If you're curious about what living in a tiny home is like, do yourself a favour and give @tinyhousefamilynz a follow on Instagram! Kate Van den Bergh, the talented lady behind the account, shares her day-to-day life in a beautiful custom-designed New Zealand tiny home with her hubby and baby boy. Kate's commitment to raising a family mindfully and leaving the smallest possible footprint behind is so inspiring to us and we are excited to feature her as our newest TAMGA leading lady.
Kate, tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi! My name is Kate, I am a mother to my son Leo who is now 1 year old, and wife to my husband Willem. I am a Graphic Designer by trade and we live in a tiny house on wheels on Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand!
What inspired you to move your life and family into a tiny house?
We had been married for a year and we were trying to figure out how we could possibly get out of renting and buy our own home. Paying rent and trying to save for a house was just about impossible! The Auckland housing market is terrible here - there is a lack of available houses so the demand and prices have skyrocketed! We started looking into alternative more affordable options like container homes and tiny homes.
We were inspired to build a tiny home when I was working as a graphic designer for a sustainability magazine called Green Ideas, I was working on a feature about a couple who had built a tiny house for $27,000. Their tiny house was genius! It was affordable, moveable, liveable, and beautifully designed so we contacted them and were able to go and see it. We loved the idea of building a tiny house because it just made so much financial sense! It meant that we could…
- We were able to live with a smaller mortgage so we could start trying for a baby without the stress of paying for a large mortgage.
- We could invest money into buying a larger section and use the tiny house as a stepping stone – live in it and save money while we planned and built our larger (but still small scale) family home at the top of the section in the future.
- We could start living within our means and stop over-consuming by only buying what we needed and simplifying our lives.
When designing the tiny house with your husband, was it challenging to combine practicality with gorgeous design? What are some things you had to keep in mind?
Willem works as an architectural designer, so he designed our home! He has always wanted to design and build his own home so this was a great mini-project to get practice with before we take on the challenge of building a larger house. When it came down to the style of the house we actually have very different tastes, he loves modern slick homes and I love cute wooden cottages! We agreed that he would take the lead designing the exterior and I would put together a plan for styling the interior. In the end, I think we achieved a good mix of ‘modern-cottage’!
For the interior we had to keep in mind that using the right colours plays a big part in small spaces, they determine how big your space feels, the wrong choices can really make the space feel cramped. By choosing light walls and dark floors with a couple of subtle feature colours, I think we have achieved the right mix! We can always add pops of colour with accessories too. We played around with so many different layout ideas! We masking taped the floor of our flat to mark out the space we had to live within in the tiny house. Once we had a design we were happy with, Willem put the house plans into Virtual Reality, and we could then put on the VR headset and actually stand in our tiny house and look around which was really handy to get a feel for the space! We visited a lot of different tiny homes and watched countless YouTube tours trying to get the perfect layout. We spent hours visualizing the space and how we would use every square foot of it. We even planned wall space for the art that we couldn’t live without.
Designing a tiny home is quite challenging! There are so many things that you need to squeeze into the space and you do have to compromise on a few things but you make it work. We wanted to have a bath in the house but no matter what we tried, it wouldn’t fit so we ended up building an outdoor bath into our deck which is awesome! Most of the furniture in the house is custom made to fit the space and also so it can be multifunctional like our couch that opens up to be storage space. You have to be ruthless with what you keep and what you let go of. If something didn’t suit the home or fit we had to say goodbye to it!
With a limited wardrobe space, how do you incorporate sustainability into having a capsule wardrobe?
When we moved into the tiny house I didn’t know much about fast-fashion or the impact that it has on the earth and the garment makers. I think I really started questioning it when we had our baby and I saw the number of baby clothes that are bought and discarded after only a few weeks wear. There is so much waste! And then I started questioning my own fashion choices. I’d buy things from stores that would go out of shape after one wash or the stitching would start to unravel or it would only cost $4 and I’d wonder how they could possibly make any money creating it and selling it for that little! I decided that from then on I would only shop from stores that made sustainable and ethically made garments or I’d shop second hand. I wanted to create a wardrobe of clothes that I loved to wear and that would last I wanted my money to support the companies that were doing right by their workers.
I started to create a capsule wardrobe of 35 items which can be styled multiple ways to create different looks. Some of the clothes were from my existing wardrobe, some were new and some second hand. I had fun putting it together and I enjoy getting dressed every day and creating new outfits. It’s made me spend a lot less and it really makes me question when I see something I like, I have to find out where it is made and what it is made from before I’ll even consider it.
My clothes are stored in the cupboards under the stairs and Willems clothes are stored in the custom-made couch which opens up on hinges. We also have a set of draws in the sleeping loft which we share. You can fit a lot of clothes in those spaces! We have been lucky with baby clothing, my sister has had two boys and she kept all of their clothes so we can use my sisters place as a clothing library, I pick the clothing that we want to borrow for the size that Leo is and then once he has outgrown them I put them in a bag next to his cot and take them back to her place and choose more clothes to bring home in a bigger size! It’s perfect. There are also baby clothes swap on the island every month so if I get stuck I can go along to those and get him some more. Leo’s has a pretty tiny closet but we find that its perfect for him because we rotate his clothes out every season.
