Friday, 3 May 2019

Tiny house review: "Edmond" in the NSW Southern Highlands

Some daydreams do come true. I've been a bit obsessed with tiny houses for a while now - reading books like Cabin Porn, watching docos like Small is Beautiful and Minimalism and Living Big in a Tiny House's reviews, even doing a weekend tiny-building workshop with Fred's Tiny Houses (reviewed here).
A shepherd's hut in the UK
Pic: cabinporn.com

But it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I actually stayed in one. Well, four actually - two in NSW and two in Victoria - during a road trip down the east coast of Australia with Mr No Impact Girl. 

I was researching a story about "tiny house stays", which are a thing now, but it was also a personal quest. Would staying in a tiny house live up to my hopes and imaginings? And would it be a good way to find out if I'd like to live in one?

To ponder these questions, I decided to review each tiny here, in four separate posts.

Hello, Edmond
Tiny house #1: Edmond
My first-ever experience of staying in a tiny house was with In2theWild in the NSW Southern Highlands, an area liberally sprinkled with tinys - thanks to its abundance of farmland just a couple of hours' south of Sydney.

Not that you'd ever see them. They're tucked away on private properties, each tiny on its own secluded patch, addresses unknown until you book - which adds to the sense of adventure.

We arrive on a stormy afternoon, rain squalls lashing our windscreen as we drive through the hamlet of Robertson, along muddy roads and through an open farm gate. Parking beside a barn, we find a big umbrella and a little cart - for our overnight bags and some groceries - and set off on foot along a short forest track that soon emerges at a vividly green meadow.

Tiny house, big view. Pic: In2theWild
Right at that moment, as we amble across the paddock, the sun comes out and shines on our home for the night: a lone tiny house called Edmond, named after the main character in The Count of Monte Cristo (In2theWild's owners are avid readers).

A bit of background
"Tiny house stays" - usually short breaks close to major cities - started in Australia in 2016 when Melbourne-based Shacky built a shed-like tiny on a sheep property in Victoria as a social enterprise to help farmers supplement their income.

"You are here" in the kitchen
A year later In2theWild opened its first tiny, called Christopher after Chris McCandless in Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (one of my favourite books; it was also made into a movie in 2007). They rolled out nine more tinys last year and are planning 10 more this year.

"We love tiny houses," says Celeste Giannas, In2theWild's director of operations, "and with emerging off-grid and eco-friendly technology they allow us to provide relaxing getaways in beautiful, secluded locations where people can really switch off from their busy lives and experience some of the hidden gems of regional NSW."

Daybed with a view
Pic: In2theWild
First impressions
I couldn't have asked for a more delightful introduction to tiny house living. Edmond is an almost stereotypical tiny with its classic gable roof and peaceful location: on 40 hectares (100 acres) of private farmland with plenty of trees and views of a nearby canyon.

It's the kind of place that makes you want to be a dog for a day or make daisy chains or just lie on the grass looking up at the clouds.

There's no one to meet us, and no need. Celeste had emailed me a 23-page pdf booklet explaining everything from where to find the key to how to make coffee (plunger and Moka pot provided).

As soon as we let ourselves in, the rain starts again, giving us the perfect excuse to light the gas stove, put the kettle on and cosy up on the L-shaped daybed with a cuppa and a book. 

Living proof
You can tell a lot about a tiny house by the books on its shelves, by the way. Edmond has an assortment of cabin-themed books including Cabin Porn, 150 Tiny Home Ideas and, naturally, Into the Wild.

My first thought: inside, Edmond is incredibly spacious. 

If anyone ever asks you, "Why not just rent a caravan?" tell them this: staying in a tiny house feels nothing like staying in a caravan, for three main reasons. Most tinys, like Edmond, have a loft bed, high ceilings (3.3 metres is standard) and huge double-glazed picture windows that let in plenty of natural light as well as views of the natural surroundings. 


Even the kitchen has a view
More "house", less "tiny"
Designed and built by Designer Eco Tiny Homes, probably the largest tiny house builder in Australia, Edmond really is like a small house with its white walls, wooden tables and benches, and contemporary decor (no cabin kitsch here). 

