Humble Hand Craft’s Eco-Friendly Tiny Homes Spin Gold Out of Salvaged Wood
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Humble Hand Craft’s Eco-Friendly Tiny Homes Spin Gold Out of Salvaged Wood

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By Melissa Dalton
Founder Ryan O’Donnell takes us inside three of his artful, handcrafted tiny homes and camper vans.

Woodworker and tiny home builder Ryan O’Donnell has been honing his craft since he was a kid, when he first worked for his father, a contractor in Ojai, California. "I worked for him for about 15 years, or since I was just a little guy of about 12, sanding boards for him," says O’Donnell.

The El Toro model is 28 feet long, 8.5 feet wide, and 13.5 feet tall. The dining table is a slab of old-growth redwood that can be lowered to create a full bed. O’Donnell combined that with reclaimed cedar on the interior paneling, as well as twice-recycled bamboo floors and reworked redwood wine barrels on the ceiling. The walls are coated in Skimstone, which qualifies for LEED builds.

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Fast forward to 2012, and O’Donnell started applying his love of finish carpentry and custom building to tiny houses. He set up a small shop off the "main drag in Ojai" and spent about a year and a half of nights and weekends building his first model. "I ended up finding a buyer for that house, and the rest is sort of history, from one tiny house to the next," he says.

A glimpse down the aisle of the El Toro. The Hobbit wood stove from Salamander Stoves is a cozy accent.

Since August of 2018, O’Donnell has run Humble Hand Craft out of a 1940s Quonset hut in Ventura, where he builds artisanal tiny homes and converts vans into campers using a more "conscious approach." This includes powering his shop with solar energy and relying on salvaged and sustainably sourced wood, as well as other green building materials such as low- or no-VOC finishes and vegan, recycled denim insulation.

The bed loft in the El Toro can accommodate a California king mattress and is surrounded by windows trimmed in reclaimed, vertical grain, clear heart redwood.

The material that O’Donnell finds on his "wood-sourcing adventures" up and down the West Coast often guides the aesthetics of the finished home. "California has really good wood if you look enough and you’re willing to travel for it," he says. "I have a passion for working with old-growth material and trying to source it as ethically as possible." 

Each house ends up being unique because of the nature of the reclaimed wood. "There are a lot of stories behind the material," says O’Donnell. "That might be why I like it so much." 

The Los Padres model has the same exterior dimensions as the El Toro. The exterior has Western red cedar siding, a standing-seam metal roof, and aluminum-clad Sierra Pacific window units with Doug fir interiors.

Adding in live-edge details via countertops, freestanding furniture pieces, or built-in shelves is something that O’Donnell enjoys. "It’s fun to come up with uses for funky live edges and incorporate that into the design and still make it functional," he says.

O’Donnell not only builds tiny houses, but lives in them as well, first in the Los Padres model and now in the Acorn. He downsized from the Los Padres to the smaller Acorn model after fires in California made him want to be more mobile.

The paneling in the Acorn model is locally sourced sugar pine, contrasted with reclaimed Redwood accents. Any wood that O’Donnell can’t salvage is FSC-certified.

A sleeping loft perches over the living area in the Acorn.

Humble Hand Craft also converts vans into campers with their signature aesthetic.

O’Donnell stands on the Acorn porch. Prior to moving to the Ventura shop, O’Donnell mostly worked outdoors from a "humble wood shed." "It was just this sort of shack that I’d built that housed all my tools. I’d roll them out every day and work on tiny structures," says O’Donnell.