I have always been fascinated with alternative living solutions like tiny homes and camper vans. I spent a good portion of my twenties traveling across the U.S. writing blogs, working freelance photography jobs, and traveling with a construction company.
During that time, I was living in motel rooms and less-than-ideal living situations. Some of those consisted of sleeping bags in unsanitary motels and moving constantly for weeks at a time, in a city with few resources that modern society would deem comfortable, like healthy food options and safe outdoor spaces. I was also one of the only females. I learned that I was very adaptable to alternative living situations, like smaller spaces.
I am a photographer and filmmaker, so I travel for my job. My partner, Keenan, is a musician, and he also travels for his job. In 2019, Keenan and I were looking for houses because we wanted to move in together.
I was in desperate need of a place to live after moving back home to Nashville unexpectedly from east Tennessee the year before. My family was collectively going through a hard time, and I was desperate to find a place to heal and start over after experiencing several big life changes.
One day, in July 2019, I happened to be on Facebook Marketplace and I came across an airstream. I wasn’t looking for a tiny home at the time, but I randomly found it on the website. It was fully furnished and located 20 minutes from where I was.
I reached out to the owners immediately to make sure that it wasn’t a scam because I’d never bought anything off of Facebook Marketplace before. I then realized that my partner and I had a mutual friend with the couple that was selling the house.
I remember thinking: “This is it.”
The tiny home was beautiful. It came with gently used modern appliances and a TV. The original owners had designed and built it from scratch in Seattle, and then brought it to Tennessee. They lived in it for a couple of years before deciding to sell it.
After going back and forth with the owners, they decided to sell the tiny home to us for $70,000 in September 2019. In hindsight, I realize that we were fortunate to find a tiny home for this price.
Things came together in a bittersweet way, enabling us to buy the tiny home. My grandmother passed away in March 2019. Because she lived in a very desirable neighborhood in the heart of Nashville, offers for her home were coming in before she’d even passed. In August 2019, my mom decided to sell the house. Around that time, Keenan and I realized that in order to afford the tiny home, we would need a bit of help from our family.
That was a huge hurdle for us to overcome. In 2019, Tennessee property laws did not account for tiny homes because they weren’t considered recreational vehicles, so we were unable to get a loan to buy one. It should have been very easy for us to get financing for $70,000, but tiny homes weren’t categorized as homes.
So, when my mother said that she would help us buy our tiny home, there were a lot of tears of relief and joy. Keenan’s family also lived on twelve acres of land, and we were privileged enough to be able to live there.
We got the tiny home moved on a very special date, and the home itself sits directly where my partner’s grandmother had lived at one point. It felt good to put the tiny home on family land. When we finally got settled, we felt very calm, hopeful, and optimistic.
Our tiny home is 364 square feet. It’s the size of a New York studio, or even bigger. It’s 30 feet long, and the ceilings are roughly 14 feet high. It’s a very open space. We have a loft on one side of the house, where our bedroom is, and our living room occupies most of the space.
We turned the back room, which was originally a nursery and a washer-dryer unit, into a half-closet, half-office space. That way, I am able to work, and Keenan is able to make music. It also offers a little bit of privacy in the space.
Eight months after buying the tiny home, we decided to build two 20-foot decks on the front and the back of our tiny home, to extend our living space and to be able to have friends and family over. We enjoy hosting dinners and having friends over, so it was really helpful for us.
We built those decks within three days, thanks to our family helping us. We also built them to be floating decks so that if we were to decide to move the tiny home at any point, we could just pick them up off of the land.
Both decks were about $2,500. Aside from buying small outdoor accessories like chairs, we’ve not done many renovations to the inside of the tiny home. We have dreams of doing things, but we’re just not sure if we’d like to do it in this space or save it for another house.
We have mainly decorated the tiny home by using art pieces and different textiles and plants. Keenan and I did a cheap renovation to build our closet space using a piece of barn wood. My partner sanded it and stained it, and turned it into a closet. Using leftover materials from other projects to do this was very helpful.
Keenan’s mother and father are both creatives; she’s an actress and he’s a musician. So when we moved onto this family land, we were surrounded by creative energy; a communal effort whereby we kept each other motivated.
Together, we renovated a barn into a performance space by taking the walls off it and putting a sign and stage lights on it. So far, we’ve had a few little family jams and we’ve had some friends come over and shoot little music videos up there.
Considering that I travel so much for work, it’s been nice to have this beautiful outdoor space here. I’ve invited clients to come to me because they’re looking for something rural or with a view.
After meeting other musicians through my partner, we’ve had people see the space, and want to shoot music videos or do their sessions out on our property. It’s nice to be able to walk outside and see how far we’ve come.
I wanted to create a space that’s inspiring and peaceful for me, and I feel that we are doing that.
As I said, there’s a lot of creative energy here, and we want to share that with other people. Community is very important to us.
The phrase, “It takes a village” applies so much because we know firsthand that it took family and friends helping us to make our dream here come true.
Sara Miller is a photographer and her husband, Keenan, is a musician. They live in a tiny home in Nashville, Tennessee.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Newsweek associate editor, Carine.
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