Photos by Paul Flessland and Maia Skarphol
For some, going tiny is a big adventure. This is true for married couple Maia and Gabriel Skarphol, who took on a tiny house build after attending a workshop in the Twin Cities. It just so happened that both Gabriel Skarphol and his father-slash-master-carpenter, John Skarphol, are quite experienced with construction. Collectively, the Skarphols have 18 days of physical labor invested in the build. See how far they’ve come and find out where they plan to go when their tiny house on wheels finally hits the road.
The small specs: 172 square feet
One year ago, Maia and Gabriel Skarphol took a class in Minneapolis, Minnesota, through a company called Tumbleweed Tiny House. Based out of Sonoma, California, the company designs 65 to 887-square-foot houses, many of which are on trailers. Their weekend workshop was intended for anyone who was curious about building a tiny house. Though they had been considering adopting a minimalist lifestyle, it wasn’t until after the workshop that Maia and Gabriel Skarphol got serious about going tiny.
TWO TRADESMEN AND A TEACHER
After attending the workshop, the couple enlisted the help of Gabriel’s father, John Skarphol, who works for local construction firm R.L. Engebretson. Gabriel Skarphol follows in his father’s footsteps working for T.F. Powers Construction and Maia Skarphol is an art teacher at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School and a freelance photographer. Over the last year, this team of three has invested 18 days of physical labor into building a tiny house.
“Maybe one or two weekends a month we work on it,” Maia Skarphol said. “The reason it’s spanning a year is because Gabe and I are paying for it out of pocket. We didn’t take out any loans, so as we save money, we buy material and then we use it, save money, buy material, use it. That way when it’s done, it’s all paid for.”
THE CONSTRUCTION PROCESS
To start, the Skarphols modified designs from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. Then they bought a 24-foot trailer, which was the second largest size available to them. “The bigger you get, the harder it is to go down the road,” Maia Skarphol said. Gabriel Skarphol and a friend actually drove from Fargo to Colorado to pick up the trailer because it would have been more expensive to deliver.
Kimchi, the Skarphol’s corgi, supervised the build.
The next step was to purchase lumber. Luckily, Gabriel’s sister, Kara Skarphol, works for Casselton Lumber and was able to help them choose materials. This build really turned into a family effort. For the exterior, the Skarphols chose cedar and for the interior they went with knotty pine.
The Skarphols went with a metallic, copper roof to complement the theme of their interior design, which will have copper accents throughout.
To transport their tiny home, the Skarphols have a Ford F-150 truck
TINY BUILDING CHALLENGES
When it comes to tiny houses, “They’re not as easy to build as you think,” John Skarphol said. “There’s different things you have to do to be able to put them on the road. Gabe and Maia learned a lot through that class–what specifications you have to have, heights, widths, windows, things like that. They don’t make a lot of products for tiny houses, so you have to make your pieces to fit, otherwise everything is too big.” To remedy this, Gabriel Skarphol and John Skarphol did a lot of custom woodwork themselves.
John and Gabriel Skarphol custom-built the staircase.
The climate in North Dakota is another challenge. During the winter, the Skarphols will need to cover the bottom of their trailer so the plumbing doesn’t freeze. They will also need a reliable heating system, so John Skarphol plans to install a Sony mini-split unit for heating and air conditioning.
Another concern is mold build-up, which is common in tiny houses. Of course, that can be prevented with good ventilation.
When talking about these challenges, Maia Skarphol said, “We wouldn’t be at this stage without him (John Skarphol), and we really appreciate his support, time and hard work.”
The Skarphols knew that their relationship could survive living in a tiny house because after they got married, the couple moved to South Korea and taught English for a year, where the two became comfortable sharing tight quarters.
When they returned to the U.S., the Skarphols did not pursue the typical American dream. “When we moved back, we weren’t looking for something really huge by any means,” Maia Skarphol said. At 700 square feet, the home the Skarphols are currently living in during the construction of their tiny house is also on the small side. Though they aren’t yet minimalists, the two have already cut their belongings in half and plan to do so once more before moving into their tiny house.
A LITTLE GET-TOGETHER
Once it is complete, the Skarphols plan to have a tiny house opening for the public.
“Normally people have house warming parties, so we thought it would be fun to have a tiny house opening. Normally when we’re working on it, total strangers stop by. They literally stop, park their car, walk up and strike up a conversation with us, even though we don’t know them. We thought it would be fun to give the opportunity, not just to family and friends, but anyone who wants to come see it,” Maia Skarphol said. She is also making a video documenting the build for her students, who are very intrigued by their teacher’s tiny house.
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE LAKE
After opening their tiny house to the public, the Skarphols hope to claim one of the vacant lake lots that Maia Skarphol’s mother owns and live in the structure year-round with their two dogs, a corgi named Kimchi and a basset hound named Ole.