Vina Lustado’s Tiny House:
Living Big in a Small Space
By Lalaine Chu-Benitez
For most people, the ultimate achievement of one’s dream is often anchored to a big impressive house – one with plenty of rooms, big screen TVs and a multi-car garage, plus all the furniture and gadgets that money can buy. But not for this new age architectural designer who lives in picturesque Ojai, California, who found her ultimate dream home in a 140 square foot space.
Filipino-American architectural designer Vina Lustado spent over two decades in the high-end corporate path, working for notable offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago, with projects ranging from high-end custom homes to large corporate headquarters. Having specific interest in various social and environmental causes – particularly sustainability, she has decided in recent years, to focus her career on smaller scale projects that could make a difference. One such project was Vina’s tiny house that truly reflected her values.
Vina’s house, which she has designed from scratch, and built with the help of the community, has 140 square feet of living space (based on 8’ x 20’ trailer). It is totally off-the-grid and is equipped with luxuries such as a gas fireplace and operable skylights. The interior is bathed in natural light and feels spacious and serene. There is plenty of storage and multi-purpose furniture for functionality and livability including seating, storage and guest bed. The tiny house has drawers under the kitchen cabinets instead of baseboards, and storage behind the bed. The coffee table is on casters and can be used as a dining table, side table, or storage. Above Vina’s desk is a small loft for additional storage, which can also be used as an extra sleeping space. The tiny house, which costed US$40,000 to build, was developed utilizing reclaimed, non-toxic materials. The French doors are from Craigslist, three windows and a pocket door were from Habitat’s ReStore, and the oak flooring and all the wood for the exterior deck were reclaimed.
For Vina, her tiny house is more than just a place to live. It is the embodiment of her philosophy in life reflecting simplicity, sustainability, and living within her means.
Why a tiny house? What does this project mean to you?
The Tiny House is a personal project: building my own house. It reflects my philosophy about simplicity, sustainability, and living within my means. I wanted to live in a way that reflects my values. Because of my profession in design and construction, I wanted to learn about building my own home. And plus, to exercise your core values, and live with more integrity is my main driver for the project.
How did you get into the tiny house project?
I am an active person who loves to be outdoors. Most of my life I moved from house to house, city to city, so I wanted to maintain a flexible lifestyle. More importantly, I wanted to minimize my debt and a tiny house allowed me to do that.
I heard about Jay Shafer’s tiny houses before, but the traditional gingerbread style did not appeal to me. However, the philosophy behind tiny houses did appeal to me. I realized later that I could design and build my own house, so it was a perfect opportunity to express my own values.
What was your design inspiration?
My design inspiration is from Scandinavian and Japanese architecture. They have beautiful design sensibilities combined with utility and function, light filled spaces that are timeless, simple and clean.
Is it difficult to live in a tiny house? Do you miss anything from living in a bigger space?
I’ve lived in small spaces throughout my life, so it has been surprisingly easy to live tiny. The bigger challenge is living off the grid. I choose to live very simply with minimal power consumption, so I don’t have a washer/dryer, nor large appliances like a full-size refrigerator. Going to the laundromat has its inconveniences, but the trade-offs are well worth it.
People ask me – “Why don’t you have a TV and some other means of entertainment?” And really, what better entertainment is there than watching the squirrels, and the birds? Just the nature all around me all the time is amazing.
What have you learned from living in a tiny house? What do you wish to share with people from your experience?
I’ve learned that there are only a few things in life that are truly essential for happiness, and most of it is not based on material wealth. It’s not about what you buy. It’s about experiences. It’s about the different connections you make with people, with the environment, and the community.
In terms of my profession, I’m thrilled to be able to help others live smaller and live simply, rather than contributing to the “bigger is better” mentality of large houses. I’m also proud of minimizing environmental impact with tiny and small house designs, especially when it’s designed to be off-the-grid.
After living in my tiny house for more than two years, I would say the one thing that has changed in my life is that, the feeling of gratitude is magnified. I’m so grateful for the little things in life, for the people in my community, and for the natural beauty of the earth.