When a Tiny House Became a Very Big Deal

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Tiny House La Petite Maison

(image: La Petite Maison)

We’ve written quite a bit about tiny homes — those pint-size living spaces that incorporate only the necessary basics and in doing so, provide a kind of freedom that you simply can’t find with a traditional house. From tiny houses that are carried on a hitch to the farthest reaches of the world to whole tiny house communities, the idea of “less is more” is definitely catching on.

When Sicily Kolbeck of Marietta, Georgia chose to build a small house, it wasn’t more than a whim, at least at first. Then 12 years old, she was looking for something to use as a school project. Her parents were immediately on board. Her mother, Suzannah, was a teacher and the founder of Sicily’s small, independent school. Her father, Dane, was a sailor and a woodworker. He definitely knew how to swing a hammer, and he could teach his daughter what she needed to know.

A school project becomes an obsession

Sicily got started, and soon the tiny house became an obsession. She made piles of blueprints. She opened up a fundraising campaign, learned to use power tools, and built scale models of what her house might look like. She even started a blog, La Petite Maison, to keep track of her progress.

The first few weeks of construction were rough, as any parent of a middle-school child can appreciate. Working on a project with your child, guiding them yet letting them take the reins, can be a difficult balance for any parent. But over time, Dane and Sicily figured out how to work together. Things were going well by February of 2013, a month into construction.

But then came the call that changed everything. Dane had been killed in a car accident.

Sorrow halts tiny house construction

For the Kolbeck family, life suddenly moved in slow motion. The tiny house was the last thing on anyone’s mind. But soon, a family friend noticed the little house outside, and suggested that the project could start again. Without much enthusiasm, Sicily trudged to Home Depot, bought materials, and started work again.

But life was slowly falling apart, and the little house fell to the wayside again. Mother and daughter were doing their best just to keep their heads above the waters of grief. They finally took a trip, heading out in the car for five weeks on the road, crashing with friends, figuring things out as they went along. When they came back, they saw the shell of the tiny house. And suddenly, it meant something more. It was something they had to finish in order to heal.

The community pitches in

This time, the tiny house went into full swing construction. Friends and family pitched in. Experts donated their time to teach Sicily how to wire a house, plumb the kitchen, and do other things that her father would have taught her to do, had he been there to do it.

The project required focus, physical labor and hard work, as well as plenty of crying and screaming out of frustration. But there were happy moments, too; like the day she figured out how to fit a window from her father’s boat into the loft of the tiny house.

The tiny house meant big healing

“”It wasn’t until later … probably these past couple months that I realized why I’m doing this,” Sicily told CNN. “I’m doing it to show him that I can do stuff, to show him that I am capable and he doesn’t need to yell at me when I can’t use the drill.”

The tiny house was completed in April 2014. It’s a stunning little place, filled with white walls and bright light and the right kind of space for a young girl who needs a little space of her own. But it’s also filled with the heart of a community, the kindness of strangers, the tears of healing, and most importantly, a whole lot of love.

Tiny house exterior La Petite Maison

image: La Petite Maison

This summer Sicily and her mother will pack up their belongings and move to Baltimore. The tiny house will go with them.

“We’re able to leave because it’s done,” Suzannah told CNN. “To have given up would’ve felt wrong, just a reminder that we didn’t do something, that we’d been beaten by this awful event, that we didn’t care. We’re able to leave because it’s done.”

Visit Sicily’s blog to see more pictures of the tiny house that became a very big deal.


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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.