Where to begin? Measuring Up!

Published on 4 December 2023 at 08:41

I am thrilled to share with you my adventure of building my Tiny House, The Dragons Nest. I will do my measured best to entertain and inform, while sharing the peaks and valleys of my journey to living in a home I designed and built myself. I welcome you along for the ride! 

Through the first years of my life, I didn’t know I had learning disabilities. In the late 50’s and early 60’s ‘learning disabilities weren’t ‘a thing’. If you couldn’t learn something you were labelled stupid and got ‘a smack upside the head’ for making mistakes. My head is actually flatter on one side! True story!

A retired Royal Navy doctor, Stables commissioned the Wanderer to be built and began a 1300 mile tour in 1885.  Prior to this, living wagons were mostly pragmatic affairs with few creature comforts, primarily employed for housing work crews.  The base specifications for the Wanderer are 30 feet long (9.15 meters) and she weighed approximately 4000 pounds (1815 kilos). It was fashioned after the largest known built Vardo Wagon, which measured 40' in length and was pulled by six Gypsy Vanners, 

The first trailer home owners were the travelling showmen who spent most of their lives on the road. Instead of pitching tent wherever they went, they had horse-drawn wagons where they cooked, ate, and slept. Later, around the middle of the 19th century, these caravans were adopted as living quarters by the Romani people, commonly called the Gypsies. These people originated from northwestern India, a country their forefathers left some 1,500 years ago and settled in different parts of the world, but mostly in Europe and Mid-West Asia. In the last hundred years or so, the Romani people have also spread to the Americas. The Romani/Roma call their wagons vardo, originating from the Ossetic word “vurdon” for cart.

There are five main types of Gypsy and hawkers' living-waggons. These include the Bow-topped Waggon, two versions of which were the Spindle-sided Potter's Four-wheeled Cart and the Two-wheeled Sleeping Cart which was used by the Staffordshire salt-hawkers. Other types included the the Cottage-shaped or Ledge Waggon, the Brush Waggon and the Straight-sided Waggon which was also known as the Showman's Waggon. It was probably in the Reading Waggon or the old type of Gypsy vardo, however, that the Gypsy waggon reached its highest and most characteristic form. This was a waggon with large wheels running outside the body of the van, which slopes outwards considerably towards the eaves. During the heyday of the vardo the family most widely reputed as builders were the Duntons of Reading. The vardo became the Gypsy woman's most coveted possession, the paramount domestic status symbol. While most Romani have gone over to trucks and trailers and despite the fact that only about one per cent of the traveller population still live in horse-drawn waggons, the tradition of the vardo is still very much alive as can be witnessed on an annual basis at the large fair in the town of Appleby, Cumbria, every summer.

I knew I couldn't live without a bath. I'm just not a 'shower' person. This meant I had to essentially design my house around the bathroom to ensure that I had space for that particular room, and everything else could be adjusted to fit around it. 

I will be devoting an entire blog to my bathroom, but I'm including these pictures as a teaser to encourage you to go, searching for the bathroom blog.

Although I have lived in many houses throughout my life, this is the first HOME I have ever lived in! A house is made by human hands, a home is made by human hearts.

When my eldest daughter was 16 years old, the school suggested she be tested for learning disabilities. I was 37, and the councillor decided it was ME who had the learning disabilities and my eldest daughter was just ‘acting out’. Both of my daughters are extremely intelligent, and have their fathers astounding memory. I had argued all along that testing for learning disabilities would find nothing in my daughter. I had no idea at all they would find ‘learning disabilities’ in me. I had been an honour student. Yes, a struggling, frustrated, bewildered and exhausted honour student who had marvelled at how fellow students could sleep in class and do no homework and still manage to pass their courses, while I had to reread every single word multiple times before it fell into place in a sentence, and every paragraph multiple times in order to have the sentences in it make sense. It never occurred to me that I might have learning disabilities. I had been told so often that I was stupid, I actually believed it, so just worked harder - as hard as necessary - to prove that even though I was ‘stupid’ I could measure up.

The results of those tests initiated years of further testing and diagnosis for me, resulting in me being diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder (things began to ADD up), Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD, helping me understand my ‘endless energy’ when focused and motivated), and Dyslexia (explained the whole difficulty with math issue). 

My early childhood Significant Emotional Experiences (S.E.E.) had triggered a condition known as Systemic Lupus Erythmatosis, and I was often struggling under immense, nearly disabling pain, and had trouble sleeping, resulting in suicidal depression. My doctor enrolled me in a Sleep Deprivation Trial to see what was causing my sleep issues. During the trial, every time I woke up I was asked a series of questions by one of the ever present human sleep monitors. Those questions determined I was tolerating a seriously significant amount of pain, both physical and emotional, and that I was reliving the horrific experiences of my childhood in my dreams every night. 

That trial started me on a path of years of psychological counselling and the return to the wholistic magical path I had started at age 13 and interrupted when I had my first child. I also asked my husband of 19 years for a divorce! He talked me out of it, and then for the next five years I convinced myself I loved him. He had, after all, been a good financial provider, even if he had travelled or stayed away from home ‘for work’ for most of our marriage. Our daughters had enjoyed an upper middle class life, and although he had asked me to be a stay-at-home wife and mom all those years, he had never stopped me from taking any college, university or special interest courses I wanted to. It was five years of the most difficult measuring up of my life. 

When HE told ME he wanted a divorce in 2000, however, I was shattered, because I’d brainwashed myself over the past five years into 'being in love' with him. It’s amazing what we can convince ourselves is reality! 

