It’s month two of construction. Over sounds of rain and thunder, Merete Mueller, one of the makers of the documentary TINY: A Story About Living Small, asks fellow filmmaker Christopher Smith: “What worries you about the Tiny House?” The 29-year-old first-time builder replies, “I’m really worried about finishing the Tiny House.” Despite the unpredictable nature of a construction project of any size (pushed completion dates, change orders, redesigns), the end goal is always the same: finish the thing. And in the case of a builder tackling a project solo, you are your own owner, project manager, super and builder. There’s no one to blame but yourself when you come up short.
TINY is a documentary that’s as much about the challenges of construction as it is about sense of home and the Tiny House movement that’s spreading across the globe. (For those who aren’t familiar, a small or tiny house is defined as one that measures less than 1,000 feet.) Christopher Smith sets out to build this particular Tiny House in Boulder, Colorado and transport the finished structure to Hartsel, Colorado in the summer before his 30th birthday. And to get around a common county building code of a 600-square-foot minimum for new houses, he chooses to build his house on wheels, now considered a “temporary structure.”
The story begins in May. Christopher, along with Merete Mueller (who happens to also be his girlfriend), set out optimistically, with little more than a truck, tools, materials, and determination. Though Christopher has read of other Tiny House builders taking up to a year to build their homes, he’s confident he can build his own in three months or less. On Day 1 of construction, organizing his tools and materials, Christopher admits it’s “hit him” that the project’s going to be harder than he initially thought. He aimed to finish the floor in a day, only to find that it would take more like three. Lacking a blueprint, working past sundown, and losing track of things, reality quickly sets in.
By June Christopher runs out of cash for materials and the project stalls. He also faces the realities of rain and working with reclaimed windows, which he’s convinced will fit his house once he’s put new fins in. By the end of summer the exterior of the house gives the false impression of almost being done. It has walls, a roof, windows, a door.
“There’s a point in every project where the excitement of the original idea wears off and you’re left with a lot to do, “ Chris says in one of the film’s many gentle voiceovers. Now it’s December, and the Tiny House has been collecting snow. Though he’s forced to sell his bike online to raise much-needed funds for the build, his determination to complete the project only grows. By film’s end, Christopher is trying to build a wall between his kitchen and bathroom. He realizes his front door is too small to build the wall outside and bring it in, so he’s got to build it inside. By February, he’s sanding the painstakingly-installed floor. “What I’ve learned about construction has been great, but more importantly, what I’ve learned about taking on big projects and how you break down those big projects into smaller projects. And suddenly those smaller projects are really manageable and then the big project becomes manageable.”
By March Chris is able to “plug in” the house electrically. By May, a full year after he launched the project, Christopher tows his finished Tiny House to Hartsel, proud of his accomplishment, and able to fully appreciate the time, effort and planning it takes to build something of your own.
“Tiny: A Story About Living Small” is available on Netflix streaming.