Tiny Home, Big Life

For three local couples, living small offers big rewards, including freedom, debt-free living and a connection with nature and their surroundings. 
No Doubt No Debt
Corey Miller and his fiancé Amy Moskin know how they want to spend their time and money. 

“Primarily in life what we want to do is just travel,” Miller says. “I already know that we’ve saved a lot of money.”

Miller, who works as the head brewer at the Hansa Brewery in Cleveland, began dreaming of a tiny home long before they were trendy. “I’ve been wanting to build one for seven or eight years,” he says. “I found out about them through a Yahoo article, and my fascination just kept growing and growing.”

The couple took the plunge two years ago when they traveled to Indiana to buy the 24-foot long trailer on which their house is built. “We had never built anything of this magnitude,” Miller says. “We had to learn everything. It was a big intimidating project.”

But Miller and Moskin learned as they went — and paid as they built, as well, incurring no debt for the $25,000 home they moved into last fall. Right now, the home is parked on Moskin’s parents’ property in Ashtabula County, but the couple is looking for land nearby. Ideally, they’d like at least 5 acres — enough room for Moskin’s horse, as well as to farm and raise livestock.

Does it ever feel cramped? “I think it’s a pretty comfortable size,” says Moskin. “It doesn’t feel small.”

The best part, both Moskin and Miller say, is how living tiny connects you with your surroundings and the environment.

“We’re chopping firewood weekly. When we do dishes, we’re very conservative with water. We have a composting sawdust toilet. We try and keep everything recycled and trash down,” Miller says. “We’re definitely more in tune with nature.”

The Yurt Solution
Jim and Julie Tuttle, along with their three children, are world travelers, having lived in places such as England, Iceland and California. But when it came time for Jim to retire from the military, there was only one place the Tuttles wanted to be.

“We wanted to be back in Buffalo where we grew up,” Julie says. “So we bought a 3,000-square-foot colonial in Springville, New York. At the time, we thought the space was necessary for our children.”
Once the children moved out, Jim and Julie knew it was time to downsize. “We wanted to find a place that allowed us to live simply, help the environment as best we could, and enjoy what is really important — family and the outdoors,” says Jim. 

The couple stumbled across a solution in the rolling hills of East Concord, New York, just 20 miles from Lake Erie — a yurt, with a hobbit-style front door, conical roof and copper dome.
The Tuttles purchased the bare bones yurt and 14 acres of land from a practicing Buddhist for $55,000. “We weren’t looking for a yurt per se, but we knew we didn’t want to be far from the lake, and didn’t want a traditional house anymore,” says Julie.

The renovation, which took eight months and roughly $30,000, included the addition of a pump for well water and a kitchen and bathroom. “We bathed al fresco for three months in a basin until the bathroom was finished,” Jim says.

The couple has expanded a bit: A second yurt on the property was made into a sauna, and a smaller, third yurt was added as a guest room. 

Whether kayaking or hiking, the Tuttles love the outdoors. “This yurt brings the outdoors in, and we’re helping the environment in a positive way,” Julie says. “We’ve achieved a quality of living we never had before.”

A Lake Escape
Gerard Damiani and his wife, Debbie Battistone, are both architects with busy lives in Pittsburgh, so the thought of having a getaway was enticing. 

But, of course, the space had to boast good design. It also had to be close to the lake — and cheap.

“I always had this fondness for the Great Lakes,” Damiani says. “Every few months, we would look into the idea of looking for a place.”

During one of their searches, they found a 24-foot-by-24-foot fisherman’s cottage in Lake City, Pennsylvania, with a ceiling height of 6 feet, 8 inches. They saw potential in the structure, especially since it was only 200 feet from Lake Erie.

“We didn’t want anything large,” Battistone says. “Just someplace to enjoy the sunset and the view.”

Their one luxury? A 24-inch Aga cast-iron range, which they use once it turns cold, and their little Weber grill is put away for the season. 

The couple gutted the structure, turning it into one large room with a sofa bed. An upstairs sleeping loft offers additional space. “When people come up to visit us it’s like high-end camping,” Damiani says. “We’re outside on the fire pit, by the lake, or preparing a meal together.”

The couple enjoys canoeing, walking the lakefront trail and exploring the area. “There is a decompression that occurs after leaving the city,” Damiani says. “When you start being in a landscape and environment that’s different than your day-to-day life, it kind of frees you. You discover new things. You discover new places. You discover new restaurants.”

But, at the end of the day, nothing beats their own place. “We use the fire pit for roasting marshmallows or enjoy a glass of wine,” Battistone says. “In the city, you have enough ambient light that it’s harder to see the stars. When you’re away from that, it’s just an amazing view.”