Terrific 180-square-foot shack houses family of four plus dog

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Tammy and her husband John built this fantastic 180-square-foot shack on Gambier Island, British Columbia. They spent about $7,000 in materials. Tammy wrote a great article about it at Apartment Therapy, which includes the mistakes they made. But as you can tell from the photos, it's bright and happy, and filled with just the right amount of furniture and other neat stuff.

Before I get started with this tour, I cannot emphasize this enough: My husband and I are not rich and we are not particularly handy. Heck, we're not even all that smart. This latter fact was probably the driver behind why two people with little money and even fewer skills would even attempt to build a cabin on an isolated island with no amenities. But armed with a hacked $25 shed plan and an incredibly generous friend with actual skills, we gave it a shot.
Four People (and a Dog) Living in 180 Square Feet


  1. Just to note, but Gambier Island is “cheap” only by Vancouver property standards.

    In a city where a 1800 square foot house on a tiny lot, well outside the downtown core, sells for $800,000 – $1,000,000 it’s possible to consider $175,000 – $400,000 for an undeveloped lot with no utilities or access “cheap”. This is the average price range for Gambier Island right now…

    The average Vancouverite is not going to be able to afford this, no matter how well they did on the actual cabin… :-)


  2. Easy enough to build, and I would, in a heartbeat, but the ongoing problem is the land to put it on, even if it is a tiny house on a trailer.

    The closest land that I can afford that will accommodate a house of this size is 150 miles from where my business is located. If I located my business there, I’d be out of business.

  3. That is just insanely great! I’m in love with that place and I want one too. I have slightly older children, a boy and a girl, so I’m not sure how that little space would work for that, but still…wow.

    Kudos to them.

  4. One of my AT comrades just forwarded me this link. Thanks so much for the kind words, Mark. Funny coincidence: I’m in the middle of reading your new book and feeling totally inspired by it. DIY 4ever, man.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Mark, and thanks for the inspiration, Tammy. A project like this is something I’ve wanted to do in Colorado for a while, but this might finally push me over the edge. Love your aesthetic!

  5. Keep in mind, too, that this is strictly a weekend getaway shack. The family maintain a home back in the city. So, yeah, it’s pretty cool as a weekend hideaway. But, one should not confuse it with a place where they are actually living full-time.

  6. This is terrific, I truly envy the discipline it must take to edit your stuff this way. My husband forwarded this link to me, because we are obsessed with small spaces. He writes a column about sustainable living and recently wrote a blog about the benefits of living with less space, which is part of a series focused on changing paradigms of the American Dream. I thought it might interest some folks here: http://gabe-greencross.blogspot.com/2010/08/to-dream-of-less-space.html

  7. I’ve lived in a place much smaller than this full time (5ft by 11ft, or around there, and low enough vertically I couldn’t stand in it), without plumbing or electricity, all year round, even through a particularly bad winter.

    Although that was by myself, and more people obviously takes up more space, especially if you add the vertical element (the loft), the deck, and some folding or multi-purpose beds (number one wasters of space), I could easily see this being enough space for a family to live all year round.

  8. Just saw RTM’s comment: “The average Vancouverite is not going to be able to afford this, no matter how well they did on the actual cabin… :-)”

    Actually, I think John and I are pretty average. We rent in the city because we can’t afford to own. A few years ago, before we had kids, we were saving up like crazy for a down payment on a house. Then we had kid #1 around the time the market here exploded and we realized a house was never gonna happen for us. So we looked around for rec property and landed our lot on Gambier for $165K. We’re both writers (translation: we don’t make a tonne of money), and between our rent in the city and our mortgage AND the crazy cost of childcare in Vancouver, money is tight, but we squeak by. It’s all about living the dream, right?

    And just to confirm what Thorzdad said, yep, we hang out on the island on weekends, though we’re planning to make our stays longer — ideally, much longer — when the kids are older. John’s planning a crazy little Japanese style bunkie for the boys: 6×6 with just enough room for a set of bunk beds and some space for wiggling.

    1. Great job on your home, Tammy.

      However, I had to laugh when you said you hoped you’d spend more time in it as the kids got older. You might, and it’s a worthy goal to try to attain, but it’s amazing how friends and birthday parties and soccer games will mess with your weekends.

      If your kids’ friends are interested in pitching a tent when they come, you’ve got a chance of making it work.

      Or did you mean much older, as in, when they go off on their own as adults?

    2. Tammy,

      I’m glad you were able to afford a second place, and construct such an awesome cabin on it, but let’s face it: $165,000 for a second residence is far outside of most people’s means.

      You and your husband are obviously doing SOMETHING right, but for those of us working a job that pays the provincial median salary, just renting in East Van take up to 1/3 of our monthly paycheques. I ended up moving to the Metrotown area just because of the insanely high rents in town. :-p

      The cabin looks really good though!


  9. Even in this buyers market, homes in San Jose are still impossibly expensive. Even tiny places in nearby (within 50 miles) towns are going for $250k. And that’s DOWN from where they were, signifigantly.

    For a guy making 30, 40, 50 thousand a year, what’s he to do? $250k, about the cheapest place one can find, would take 10 years and change (for interest) to pay off if one didn’t spend a dime even on food and pulled 50k before taxes. And then the value of the home would probably go back up either due to inflation (which your salary isn’t going to keep up with) or the economy actually gets healthy and supply and demand kicks in and you get shafted with ludicrous property taxes. So to me, a $20,000-$40,000 solution is the way to go, if you can find land in the same ball park. I can wrap my head around those kinds of numbers. Oh and before anyone jumps in and says ‘just get a 30 year loan and pay for your house for the rest of your life like you’re friggin renting it’ – no. My car is better than any new car on the road for one reason – it’s paid for, it’s mine, I own it. I’d like my house to be the same in as short of a time as possible, with as low a value as possible to keep taxes and insurance down.

  10. Incredible! You must be so very proud to have created something so lovely for so little money.

    Every few months I spend a happy afternoon looking at things like this and dream about turning a shipping container into a small house/bunker for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. Whether you are concerned about environmental impact or not spending several years of your life working to pay off a boring house, this is a viable alternative.

    You could fit two or three microhomes in a typical suburban plot and it might be a viable business model to have a microhome park; like a trailer park but with homes like this or container homes. I’d love to live in a park with a few dozen fascinating and inventive neighbors.

  11. I always assumed that the main obstacles to erecting your own dwelling would be the maze of building permits, and the insane taxes on the land in the first place. Obviously varying from country to country of course!

  12. What a wonderful cabin and family! It’s obvious that you’ve spent a lot of time and effort working on this project and you deserve it!

    Well done! Wish I had this kind of vision!

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