A Light and Bright Tiny Home in Portland Is a Young Couple’s Ticket to Financial Freedom

A Light and Bright Tiny Home in Portland Is a Young Couple’s Ticket to Financial Freedom

By Laura Mauk
High ceilings and clever storage make this 324-square-foot home feel simultaneously expansive and compact.

"My husband and I attempted to buy a house a few years ago and had a pretty rough experience," says interior design student Katherine Shaffer. "After that, I started school full-time. We’d been trying to find a way to pay the high rent prices in Portland and were driving around one day and had this light bulb moment—we realized a tiny house might be a great solution."

White-painted tongue-and-groove pine walls and a ceiling contrast with dark laminate floors, creating a bright and warm aesthetic for Katherine and Shelby's tiny home in Portland.

Shaffer and her husband Shelby live in their 324-square-foot home in Beaverton, Oregon, with their two small dogs Herman and Lou. "Shelby is a production manager at an upholstery shop," Shaffer says. "He’s an incredibly talented upholsterer and is very handy when I need a chair reupholstered or some throw pillows made!" In imagining their tiny home, Katherine discovered Shelby was capable of much more than upholstery. "He can do anything he sets his mind to," she says. "He built most of the interior of this house with almost no previous carpentry experience. And in the midst of building our tiny home, he was diagnosed with a chronic illness, but it never slowed him down. He’s super talented."

A 128-square-foot deck expands the living area and connects the tiny home to its lush natural surround.

French doors and plenty of windows flood the interior with natural light and make the home feel spacious and airy.

The home’s exterior shell was constructed by Vintage Cottages. "They built the house without any finishes or interior dividing walls," Shaffer says. "It was pretty much just four walls and a roof when we got it and that’s how we were able to keep the cost down." Purchasing just a shell meant the couple was able to customize the interior. "We built walls where we wanted them and installed the lighting fixtures that we liked," Shaffer says. 

The home’s floor plan includes a kitchen, a living area, a bath and a loft-style bedroom above the kitchen. "We were able to fit a king-size bed, a couple of end tables, and we even mounted a small television up there," Shaffer says. A 128-square-foot deck attached to the front façade adds more living space and connection to the outdoors during warmer months. "The layout of the house was very important to me," Shaffer adds. "I wanted to be sure there were elements of a normal size house. Having a living room where we can watch TV or have guests over for a game night was a big deal."

"Our house is so white and bright and greenery makes it feel cozier," Shaffer says. "Plants are a great way to improve air quality and bring the outdoors inside. I work at a small plant shop so it's difficult not to come home with a new plant every week. Last time I counted, there were over forty plants in this little place."

"Our living room is a mixture of new, thrifted, and handmade pieces," Shaffer says. "We made the coffee table; the top lifts up on hinges so we can use it to eat or put our laptops on it." 

The white-painted tongue-and-groove pine walls and ceiling help make the home feel bright and open. "I wanted colors that would help the space feel bigger than it really is," Shaffer says. The dark wood tone of the laminate flooring contrasts with the bright white walls, lending a crisp aesthetic. "We did a black accent wall in the bathroom to break up more of the white," Shaffer explains. "I was afraid it would make the room feel smaller, but it just made it feel cozy and more interesting."

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The loft-style bedroom is large enough to accommodate a king-size bed. "I love doing fiber art," Shaffer says. "I made all of the macrame and tassle pieces."

The animal skull that hangs in the bath was a wedding gift. Shaffer painted one of the walls black to add interest. "The vanity is reclaimed and we built the medicine cabinet," she says.

In the kitchen, Shaffer and her husband employed reclaimed wood cabinetry. "They’re repurposed cabinets that we got from Shelby’s cousin, who was getting rid of them during a remodel," Shaffer says. "We refinished, painted, and fit them to the space." The couple added more cabinetry beneath the stairs. "Shelby built the cabinets under the stairs and we use it primarily as pantry storage," Shaffer says. "The bottom two stairs also have treads that open on hinges and we keep all of the dogs’ stuff and a bunch of blankets in there." Salvaged wood slabs with a live edge hang in the kitchen and provide more storage space.  

Wood counters from Ikea and live-edge salvaged wood shelves from Salvage Works in Portland add warmth and texture in the light-filled kitchen.

"We have a surprising amount of cabinetry for a kitchen of this size and we utilize all of it," Shaffer says.

From the very beginning, Shaffer was adamant about including an eight-foot-wide window in the kitchen. "We wanted lots of natural light," she says. "The window was something we worked with the builders on when they were constructing the shell of the house. Having lots of windows, white walls, high ceilings, and an open floor plan makes the house feel light and bright. Creating a small space that didn’t feel claustrophobic and instead felt open and airy was a necessity."

"The drawer pulls are leather straps that I stained," Shaffer says. "We didn’t want any metal hardware in the kitchen since it’s reasonably small and we were afraid of bumping into it. And we just loved the look of leather drawer pulls!"

Living tiny has created financial freedom for the Shaffers, and financial freedom has provided them with more opportunity. "We don’t have the stress of paying astronomical amounts of money for rent every month," Shaffer says. "We also have extra money for traveling and other life experiences. I was able to take my mom to Paris for her 60th birthday and we’ve been able to travel along the west coast and even went to Banff last spring."

Before living in a tiny home, Katherine and her husband lived in a 1,700-square-foot, three-story townhouse. "We had so much stuff," she says. "It took us months to downsize. It feels so good to realize that we don’t need a ton of things."

The chair and the fireplace in the living area are vintage, and the dresser is from Target. 

"Creating this house was an awesome experience for me as an interior design student because it made me more aware of space planning and going with my gut on design decisions," Shaffer says. "I was surprised at how versatile this house is. It doesn’t take a lot to completely change the feel of the space and I love that."

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