Photos by Hillary Ehlen
It’s always fun to settle in with your significant other to watch a documentary on Netflix. Back in 2015, Travis and Jennifer Klath did just this and watched a documentary about tiny house living. What started as a joking comment of, “Oh we should do that!” turned into a reality for this couple. With no building experience and a sea of YouTube how-to videos at their fingertips, the Klaths spent a year and a half building their dream tiny home and have been living in it for two years now.
Located about 40 minutes from their jobs in downtown Fargo, the Klaths’ tiny house is on Tub Lake in Lake Park, Minn. Seated on an incline, the home has priceless views of their country landscape and the water.
From the Trailer Up
The Klaths started with a blank trailer and built their very own tiny house from scratch. With no previous building experience, they set out on researching a lot and taking things one step at a time. Travis Klath said, “We didn’t have set building plans or anything, we built it all ourselves. My wife’s parents are an architect and an interior designer, so we could bounce ideas off of them. But we drew up all the plans and did everything ourselves. Pretty much everything you see in here, we did.”
About the building timeline, he said, “It would have been quicker, but we were building it at my parents’ place which is an hour and a half away. So we would drive up on the weekends and work for a day and a half at a time.” This process took about a year and a half thanks to the distance as well as all the research they did along the way.
Throughout the building process, the Klaths tracked their progress through an Instagram account, @TonyTinyHouse. As noted in the description of their Instagram account, they named the house “Tony,” in reference to a recurring joke that their phones repeatedly auto-corrected the word “tiny” to “Tony.”
Travis said, “Jen was using [Instagram] to document the process for ourselves. But through that, she’s met other people who are building tiny houses and we bounced ideas off each other.”
The couple enjoyed getting to document this feat, while also contributing to the tiny house community. Travis shared, “We really had no experience with any of this before we started. But we found a couple of good Youtube series, including this one couple that was building a tiny house who started a couple of months before us. So as they were working, we got to follow along each step of the way.” Throughout the process, this online community chimed in on Instagram posts, sharing ideas and solutions and applauding exciting design choices along the way.
It’s not a lot, but it’s got everything we need,” said Travis.
One of the most daunting aspects to think about when even considering moving into a 195 square foot home is where all your belongings will go. In a tiny house, every piece of furniture and design element has to serve multiple roles. The handmade dog kennel serves as a tabletop by the couch, the door to the bathroom has shelving on one side for bathroom supplies and for kitchen supplies on the other side and the couch cushions lift up and serve as Travis’ closet.
Before moving into the tiny house, the couple lived in a one bedroom apartment. Even from that small space, they found themselves having to get rid of a lot of belongings and to store quite a few things in Travis’ parents’ basement. About organizing possessions and fitting everything in the space, he said, “I’d say the lifestyle change is bigger than anything. If you buy a new shirt, you have to get rid of a shirt because you don’t have room to keep anything. Just being conscious of what you’re buying and getting rid of extra stuff.”
While the building and living process has been an adventure, the Klaths have put the tiny house and the land it’s on up for sale. They noted that they never intended this to be their home for the long term, stating that it was a two-to-five year plan. Now they are looking to move back to Fargo to be closer to work and to be ready for their next steps in life.
As they have started touring homes in the Fargo-Moorhead area, they’ve been hit by the reality of coming back to a traditional style of living. Travis laughed, saying their Realtor has shown them homes with 100 square foot closets, which is half the size of their whole house now. He said, “It’s kind of overwhelming how much space there is.”
The land overlooking Tub Lake would be a huge selling point to many. However, finding the right land to plant roots was one of the most difficult parts of the process. There are many housing regulations in the city of Fargo, especially for a tiny home. With the legal minimum home size being over five times larger than the square footage of their tiny home, land options were slim.
They ended up parking in Lake Park, partially because they wanted to be near the lakes, but also because of these restrictive housing laws. Even in their current plot, they had to receive written permission from their nearby neighbors to live in a tiny house on the land.
Beyond the logistics of the land, tiny house life has other unique factors to consider. For one, the electric and heating costs remain low, thanks to the small amount of space they have to supply to.
The natural light they get through the multiple windows and two skylights are enough to only have to turn on overhead lights or lamps when it’s completely dark out. Since the square footage is small, there are no corners that don’t receive the natural light.
The choice to live small is not for everyone, but for the Klaths, it was a great experience. Building the home scratched their itch to create and living in the close quarters looking over a serene lake was gratifying.