Tiny Living, at Home on the Range
How a compact stove and a tiny home make sustainable living grand.
From minimalist to modern, traditional to tree house, the tiny house movement has proved to have staying power. Not only is the tiny trend growing, it is also being backed by institutional support: organizations like the American Tiny House Association (founded in 2015) are adding leverage, while the International Code Council’s recent approval of a model code for tiny houses is moving these small abodes from the fringes to reality.
In Olympia, Washington, tiny house designer and founder of natural design and build company Vision Dwellers, Tanner Milliren is helping to forward the movement with his own distinctive approach. With a blend of energy and space saving products like sheep’s wool and a compact gas range by Verona, Milliren has recently completed what he’s calling both his pilot model for a new style of tiny building and his own first home.
“Food is such an important part of living. A good size, functional kitchen wasn’t something I was willing to sacrifice.”
“As a builder, I saw a really beautiful ecological potential,” says Milliren who gained his first experiences with tiny homes as the lead builder and designer for Ion Eco Building in Olympia. “A lot of people are building tiny houses with natural-based materials, but not a lot are building with high-energy efficiency, so I really wanted to showcase an example.”
Built on top of a trailer—the home is ready for any potential relocation—the façade of the 190 square foot home is done in cedar including two types of shingles. “To give it color change and to play around with shape and form,” Milliren says. Other locally milled and salvaged woods, including alder, maple, and old deck boards, make up the interior finishes. Custom built windows and doors along with dual-purpose furniture pieces reveal Milliren’s passion for craft.
The home’s unique shape, including a gambrel pitched roof in copper and an aerodynamic U-shape at the front, added coveted space in the interior. But “the driving force of the design was the kitchen,” says Milliren who grows, harvests, and prepares his own food from the garden adjacent to his home. “Food is such an important part of living. A good size, functional kitchen wasn’t something I was willing to sacrifice.”
An avid baker, Milliren recognizes “the luxury of being able to put a full cookie sheet into the oven.”
As the kitchen wraps around the home’s front, offering Milliren ample counter space, it also gave him the space to incorporate all the comforts of home including a mid-size, professional range. “I was stoked when I found the 24-inch Verona,” he enthuses. An avid baker, Milliren recognizes “the luxury of being able to put a full cookie sheet into the oven,” all without the luxury prices of other high-performance ranges.
Compact, lightweight, with a full-width storage drawer and a propane conversion option, the four-burner oven range was the perfect fit both in size and comfort. The efficiency of the turbo electric convection fan—which allows up to 25 percent faster baking than a conventional oven—is a much-appreciated efficiency bonus.
With sustainability and affordability his passions, Milliren is focused on perfecting his manufacturing facility where he can design a more cost effective base model that still upholds the same quality and high energy efficiency of his own prototype home.
“As a builder, I saw a really beautiful ecological potential”
“We were able to wrap the house with an entire cork wrap, so the home is fully insulated,” says Milliren. Along with the sheep’s wool also used for insulation, he describes the materials as “quality, natural, non-toxic, competitive with foam, and way more ecological and healthy to live with.” The home is also covered in a ventilated rain screen, which creates a more efficient drying system: a true advantage in the rainy Pacific Northwest.
“I am currently working on a way in which the manufacturing facility can reduce the cost of production through prefabrication and can then make those customized pieces more cost effective,” Milliren explains. “I would rather have people put more of their money back into the tiny house, to customize it or build it with high quality or really healthy non-toxic materials. If I can reduce labor costs and still make these projects better, that’s well worth it for me.”
Although tiny houses are his focus, Milliren, who nevertheless dreams of one day building his own full-size house, believes a sustainable, healthy home is not about size. “I know tiny houses are becoming more and more popular, so it’s important that they are sustainable,” he says. “It’s not just about living tiny, but about how we build.”