The words “tiny” and “house” are not often spotted side-by-side. In a house, people tend to look for adjectives that are the opposite of “tiny”. Words like “spacious” or “two-bedroom” or “definitely not tiny.” But the year is 2020, and things have changed.
“It’s about sustainability, getting back to nature, back to basics,” says Guido Verbist, co-operative manager of Sydney’s The Bower Reuse & Repair Co-Op, which is hosting a week-long tiny house-building course from February 17th.
With their HQ in Marrickville and a total of four locations across Sydney, The Bower’s philosophy entails teaching Sydneysiders the art and craft of reusing, repairing and recycling. As well as running a second-hand shop and repair centre, it also hosts over 20 workshops for adults and children, encompassing furniture restoration
They’ve been “doing it” for two decades and, perhaps unsurprisingly given Australia’s current environmental predicament, The Bower’s message is resonating now more than ever. That is to say: they’re busy. Very busy.
“Trouble is, there’s still an imbalance of people giving us more stuff than we can sell,” says Guido. “There’s only so much we can do until the demand shifts, so we’re focusing a lot on education, and on this idea of trying to make buying second-hand the new normal.”
A Bank Australia customer grant recipient in 2019, The Bower’s tiny house course slots neatly into this awareness and education campaign. Guido and co. hope the intrigue of tiny houses – which are made almost entirely from recycled and reclaimed materials – stirs enough curiosity to gain some media attention and bring the reduce, reuse and repair into the mainstream.
Since the course began in 2014, the plan has worked. “The more we can spread our skills, the more we can get our message out, the more good we can do,” says Guido. “So education is one of our key missions, we always look for stories and projects that are going to be interesting to the media.”
Throughout The Bower’s tiny house course, up to 15 participants will be guided by three professional carpenters and taught how to build a tiny house from scratch, using only recycled and reclaimed materials. From building the frame to insulation and cladding, roofing and flooring, using power and hand tools and even sourcing materials – the course is comprehensive. “There’s still nowhere else in Australia that teaches you to build a tiny house – not hands on anyway,” says Guido. “There are a couple of theory courses, but nothing like this.”
The only part of a tiny house that isn’t recycled is the trailer, which the houses are built on to help avoid a gamut of legal and legislative issues, meaning they’re legally classed as caravans. Second-hand trailers large and study enough to hold a tiny house, says Gudio, are hard to come by. “It needs to be a solid foundation – and the second-hand ones are usually old and rusty.”
Once the house is built (participants for The Bower’s tiny house course all work to build one house), it’s auctioned off and the proceeds are funnelled back into The Bower’s Reuse & Repair Co-Op. The last two houses built by The Bower were bought by a campsite owner who’s looking to build a tiny house holiday resort.
So do people actually live full-time in these things? Not really, no. They’re very small, after all. “A lot of people use them as a sort of holiday home, in the same way they might use a caravan,” explains Guido. “Or for a granny flat, a workshop space, a studio or office space – it’s up to the individual.”
The Bower’s ‘How to build a tiny house’ course runs from 17-22 February 2020 and costs $1950 per person. You can find more information here. You can visit The Bower Reuse & Repair Co-Op HQ at Building 34, 142 Addison Road or one of their three other Sydney locations.