Let’s face it. Teenagers get a bad rap these days. And why shouldn’t they? As time marches on it seems there is a moral decay in the youth of America. From the lack of respect shown to adults to the lack of respect shown by oneself, teenagers have allowed themselves to fall into – what seems from the outside – a general stupor in which the purveying attitude is one of indifference.
Motivation? What’s that? Ambition? Wasn’t that a Madonna album? And what do you mean by, “What do I want out of life?”
If we were all to pay attention to MTV, seventeen magazine, and Hot Topic, we would think that the end is near and everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Miss Manners is rolling over in their graves. But when meeting a few teens like Sicily Kolbeck, Austin Hay, and Celina Dill, it is hard to think that complacency is any more than just a high-point word on the Scrabble board.
Tiny house builders all, these three teens are re-imagining the future and building a sustainable existence for themselves; all before they can even vote!
18 year old Austin Hay
For anyone who has been around the Tumbleweed Tiny website or workshops or for anyone who regularly watches the faircompanies YouTube channel, Austin Hay is a bit of a celebrity.
At just 18 years old he has been building and now living in his Fencl tiny house in Sonoma County, CA since 2010. “I decided to build a tumbleweed house to show adults and peers that one person can help with “the big picture”.
I truly believe it is important to keep this world we have healthy. My decision to downsize and go tiny was as much to help the environment as anything,” says Hay.
At 130 square feet Hay began building the house because he wanted to. He was assigned to write a research paper at school and so chose to research tiny houses. One thing led to another and now his full-time hobby has become his own home, nestled in his parent’s backyard.
Features include vaulted ceilings, hardwood oak floors, a stainless steel sink, double-paned glass doors, a refrigerator, a shower, and a composting toilet. Considering the room most teens are given in their parent’s house one could easily say Austin is living large!
When Hay first came up with the idea he approached his parents. Their response was supportive saying if he paid for it himself they would support the project 100%. Most tiny house builders – no matter what their age – typically receive this show of support.
Others however find their families to be more than just supported.
12 year old Sicily Kolbeck
“My mom really got excited. I think at one point in the beginning she was more excited than myself,” adds Sicily Kolbeck, an enterprising 12-year old from Marietta, GA.
“My dad didn’t really understand the idea. He thought I was building something like a fort. It took some long discussions to get him to fully understand that this is a real house.”
“I can’t really remember the first time I saw a tiny house. I remember thinking to myself that it was just the right amount of space. Not too much and not too little. I thought it was really cool.”
Kolbeck carries with her the energy of a cheerleader and the ambition of an older adult. Her story is interesting and like Hay, grounded in education. Kolbeck attends HoneyFern School; a fully accredited 6th – 12th grade private school in West Cobb, Georgia, modeled on the idea that all kids are unique, capable of greatness and deserving of an exceptional education.
As a Project-Based Learning school part of the curriculum is that each student has to complete a fairly large-scale project by years end. Without hesitation Kolbeck chose to build a tiny house for her project. Seem lofty? For some perhaps.
But since beginning her build in late 2012 Kolbeck has raised over $1500 to help purchase materials, secured a trailer, brought on corporate sponsors like EcoFoil, been featured on the r(E)vo Convo podcast, and been seen on Good.is, as well as
several prominent tiny house blogs. The attention hasn’t really changed her goal or her perspective though.
“I honestly didn’t think I would be such a big deal. I was just doing this to have fun and learn a few things on the way. I did want people to know about me
though. I wanted people to understand that just because I am twelve, doesn’t mean I need to be treated like a child. Doing this has made people look at me in a different light.”
17-year old Celina Dill
Kolbeck’s sentiment is echoed by another teenage phenomenon; Celina Dill.
At 17-years old Dill is perhaps the most elusive of the group spending more time retreating in the workshops of her mentors, exploring the world around her, and trying to find balance in the work/play arena.
Says the Whidbey Island resident, “I didn’t expect any of this and I still have a hard time understanding that it’s real and that I am the one [they] are talking about.” Dill doesn’t mind the attention but feels like life balance is important.
She has admittedly spent the last year thinking about and building her custom tiny house almost exclusively, a large undertaking to say the least, her 180 sq.ft. tiny house trailer with gambrel roof is a marvel with hand forged beams, a reclaimed foundation, and lots of personal and custom furnishings.
“It isn’t just about designing and building a house though. For me this about designing and building my life. And I need balance in my life.”
Speaking of balance when asked how their peers and friends feel about their miniature mansions the three agree that it is a source of entertainment, solace, freedom, and independence for all teens.
“My friends definitely want to have some sleepovers in my house,” Kolbeck mentions. “When I first started they asked, me why I don’t just buy one at Home Depot.” Though a little older though, Hay’s buddies are jealous of his freedom and of having his own house.
But he is quick to add that “they don’t want one because it’s tiny.” An interesting point considering the decline of the housing market over the last 6 years.
“When you look back at the past and compare the size of houses it is obvious that homes have only grown in size since World War II,” notes Brandon Mosley, an intern architect practicing in Dallas, Texas. “In general families feel entitled to more space.
Baby boomers ushered in the mindset questioning why their kids should have to share a room, share a bathroom, or have to hang out in the family room instead of a den or media room. This mentality has led to financial and spacial issues though.
Bigger is not always better and the increasing size of homes have taken their toll economically and environmentally.
Perhaps Hay explains it best. “People should choose a house that they can afford and be happy in. People shouldn’t care if what others think of their home. People should care of what they think of their home.” Dill agrees.
“In countries all over the world families are happy in considerably less space than we have here in the States. There is less emphasis on ownership and property and more emphasis on family and friends and laughter; the real stuff.”
Is all this feasible though? Can any teenager build a tiny house?
These three seem to think so. “Save your money. Research and build it right from the beginning. And don’t be discouraged. Young people can do anything they want.
They just have to believe,” says Hay. Adds Kolbeck, “My advice is do what is comfortable to you. If you don’t really need to cook but you love to paint, cut the kitchen in half and make plenty of shelves for your paint; plus lots of windows for natural light. Do what suits you best. You aren’t trying to impress anybody, so don’t.
Written By: Andrew Odom * Illustration By: Melinda Golden for the Tiny House Magazine Issue 3 (2013)