I thought ‘Bag Lady’ was my future, and convinched him to go to marriage counselling, which ended when the councillor told me he was only doing the counselling for show, to say he had 'tried'. We separated for a year, as required by BC Law, and were officially divorced in 2001. I ran away from home to Greece, England and Ireland in 2002. I had a ‘measure’ of freedom I hadn’t had since before I was married! 

While in Greece, I met a troupe of ‘Gypsies’ who the Greeks call ‘yiftitelli’, and the Gypsy caravans enchanted me. The Greek Romani took life as it came, celebrating successes, and shrugging off failures. I liked that attitude. 

Then I travelled to the UK. and while in Ireland I saw a few Vardo caravans, and Shepherds Huts, beautifully decorated and was absolutely bewitched. I would buy a Vardo and live in it, I decided. I thought about telling my sister to list my house for sale, but if my life that far had taught me anything it was to weigh my options and measure out the pros and cons of each one. 

Life has a way of making you ‘measure up’. 

I had no idea the Vardo holiday caravans would cost so much to buy and transport to Canada. Even the kits that they ship to you were out of my financial reach by tens of thousands of dollars. My dream would take years to take shape. Patience isn’t just a virtue. I read every book on Tiny Houses, watched every film or video I could find. For me it was a life changer. It took me several sketchbooks and financial ledgers, burned in my fireplace while weeping over the impossibility of achieving my dream on my meagre income and with my debt load, until my constant relentless research made me decide I could and should just build my own Vardo from scratch! 

That began a whole new adventure, and those tales are told in other chapters of this story. I DID build my Vardo. I did my best to keep the flavour of the Vardos built for Romani Royalty, and I did exceed my own measuring up of what I thought I was capable of. Time for some measurements ...

So... how big is the Dragons Nest, now that dreams have become my reality, how much space am I living in, actually? Technically most classify a Tiny House as 400 sq.ft. or less. The largest actual Romani Vardo ever built measured 40 feet long and 8 feet wide. 

Outside, my Vardo is 40’ long, if you include the 1’ front and back overhangs of the roof. It is 8 1/2 feet wide and the peak of the roof is 13’ off of the ground.

Inside, the Living/Sitting room area of the Great Room measures 8’1” x 96”. The Dining/Kitchen area of the Great Room measures 8’1” x 143”. The bathroom ~~ which includes a standard sizevsoaker tub, reproduction of an antique commode converted to a compost toilet and Italian painted Chinese water porcelain sink ~~ measures 8’1” x 5’7”. The bedroom wall-to-wall and including the built-in bed Oriental box bed nook measures 8’1”x 11’ 2 1/2”.

The drop ceiling in the bathroom (done for humidity control and to accommodate electrical wiring to go from the front of the house to the breaker box located in the bedroom) is 6’8 1/2”. Appendix Q of the International Building Code AV103.1 states the following with regards to ceiling height — "Minimum ceiling height. Habitable space and hallways in tiny houses shall have a ceiling height not less than 6 feet 8 inches (2032 mm). Bathrooms, toilet rooms, and kitchens shall have a ceiling height not less than 6 feet 4 inches (1930 mm). No obstructions shall extend below these minimum ceiling heights including beams, girders, ducts, lighting, or other obstructions. Exception: Ceiling heights in lofts are permitted to be less than 6 foot 8 inches (2032 mm)." 

At the interior of the vaulted ceiling in the Great Room and Bedroom, it measures 102” (8 1/2 feet) at its highest point. The exterior walls are all 7’8” in height, where the wall coving and vaulted ceiling meet.

There are six windows : 2 are stained glass and are installed in the roof gable ends front and back of the Vardo. They measure 34 1/2” wide x 6 3/4” high. They don’t open. 3 are in the Living Room area of the Great Room. They measure 47” x 20”, 49 x 19 1/2” and 46 1/4 x 17 3/4”. Two of these open for ventilation and air circulation when desired. The sixth is an egress window on the hallway side of the bathroom and it measures 46 1/2 x 33 1/4”. It is located 38 1/2” from the floor, in compliance with BC Provincial Building Code, the Canadian National Building Code and the International Building Code. It, of course opens fully. There are fixed windows in both the front and back doors. 

Unlike most Tiny House builders, I wanted small windows, and this creates a cozy warm space. The windows do not permit much heat loss in the colder months and also keep the interior cooler in the hotter months. 

Measuring the budget. How much did it cost to build? 

I used as much reclaimed and recycled materials, both for the structure and the interior, as possible. Of course some things had to be bought new... the insulation, the wood for the board & batten siding, the pex plumbing components and the hot water heater. I had to buy nails, screws, hurricane strapping, all new. I had to buy paint, and glue and tape and roof watertight membranes, and roofing... all new. The solar system — all new.

I used and repurposed furniture I already owned, so do not count that in the cost of the build. I already had all the tools to build with, so for me that was an immense expense I didn’t have specifically related to this build. I bought everything I could find used, or at a discount, and got some very surprising luck with many purchases — the hardwood flooring, for instance, I bought used at a garage sale, enough to do the entire place, for $60! 

I kept all my receipts, and the day I moved into the Vardo, I sat and tallied up the lot —- $17,132.17

Since that day as with all home owners, I have purchased things to decorate the interior, but I built my beautiful Vardo home — The Dragons Nest — for less than what ten ounces of gold was worth on that day! 

Measured up pretty good I’d say! 

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