The Mayday Experiment: A Tiny House Becomes a Home

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A door carries symbolic weight. It is the way we close out others, it is the signifier of home, it creates a suggestion of privacy and a feeling of safety. A door defines our place in the world. Yesterday was the day that, with the installation of the door, the tiny house started to become a tiny home. See also: The MayDay Experiment -- the Truck Stops Here Of course, like everything, it took longer than expected. Even finding the door took longer than expected. When Philip Spangler and I first drew out our elevations for the framing, we knew that it would be easier to find our doors and windows first, as opposed to trying to fill standard-sized holes with used windows. Even then, though, a used door should be an easy thing to find...right?

In theory, yes. However, this is where the rise of the McMansion affects our story, since most of what was available at the used haunts (ReStore, Bud's Lumber, and Extras) came from suburban homes with eight foot tall doors. We could have revamped our plans to accommodate these monstrosities, but it would have been ridiculously out-of-balance -- who needs a giant door on a tiny house? Width was a serious concern, too - too narrow, and getting a mattress indoors would become difficult, but too wide, and the wheel wells wouldn't accommodate the door.

I had dragged doors in from the alley all summer, confident in my naivety that one or two of them might be what we needed. Though none were interior doors (which, logically, are twice as abundant), they all had flaws - splits or cracks in the wood that would weaken it, making it less safe in terms of both a barrier to robbery and standing up to the rigors of the road. I presented each one to Philip, who found the fatal flaw in each, which I had overlooked in my excitement about the style or shape of the window. I knew what I wanted: classic, no fancy carving and definitely a window. The kind of door you see everywhere, until you're looking for it.

Finally, after days and days of visits to every used place in the city, I was pawing through doors at Bud's -- a process not unlike flipping through records at Wax Trax in the old days, but much, much heavier -- and, in exasperation, finally asked one of the volunteers there, "Are there any smaller exterior doors?" He led me around the corner, and there, hiding in plain sight and leaning up against a row of glass patio doors: my door. It practically glowed, and did I hear angel trumpets from above? I knew before pulling out the measuring tape that it was the one. A classic -- four windows, solid wood, vintage. Just what I wanted. I texted a pic to Philip, paid my $40, and loaded it up. Neither Philip nor I knew how to put it in, but we knew what size hole to leave in the framing and could move forward again.

My friend Jeff Ball and I sat down with YouTube a couple of weeks ago and watched videos, hunting for that unicorn-rare combo of knowledgeable, short and steady enough camerawork to see what is going on. Though this list would seem a low bar, it is, in fact, like searching for the DIY holy grail. From overexplainers to shaky-cam operators, YouTube can be full of useless, but when you find the one, you know: just like with the door itself. And after watching several, we decided it was time to visit the hardware store.

Of course, finding what we needed there was no easier than finding the door, though it certainly should have been. Thinking we could just buy the correct width of wood, we searched, in vain, for anything on the list from the YouTube video. In the end we decided on a pre-made door-jam kit, because it came with weatherstripping and instructions, and we weren't finding the right width of lumber anyway. Big mistake.

The instructions were useful, don't get me wrong. And having the weatherstripping attached in advance seemed like a great idea. However, it wasn't until we had cut it and laid it out that we realized: This thing was warped in not one, but two directions. The cheap painted wood was as twisted as a neurotic corkscrew. We managed to install it by pushing it into place and clamping it before screwing, a painstaking process that took much longer than we'd thought. In the end, the door fits, though some work may need to be done to get it to close more securely, and the slight curve still in the frame left a large gap between the door and the pre-installed weatherstripping. So the money saved on buying weatherstripping was a waste, since I will now require more weatherstripping to cover the gaps. Still: worthy of a high five, and Jeff and I had difficulty containing our excitement.

More than other milestones, it seems unbelievable the tiny house has a door! It opens, closes, and locks - and suddenly, I am getting a picture of what the space is going to feel like as a home. Little by little, it is becoming just that.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, will be blogging out her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell. On Sunday, November 30, Leon Gallery -- which hosted her recent show, Lament -- will team up with City O' City on a fundraiser for The Mayday Experiment. The fun starts at 11 a.m. at Deer Pile, where you can enjoy a unique waffle brunch surrounded by selected works from Lament while listening to songwriter Joshua Novak and author Daniel Landes. Ukulele Loki will be the emcee of the event, and weather permitting, the tiny house will be in the parking lot for viewing and exploration. Tickets are $35; get yours here.

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