of needing to do something different and shake up my life a bit as I was stuck in a rut.  Aaron had lived in a van for a couple of years while treeplanting and had seen some bus conversions. My parents had talked about bus conversions when I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. Aaron’s neighbour was a journalist who had recently interviewed some folks who lived in and around Vancouver (off-the-grid) in converted vehicles of all kinds (milk trucks, buses, etc.) and we were inspired and intrigued by what they called the Urban Technomad movement. This was before I had ever heard of the Tiny House movement and I can honestly say that our initial motivations didn’t have much to do with saving money or living lightly on the earth. Thankfully, all these years later, despite the inconveniences, we still do it because it’s fun! Finances. While the conversion itself cost more than we would like to admit (to the point where we actually stopped keeping track), we did appreciate the financial benefits that came with paying less rent. In the five years we lived in the bus in Vancouver, we paid off more than $30,000 of joint student loan debt. We could never have done that...

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Pleasantly Surprised

Posted on Oct 13, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome, Simple Living | 3 comments

Pleasantly Surprised

I mentioned last week that in the months preceding this move, I was a tad anxious. The night we signed our lease, I laid in our King size bed and wondered, “What have we done?!?!” Then in May, as we were gearing up to move and our little cabin addition (with laundry and bathroom) was still far from finished, I developed stress-induced eczema on my foot. At some points, it was so painful that I could barely walk. I was functioning: packing, feeding the kids, doing everything that needed to be done, and wasn’t really feeling super stressed, but obviously the question of how we were going to make this work was weighing heavily on my mind. Our move went relatively smoothly as far as moves go, but it was still a move with three kids in tow. It was hard and exhausting and followed by a really unfortunate dispute with our former landlord. The cooling unit in our bus fridge fried itself and the company shipping the gigantic replacement part made a mistake and didn’t ship it which meant that for the first two weeks after our move, we had no fridge. Our summer started off cold and rainy so despite being the end of June, we were still having to heat the bus with the woodstove. To top it all off, we had no way to do laundry and we were generating at least a load a day. I tried hauling all three kids to the laundromat twice before I vowed to find a different solution. Sounds like a recipe for unhappiness, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. As soon as we got all the boxes unpacked, everything was ok. I was amazed. It felt…well, it felt good to be home. I couldn’t believe it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that: The kids took the move in stride. They were so happy to be running around on the farm, exploring and checking out the animals. Noa was heard several times a week sighing wistfully and saying “Isn’t it wonderful?” There was far less mess to deal with. It only takes minutes to clean up a 300 sq ft space and the kids seemed to like knowing that everything had it’s own place. They were really good about putting away one toy/activity before taking out anything new. I spent far less time picking up after them than I had at our previous houses. The kids argued less about tidying up. In fact, they hardly argue about it at all anymore. We were in the bus for 10 whole days the first time either of the big kids complained about having to pick up their things. In our old houses, these arguments were daily occurrences. Now, they just seem to get it that there isn’t any space to play lego if their puzzle is still laying out. I didn’t mind doing dishes. I’m not a big fan of doing dishes and I was really lamenting the loss of our dishwasher, but I found that washing up after every meal provided a nice rhythm to the day and it was intensely satisfying to see our tiny lovely kitchen all clean and sparkling after only 15 minutes of work. More importantly, because I was spending less time arguing with and picking up after the kids, I actually had the time and energy to do the dishes. Silas’s sleep even started to improve after we moved (we’re still a long way off though). Even when the bus is an utter disaster, it takes only a matter of minutes to clean up. A friend was coming for tea at 9am, which is a little early for me to get functioning. Nevertheless, I had all the beds made, dishes done, counters wiped, floors swept, kids fed and dressed, all before my friend arrived. Anyone looking at our ramshackle, construction zone, make do, cramped bus from the outside might not understand this: somehow – despite the unfinished cabin; despite everything we’re juggling at the moment; despite the inconveniences of laundry, bathing, and sleeping arrangements; despite...

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