There's a compact kitchen that has a sink, two-burner gas stove and fridge (there's no oven) and an all-white bathroom with an excellent shower and a waterless composting toilet that smells of sawdust (and nothing else).

Edmond's solar PV panels
One of the things I love about tiny houses is that they not only have a small footprint but are usually off-grid. Edmond has solar panels on its roof and a rainwater tank outside. It's nice to see Who Gives a Crap toilet paper, made by a Melbourne-based brand that builds toilets in developing countries.

They also let you travel light, because everything except food is provided - though we did find a "Survival box" (see pic) waiting for us on the table, a nice touch. There are fluffy towels, there's bed linen, the kitchen is fully equipped, there are even wine glasses in the cupboard, as well as a few basic items such as tea and coffee, hot chocolate, sugar, cooking oil, salt and pepper. There's soap, shampoo and conditioner too, though it'd be nice to see these in refillable bottles rather than tiny single-use hotel tubes.

The tiny equivalent of a mini bar
Silent night
Without mobile reception or Wi-Fi, the night feels long, in a good way. It's too rainy to roast marshmallows over the campfire - the firepit is ready to go, ringed by stumps to sit on - so we make an easy pasta dinner, read and play Scrabble and Jenga (there's also Monopoly, colouring books and pencils).

Headroom galore in the loft
With our phones off, I'm not sure what time we went to bed, climbing the ladder cleverly built into one end of the kitchen bench so the lower stairs are wide, like shelves. Outside was utter darkness; we couldn't see a single light.

One of the things I like about being in a small space is that nature is always close at hand. When we open our eyes the next morning, we can see only blue through the skylight. No clouds. I push it open and feel the cool highland air, then we snuggle back under the duvet before venturing down the ladder and outside to have breakfast in the sun, at our very own picnic table.

Captain Skylight
The verdict
After all I'd read and heard about tiny houses, nothing compares to the simple joys of staying in one: cooking while looking at a green paddock and acres of sky, reading a book on the daybed in the sun, taking hot rainwater showers and sleeping in a loft.

I loved how peaceful it was there, off-line and with no one else around. I could almost feel my nervous system calming down.

Edmond was supremely cosy in the cool, rainy weather; loft beds come into their own in such a climate, being warmer than the downstairs living area. On a clear night, sitting beside a campfire under the stars, it'd be magical.

Although it wasn't built for long-term living, we stayed only one night and Edmond isn't as long as some tiny houses I'd seen (5.4 metres compared to 7.2 metres), the experience did help me imagine what it might be like to live in a tiny house. I loved that everything is within reach, and I saw first-hand how tidy and organised you need to be, particularly if there are two of you sharing the space. My partner and I developed a little floor-sharing dance to cross-step out of each other's way, which was fun.

Barefoot on the wet grass
That's the takeaway from this first experience, in fact: it was really fun.

For all their clever design features, sustainable ethos and sturdy construction (to withstand towing), there's something gloriously un-serious about tiny houses. Not quite whimsical - after all, real-world issues sparked the tiny house movement (climate change, housing affordability...) - but perhaps light-hearted, and liberating. Personally, I'm hooked. Now more than ever.

*

How to do it: In2theWild has 10 tiny houses in various locations a couple of hours from Sydney starting at $179 a night. Edmond starts at $299 a night and sleeps four. See in2thewild.co

Southern Highlands beauty
While you're there: Robertson is a charming rural-chic town in the NSW Southern Highlands. Immerse yourself in local life at the Crop Swap farmers market on Saturday mornings, by wild-swimming at nearby Belmore Falls or Nellies Glen (Gerringong's beaches are also only 40 minutes away) or hang out at Moonacres ethical cafe or Rush cafe in the historic Robertson Cheese Factory.

Gratitude: Big thanks to Destination NSW, In2theWild and Designer Eco Tiny Homes for supporting my first-ever tiny house stay. I'll roll out my reviews of the other three tiny houses in coming weeks - Tallarook Tiny Home, Fred's Tiny House and Micah by Unyoked - as well as an interview with Grant Emans, director of Designer Eco Tiny Homes. Watch this tiny space.

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