“Most people could build a tiny house, they’re just too scared to start,” said 21-year-old Emily Lohm.
Lohm and her Swedish husband Elias were fed up with renting a converted, leaky bach in Whangaparoa. “It cost us $440 per week, and we weren’t even getting the city lifestyle,” she said.
“We wanted to do something other than sit around, paying rent for the next five years.”
That something came in the form of a $55,000 personal bank loan, with a whopping 13.5 per cent interest rate.
Emily was working full-time as a healthcare assistant, and Elias was working for a boat building company when the project began.
“We believed if we didn’t want to live in it afterwards, we’d still be making money,” said Emily.
The novice builders drew up a plan to put a steel frame up on a standard trailer, “like a jigsaw puzzle”. Three months later, they moved in.
“There wasn’t a kitchen to start with, and we used ladders to get up to the lofts,” Emily said. The full build took a further five months of weekend work to complete.
“It’s exhausting living in a building site. You want to try to have a life, or to have one sleep-in, but also to just get it done,” she said.
Emily left an architecture diploma after six months, but had a clear vision for the 27.5sqm tiny house.
“We lived in a 30sqm studio in Sweden and had often talked about how we’d enjoy the space if it were designed better,” she said.
Their tiny house is designed in partitions. One of two lofts is intended for use as a bedroom and the other, as a lounge. Downstairs is the dining area, complete with a full-size kitchen, fold-up table and storage chest seats.
Emily’s dad, who is a builder, helped them make the custom kitchen. She calls him their guru.
“A lot of people in the building industry don’t respect young females, which is disappointing. Often, my dad would have to speak to tradespeople on my behalf, so they’d listen.”
The total build cost was $57,000. “$60K is where I thought it would hit, but we were pretty scared it would blow out,” said Emily.
She accounted for every dollar spent in a spreadsheet, and even re-designed the bathroom to fit a “bargain” $300 shower.
The Lohms had intended to live in the tiny house for several years, before buying a piece of land. Instead, they lived in the completed tiny home for about five months, before deciding to sell.
“Tiny homes appeal to a person who wants a specific lifestyle, or they’re an investment,” Emily said. The Lohms’ tiny house was built to standard NZ house building codes, although it is legally a caravan.
Tiny homes can’t have plumbing, which is why the house has a composting toilet. Waste and water have to be taken away. “Tiny homes are very grey area in New Zealand, but that’s starting to change,” said Emily.
“I’m a very minimalist person, I can fit my life in a suitcase. So living in the tiny house didn’t feel like downsizing.”
If they were to build it again, Emily would make the north-facing window, which gets all the morning sun, a lot bigger. “In a small space you really need to get all the light in, and indoor-outdoor floor. Otherwise, it’s a decorated shoebox.”
Elias would make the house at least a metre shorter to improve its mobility. “Because we like to explore, I’d want it to be more caravan-like,” he said.
“It was a learning curve. There are definitely mistakes in the house that we’d notice that no-one else would,” Emily added.
The couple has decided to return to Sweden, and recently sold the tiny home to a close friend for $85,000.
“It’s really lovely to see the house evolve in our friend’s care and we’ll visit whenever we’re back home, so we didn’t have to let it go completely.”
They now have $30,000 in the bank to put towards a deposit. “We love New Zealand, but Sweden offers far more opportunities to get into the housing market,” said Emily.
“We can almost afford to buy an apartment, just not here. We’re looking at new places in the centre of Sweden’s second largest city, and they’re $400,000. The prices just aren’t comparable.”
The Lohms said their inspiration was tiny home building videos on social media. “We were watching all these other people do it and thought, suitable link why the hell are we not doing it?” said Emily.
She loves the tiny house, and would live in one again, but said she wouldn’t want to build one again.
“We’re all capable, it’s just about giving it a go. I can draft buildings, but even that isn’t a prerequisite. If you have the dream, you can probably do it,” she said.