Tiny Anderson Island home leaves big impression on family of four

Parked under the trees at a camp site on Anderson Island is the Graves family summer home — all 180 square feet of it.

The white siding, blue trim and second-floor windows tell you immediately that this residence is different than the recreational vehicles surrounding it.

The 8-foot wide house runs 22 1/2 feet long with 12-foot vaulted ceilings at its center.

“Until (people) see it, they say ‘That’s crazy,’” Rusty Graves said of the reaction when he explains that his family of four shares the 180-square-foot house he built.

But step inside and it’s not hard to see how the Graves family has made the transition from their 1,200-square foot home in Arizona to a space less than one-sixth that size.

It has dual-pane windows, a full-size kitchen sink, 8-feet of counter space, a 24-inch four burner gas stove and oven and 12-cubic-foot refrigerator. It also has a combined washer and dryer, a small bathtub and bathroom sink.

Graves, 32, built the house with the help of wife Rachelle at their Arizona home 30 miles west of Phoenix. They towed it behind their van, drove north and parked it on Anderson Island in June.

Living in a tiny house on the South Sound’s southernmost island has forced the family to spend a lot of time outdoors, which is exactly what Rachelle, 30, says she wanted.

They’ve visited tide pools to teach their children Maverick, 8, and Anjali, 6, about sea life. They rode bikes around the island, swam and used paddle boards and boats in its three freshwater lakes, picked apples, blackberries and huckleberries to make jam and applesauce. They regularly see deer and racoons and different bird species.

These are all experiences the children can’t get in Arizona, said Rachelle, who grew up in Washington.

Maverick and Anjali apparently don’t mind the close quarters with mom and dad — or the fact that they left most of their toys and clothes behind.

“I don’t hear them saying ‘Oh, we miss the TV, we miss our toys,’” Rachelle Graves said. “We’re making memories.”

Living in the tiny house and soaking up the outdoors have helped the home-schooled children learn critical thinking, she said.

The compact living has also helped the family save money, affording them more experiences together. This summer included trips to Seattle’s Space Needle, Great Wheel and Pike Place Market. The family also took a trip to Mount Rainier.

A truck driver, Rusty can work when he wants and was able to take the summer off.

With summer drawing to a close, the family is preparing to head back to Arizona. They planned to return by the end of August, but have found it hard to leave the Northwest. They’ve put the tiny house up for sale, hoping someone else will want to share the joys of a simpler life.

If they don’t get a buyer before they leave, they’ll hitch the home to the van, load it on the ferry and return with it to Arizona.

The Graves household offers proof that life in a tiny home doesn’t require sacrificing everyday comforts.

Twelve-volt LED lights are recessed in the ceiling. Outlets supplying power to the bread machine, juicer, portable heater, printer and laptop are fueled by a truck battery outside. A tankless water heater delivers instant hot water.

There’s no microwave, dishwasher or television, but the family doesn’t seem to miss them much.

“It really goes back to want versus need,” Rusty said.

They estimate they spent $10,000 to build and outfit the home. One company that builds tiny homes professionally lists its largest model for $70,000 on its website.

The family didn’t build it to join the tiny-house movement that’s grown in recent years as people look to alternative housing options. For them, the idea was born of necessity.

Two years ago, they visited Anderson Island and camped in tents for six weeks over the summer. They caught the ferry to use a laundromat in Lakewood and had a hard time making fresh meals.

They bought a plot of vacant land on the island, but Rachelle had some conditions before agreeing to return.

“I told him I wanted a (bath)tub and a way to wash clothes,” she said.

After seeing information online about tiny homes, Rusty started researching how to build one. He went online to buy scaled-down appliances and find materials for free.

A sheet of graph paper in hand, he sketched out the home, including two loft spaces large enough to hold queen-size blow-up mattresses with a 5-foot ceiling so they could sit up in bed.

He researched composting toilets and created a system that involves a 5-gallon bucket and sawdust.

The family wishes they could keep the tiny home on the land they own on Anderson Island, but the homeowners association requires properties must be at least 1,000-square feet, Rusty said. Someday, they will build a structure that meets the requirement, he said.

Despite looking to sell the home, it won’t be the family’s last. He already has plans to build an 80-square-foot house that the family can use for two-person camping trips.

“It creates so much more by having so much less,” he said.