Meet the furniture maker from Christchurch who created her own perfect tiny home.Read Story
Annelies Zwaan is no stranger to alternative forms of housing: her childhood was spent watching her father build the family home out of earth. So when her latest flat broke up, the Christchurch-based furniture maker saw an opportunity to build a home of her own.
“I realised that I was tired of flatting and I wanted my own space,” she explains. “Unfortunately, being a self-employed creative type meant I couldn’t afford a conventional home, so I started looking at alternatives.”
Zwaan initially found herself leaning towards a caravan, but memories of a cramped houseboat holiday in London soon came flooding back.
“I realised that if I was going to build something to live in, it had to be a place I would feel comfortable in year round,” she explains. “I didn’t want to feel trapped during the winter months, or try and get through a winter with no insulation.”
A tiny house, built to her own specifications, sounded ideal – and most importantly, was within her means. Decision made, Zwaan spent the next few months perfecting the layout of what she would later dub her ‘whare iti’ (‘little house’).
“Once I’d decided to build a tiny house, I spent a lot of time observing what aspects of conventional houses were important to me,” Zwaan explains. “I realised I wanted a full size gas hob and a normal size shower, so I prioritised those things in my unconventional home.”
“The design process also forced me to be honest about how I function,” she continues. “For instance, I prefer to eat breakfast standing up, so I planned a breakfast bar rather than a fold-out dining table. I also prefer to cook in an L-shaped kitchen, so I chose that over the galley style, even though I lost some bench space as a result.”
While being a furniture maker gave her the confidence to start the project, Zwaan admits that there were aspects of the build that she found challenging. “Physically it wasn’t too demanding,” she explains. “But it’s impossible to overstate the sheer number of decisions that have to be made. Many of those decisions didn’t have a ‘right’ answer. I got to the point where I just wanted someone else to tell me what to do for a change!”
Zwaan also committed, early in the process, to construct her 16.8m2 home using as many reclaimed materials as possible. Only the trailer (which forms its base), the framing and a few sheets of plywood were purchased new. “To me, conventional houses feel quite anonymous,” she explains. “I wanted every part of my house to feel like it has a history.”
Looking around Zwaan's $25,000 finished home, the sense of history is palpable. The rimu floorboards are more than a century old. The pastry block, skilfully inset into the kitchen bench, was formerly a marble fuseboard – the fuses from which are now repurposed as door handles. Roofing shingles, made of slate, form a splashback in the kitchen. Mason jars, filled with non-perishables, line the shelves of the open pantry.
Situated in a friend’s yard in the leafy suburb of Mairehau, Zwaan's tiny house has attracted its fair share of second glances from passers-by. “A lot of people bang on the front door and ask if they can have a look around. I’ve never had so many people want to see my bedroom before,” she laughs. “At least it doesn’t take much time to show them around.”
It’s not that she's anti conventional houses, muses Zwaan. “Chances are I’ll move back into one someday. I just wanted to use simple, humble materials to create a place to call home.”