You've recently had a baby boy congratulations! What’s it been like raising young ones in a tiny house?
Thank you! Yes, having a baby in the tiny house was always a part of our dream. When we designed the house, we made sure there was a downstairs room that we could convert into a nursery if the time came. We used the room as office space until we fell pregnant.
When the house was being built, we made sure there was as much soundproof insulation in the walls as possible! I think most people worried that we would get woken up all the time living in a small space with a baby or that we wouldn’t be able to make any noise in the fear of waking the baby up but it’s actually been fine! Leo sleeps with white noise playing in his room so it drowns out most of the noise that we make in the lounge room watching tv/making dinner etc, and I think he’s pretty used to going to sleep with noise around him now.
It’s been great raising him in the tiny house! I think every stage he goes though we just adapt to suit his needs, we started off bathing him in the kitchen sink but once he outgrew that he now bathes in a large bucket in the middle of the kitchen and during summer he has bucket baths outside on the deck or has a bath with us in the outdoor bath we have built into the deck. We change him on a changing mat on the floor and there are a few other little things we do differently but it’s not that much different to a bigger house! The benefits are that we can keep an eye on him anywhere in the house, and we have saved money not buying all the things you think you need for a baby beforehand and we only buy things or borrow things as we need them. When you think about what babies essentially need, they really don’t need a lot!
One challenge has been that its hard to tell friends and family that they can’t buy things for Leo because we just can’t store it in the house. We have just opened a bank account for him so people are now gifting him money instead which will go towards experiences like swimming lessons or a big toy like a swing or trampoline when he’s older.
How do you plan on teaching and raising your son around the topic of sustainability?
By teaching him by example. Kids pick up on everything you do! I’d like Leo to understand why wasting food and resources isn’t okay, I’d like him to grow up loving to play outside and be curious about nature and the environment so that he respects it and looks after it. By immersing him in cultures that are different to his and traveling with him. Showing him that the world is a beautiful place and we have to do our bit to look after it.
Living in a tiny house you've had to adopt minimalism - what are some of your top tips on making the adjustment?
Yes! When we decided to build a tiny house we were renting a 3 bedroom flat and we had filled it with all sorts of stuff, we even had a walk-in wardrobe each, It was totally ridiculous! The tiny house lifestyle was in stark contrast to our current lifestyle but it was one that we knew we needed to create a better life and save money.
We did a huge declutter, sold things, gave stuff away, and boxed up the things we thought we couldn’t live without. The plan was to move into mum’s house to save money for the build and for our section. We stacked some boxes in her garage, and we lived in one room of her two-bedroom house for two years. We were incredibly lucky that mum gave us that opportunity and we couldn’t have done it without her help. We were able to live in that room without ever needing to go into the boxes that we stored so we admitted we didn’t need any of that stuff either! We still had a bit too much when we moved into the tiny house but we just kept clearing out things bit by bit and taking them to op-shops.
We still do that now and it is a constant process. I’d recommend to anyone wanting to downsize to do the same, box things up that you think you may need, and store it away. If you don’t end up needing to go into the boxes then you know you don’t need it. There are things that are very hard to part with though that are sentimental. You can try asking the family if they wouldn’t mind storing a box of keepsakes for you in their garage.
Why do you think ‘tiny home’ living has become such a movement over the past few years?
I think it’s actually a whole mixture of things that people love about this lifestyle. I think it’s partly down to housing affordability, people either can’t afford to get onto the housing market or they’ve just had enough of working their lives away to pay a high mortgage. For some it’s a great home to downsize into to free up money for retirement, for some it’s a great first home that gets them out of renting, and for some, they are just wanting to live simpler lives, work less, travel more, be more self-sufficient, live off-grid, have a smaller footprint on the earth. For some families having a warm and dry and safe tiny house is better than paying high rent to stay in some of the damp and moldy rental homes you see. There’s a rebellion against building big homes that have rooms people don’t even use. A rebellion of excess consumption.
What would a perfect day in Waiheke Island look like for you and your family?
We moved here 3 years ago. It’s a very special place to live! A little bit hippy and a little bit crazy but a whole lot of fun and we’ve made some wonderful friends! We are lucky enough to live within walking distance of the beach and in walking distance of our local community farmers market which is on every Saturday morning so a perfect day for me would be a walk to the markets to see all the stalls there and then grabbing a coffee and going to the beach for a swim. There are also a lot of beautiful walking tracks here and a lot of wineries so it’s a hard call, maybe I’d do it all in one day! The community here is small but they have so many wonderful initiatives to support each other and the environment.
Do you have any exciting plans for 2020?
Yes! We have drawn up plans to build a (bigger but still small scale) family home at the top of our section this year! We just got approved consent before the lockdown for COVID-19 happened so we are going to re-assess the start date and take it week by week, but fingers crossed we will be able to build it! It will be a 95sqm 2 bedroom home with study over two levels and it sits within the trees so it will have a view over the treetops like a treehouse! Living in a tiny house has made us realize how little space we need to live and we believe small homes are the way of the future. We are wanting to try for another baby this year so we will outgrow our tiny house, but we feel it’s the right thing to build a home that’s economical and small scale so it still fits with our values.