Downsizing is serious business for Shawn and Jamie Dehner. With amazing creativity, they’ve refined the art of living simply.
Have you noticed the tiny house at the foot of Largaud Drive? Though miniscule, it’s hard to miss this little orange masterpiece of Shawn’s design. It actually sits on a 20–foot long flatbed trailer. And at just 99 inches wide, it can legally take to the road. But they won’t be hitching it up anytime soon. “We love it here,” Jamie says. “We’ve finally found a home.”
Like many who love the west, their roots are in the east. Shawn was born in Boynton Beach, Florida and moved to Seattle to pursue a degree in Classical Greek from the University of Washington. Jamie was born in “Chocolate Town” – Hershey, Pennsylvania – and moved to Seattle as a child when her mother, an oncologist, bought a medical practice there. She went on to get a degree in Anthropology. They met, appropriately, in a bookstore and in 1998 were married in the Seattle courthouse.
“We didn’t want a big wedding,” they say. “We just wanted to get married.” In that courthouse, the door on the left leads to the jail, the one on the right to the marriage commissioner. “For some it might be one and the same,” Shawn quips. “But we’ve been lucky. We’re unusually compatible.”
While in Seattle, Jamie and Shawn created an internet business selling books online, specializing in sheet music, texts and religious books. “The Well-Worn Page has been good to us,” Shawn says ”and this means we can live where we want.” Where they wanted was out of the big city and in 2003 they moved to Point Roberts and bought a fixer-upper. With help from Alberto Martinez, they remodeled from floor to ceiling. “Tell them you learned everything from a plumber,” Alberto said. And it was true. “Most of all, he gave us the courage to try things and trust that we could do it.”
But family reasons called them back to the east. In 2007 they moved to Maine and they were ready to build a large house. “The footprint was 24 by 32 feet,” Jamie says. “It was huge – three stories high!” For two years it was their passion – a labor of love, but they just weren’t in love with it. “It was too big. It didn’t feel right. We wanted to be able to maintain a house all on our own.” And, of course, they missed the west coast. So in 2009 they moved back to Point Roberts, settling on the south side. “We wanted sun for a garden,” Jamie says. And now, on an eighth of an acre, they’ve found what works for them.
Their vision of a small home grew out of their experience of a large one. “We don’t need large.” Looking around their tiny space, Jamie reflects, “This home feels spacious and comfortable.” Strangers stop by, “enchanted by the size.” And so they started a new internet business selling Shawn’s ingenious designs for small homes. You can even download one for free and they have hits from all over the world.
Living in compact quarters is proof of the Dehner’s compatibility. There’s nothing forced about the harmony between them. And 160 square feet means living with order. There’s nothing out of place. I’m enchanted by the warmth of pine, the 12-inch boat fireplace perched on the wall and the pintsized kitchen counter cooling three loaves of homemade bread. Climbing the vertical stairs to the sleeping loft I see the soft cloud of a lavender duvet.
Out in the garden I can see just how productive one eighth of an acre can be. A small greenhouse is filled with tomato starts, and around it are berry, melon and veggie plants. A cloud of real lavender covers the septic system. A beehive sits off to the side and most exciting to Jamie is the distinctive sound of the queen bee as she is preparing for her maiden flight, “her honeymoon,” Shawn says. Few would recognize it, but it sounds like “meep, meeeep.” “It’s called piping,” Jamie explains. “The first time I heard it was like a quadruple shot of espresso!”
Into this idyllic setting, Whatcom County interjects a law that you can only live four months a year in an RV, which technically describes the Dehner’s home, so this summer they’ll start building their new house. It’ll be a “big little home” at 680 square feet. They both love to cook, so more kitchen space will be welcome. Jamie, an accomplished writer and a member of a local book group, will see their books out of storage. Shawn’s looking forward to getting up in the morning and actually being able to stand up. And the little orange house will remain as office space for their growing internet business.
Though their impact on the world’s resources is slight, there is no hint of self-righteousness about the Dehners. They tread as lightly with their ideas as they do upon the Earth. And on their walks around Point Roberts, they’ll likely run into as many as ten people they know. Point Roberts is just right for them. “It’s cozy, it’s small.”
To see Shawn’s designs and read Jamie’s blog, visit www.smallhousecatalog.com, where you’ll find so much more about small houses and bee colonies and inspired life choices.