One couple shrugs off traditional homeownership in favor of a tiny Airstream
December 19, 2016
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Tiny home, big dreams
As Natasha Lawyer and her husband, Brett Bashaw, wrapped up a six-month road trip in 2014, they found themselves dreading the return to their old life in Seattle—to put it mildly. “The idea of coming back and all our money going to rent pissed me off,” says Lawyer, a freelance illustrator. Plus, after living out of a VW bus as they crisscrossed the country, they had proof that they could live lightly. “We learned we didn’t need all the stuff we thought we did.”
So the couple found new digs: a 1971 Airstream they purchased for $4,600 and set up in an RV park just outside of Seattle. “We weren’t in a position to buy a house in the city,” says Bashaw, a special-needs educator. “An Airstream was a way to have something of our own.”
Compared to the 40-square-foot van, the 200-square-foot trailer was downright luxurious. But it was essentially a tin shell, without plumbing, electricity, or walls. The first two months were devoted to taking care of the basics—waterproofing, painting, installing flooring, and more. “Natasha did pretty much all of it,” says Bashaw. “I’m not a fix-it guy. I’m just her assistant.” (Lawyer’s father, a master electrician and carpenter, also offered guidance.)
The couple moved in as soon as the Airstream was livable and made the rest of the updates incrementally, investing what they would have spent in rent each month. “There was an order of operations,” says Lawyer. “Every time we got paid, we considered, What will improve our quality of life right now?” Some essentials—a sink, a stove—were obvious priorities, while others were motivated by the arrival of visitors: “We put in the daybed when my mom was coming to visit,” says Lawyer. “And when a friend wanted to stay with us, we decided we needed a bedroom door.”
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A less-is-more lifestyle
Along the way, the couple came up with smart storage solutions, which range from a hidden compartment to stow camping gear, to a laundry hamper built into a bedside table. The decor that has taken shape is a Scandinavian-leaning mix of white, wood, and brass. “Mostly we decorate with really good kitchenware and lots of plants,” says Lawyer. Still, “lots” is an understatement: At last count, there were 63 potted plants around the home. “They give us amazing air quality and a pop of color.”
Greenery aside, the couple keep their possessions to a minimum. They admit that downsizing was emotionally draining at first, but as they cleaned out their storage unit in preparation to move into the Airstream, the process became liberating. “It got to the point where I wanted to throw out whole boxes,” says Lawyer. Today, they try to abide by an in-and-out policy. “If you want a new pair of shoes, you have to get rid of one,” says Bashaw.
And the couple chooses to do without in ways that many people can’t imagine. They don’t have an oven, microwave, or—since they had the option of using the park’s shower facilities—hot water. “That’s the biggest thing: Not having a lot of space requires a lot of compromise,” says Lawyer.
The small footprint has paid off in unexpected ways, though. For one, Lawyer and Bashaw spend more time outdoors, where their small deck serves as a dining space and home office. They’ve started a container garden full of vegetables and succulents, and even have a water view: the park’s small lake, where geese and turtles mingle. “It feels like we’re on vacation,” says Bashaw. “There’s nowhere else in Seattle we could pay what we do and have that kind of view.”
While Lawyer and Bashaw can easily rattle off a dozen more reasons they love their less-is-more lifestyle, they admit the Airstream probably isn’t their forever home. “But that’s also one of the best things about it—we’re investing in something and we’re not going to have to leave it,” says Lawyer. “If we want to go somewhere else, we can take it with us.”
“One of the worst things about traditional RVs is all the dark wood,” says Lawyer. The couple brought airiness to their space by sticking to light wood, and they opened up the interior by eliminating the overhead bins typical of Airstreams (which also made it more comfortable for Bashaw, who is 6'2").
Lawyer trimmed her book and art-supply collections so they would fit on the shelves beneath the TV. She plans to attach a hinged sheet of brass to the front of the shelf that can lift up to turn it into a dining table.
To keep the kitchen streamlined, the couple whittled down its features, opting for a stovetop but forgoing an oven, and choosing cookware that stacks. With space for utensils at a premium, they’ve gotten used to being creative cooks (Lawyer recently discovered, for instance, that a vinegar bottle works just as well as a rolling pin).
Without a lot of space for trinkets, Lawyer decorates throughout the home with utilitarian items. In the kitchen, she uses a metal towel rack to hang tea towels and tools. She also installed a floating shelf to display pretty little vignettes of dishes.
“A tight color story makes a small space more harmonious,” says Lawyer, who sticks with black, white, and gray throughout the kitchen, living space, and bedroom.
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Work the walls
Open shelves in a corner of the bathroom serve as a stylish way to display plants and add greenery to the space.
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Set limits—within reason
A jam-packed clothing rack at the foot of the bed, which Lawyer made of pipe and plywood, is evidence that the couple still aren’t strict minimalists. “We’re not interested in that ‘capsule wardrobe’ idea,” says Lawyer. “We’re interested in making it work with our space, while being able to express ourselves.”