I sit at my desk aboard Raven, snugged up to a mooring in Burlington harbor. There is a bronze oval portlight above the desk, framing the view of the city immediately to the east of me. The sounds of the urban world filter in – the hammering of new construction along Battery Street, automobiles darting about, sirens in the distance, children playing in the park.
Another portlight frames the view to the west. Juniper Island floats on a watery foreground. The Adirondacks rise from Lake Champlain’s western shores. A squall has wrapped the peaks in cold, wet clouds that have now descended to the lake. They are moving quickly eastward toward Vermont.
“Talk of mysteries-Think of our life in
nature-daily to be shown matter, to come
in contact with it-rocks, trees, wind on
our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world!
the common sense! Contact! Contact!
Who are we? where are we?”
Ever since first reading Thoreau’s essay, “The Maine Woods”, I’ve thought long about his words.
The modern world lies to the east of me, the approaching storm and wildness to the west.
“Who are we? Where are we?”
I climb the steps of the companionway. In the cockpit of my floating home, the views that I’d seen separately through two bronze windows now combine as one.
For seven months of the year I make my home aboard a 34-foot Pacific Seacraft sailing sloop named Raven. The choice to to take up residence on a boat was born of three desires. First, from a practical standpoint, Burlington’s housing market was, and still is, well out of my reach. Even if I had been able to afford a home at highly inflated prices, I knew then that the bubble was on the verge of bursting. No thank you.
Secondly, I’ve had a decades-long love affair with water. Rivers, lakes and oceans have all seduced me. I make a large part of my living on the water and the water is where I turn when it’s time to play. In making a decision for where I would live, I knew that water would not be far away.
Finally, and most significantly, I had become more and more troubled by my own (and our society’s at large) increasing distance from the elements that sustain us. I yearned for a life of greater contact. And so it was, in May of 2005, a pretty boat named Raven captured my heart and became my introduction to the small home lifestyle.
Live-aboard communities have existed for many years alongside busy waterfronts in harbors up and down the coast. Thousands of these tiny homes often go unrecognized for what they are. They are too often lost amid the boats that function merely as a high-priced hobby, or perhaps as a weekend retreat or the object of an unrealized dream to sail over the horizon. For those of us who’ve adapted to life afloat, however, the cruising sailboat represents a highly evolved, self-contained and extremely efficient housing style from which the contemporary small house movement could draw on a wealth of innovation and ideas. In fact, it was my appreciation for the design of my boat that inspired my other tiny house.
When I first moved aboard Raven I had visions of the boat as my year-round Burlington, Vermont residence. I dreamed of finding a piece of land on which I could “park” Raven when the waters froze, continuing to live aboard even while “on the hard.” It was a short-lived idea. Considering the challenges of finding a landowner near the lake to host my boat, moving the 14,000 pound vessel twice a year, and perhaps most onerous, dealing with the inevitable regulatory hurdles that restrict our housing choices in favor of homogenous neighborhoods, I decided to build a land-based home along more traditional lines.
Welcome to Gypsy Rose. She was built in partnership with my long-time best friend and now partner, Marion. (Being a land-based translation of the boat, nautical traditions dictate that our winter home be named and referenced as “her” and “she.”) She is 20 feet long (not including the shed on the tongue end), 8.5 feet wide, and 13.5 feet in height. The first level has a total of 115 square feet of interior space and a 4 foot by 8.5 foot porch. Above, a sleeping loft extends the entire 20 foot length.
We began building Gypsy Rose in November of 2006 and she remains very much a work in progress. I’ll eventually build the cherry and maple cabinets, the dining booth, the pantry shelves, and the pocket door for the bathroom, but for now we happily get by with temporary placeholders for those features that allow us to refine the design through our experiences of living in the space.
Gypsy Rose is sited in the central of three meadows on our land in eastern Vermont. The road up the mountain is unmaintained by the town and only passable during 8 months of the year. From the time of deep snows through the end of Vermont’s fifth season – mud season – we enjoy the absence of vehicles. We pack our provisions a half-mile from the nearest plowed road beneath the canopy of the 150-year-old sugar maples that line the single lane track. No power lines detract from a landscape that has remained unchanged for centuries. We make our own electricity from the sun and haul our water from the stream. We watch the owls and woodpeckers and wrens outside the window. Fox, deer, moose and bear regularly visit the meadows around us. Coyotes call from across the stream at night.
“Think of our life in nature-daily to be
shown matter, to come in contact
with it-rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks!
the solid earth! the actual world!
the common sense! Contact! Contact!”
To read more of Kevin’s small home adventures, visit his blog, “Building Gypsy Rose .”