After five years in Hawaii, Joshua Bowles is going big with the concept of living small. The North Shore woodworker recently finished his first “tiny home,” assembled in Wahiawa with materials purchased from Oahu suppliers.
With a 26-foot trailer as its foundation, Bowles provided his clients with a 250-square-foot studio for about $100,000.
“It’s not particularly tough to design, but you have to think about using every square inch of space,” he said.
The tiny-home concept has been growing in popularity as an affordable option to escalating home prices. While census data show the median size of a single-family home built in the United States last year was 2,422 square feet, stand-alone tiny homes are typically between 100 and 400 square feet, according to The Tiny Life website.
The dwellings are designed to be portable and are built on rolling trailers that are towed to their destination. Fans say the benefits of tiny homes include lower mortgage debt, a reduced environmental footprint and a simpler lifestyle.
Hailing from a multigenerational family of Northern California craftsmen — Bowles’ grandfather was a carpenter and bridge builder and his father makes musical instruments — he spent 15 years building houses in Texas before coming to Honolulu on vacation to recharge and refocus.
“It was a time for me to re-envision the future, so I came here to do yoga training,” said Bowles, 44. “I thought I was going to be here three or four months.”
The opportunity to build some benches and a table for the yoga studio he attended turned into opening Lyric Woodworking, first as a small shop in Waimanalo before leasing a Wahiawa wood mill in 2014.
“I love making furniture but I also enjoy creating spaces and building houses,” he said. “So this is actually a really happy medium. (Tiny homes are) kind of like a piece of furniture that you live in.”
The custom home Bowles designed for his clients weighs 8,500 pounds; with a built-in loft, its highest point is nearly 14 feet. The clients, who declined to be interviewed, are longtime Honolulu residents who recently bought a 2.2-acre agricultural mixed-use lot in the Olomana area of Kailua. Bowles said they plan to use the tiny home as a part-time caretaker’s residence while the land is being developed.
A tour of the tiny home doesn’t take long. Step inside a sliding glass door from the separately constructed wooden deck and you’re in the middle of a living/dining area that includes a small sink and minifridge. Four large windows provide plenty of natural lighting and pendant lights hang from the ceiling.
A small bathroom is equipped with a shower and composting toilet. Stairs lead up to a cozy loft space big enough to fit a bed and not much else. Storage is obviously at a premium, so Bowles redesigned many of the dead spaces inside walls and under the stairs to include storage.
Handmade cabinets offer more options. Bowles used locally sourced monkeypod wood for trim, pulls and a countertop.
“I’d love to experiment with using even more local materials,” he said. “I definitely could use more local wood.”
There is no running water in the house and electricity is provided by solar panels supplemented by a generator.
After about four months of work with two helpers on his first tiny home, Bowles said his clients paid about $100,000 from start to finish. For about $50,000 more, he thinks he could create “something amazing.” He added that he hopes to explore “different roof shapes” and “the idea of multiple trailers.”
“I’ve got to find the right client with the right budget,” said Bowles. “If cost is the No. 1 concern, I’m not the right fit. But if they want a beautiful, highly customized tiny house built with local materials, then I’m the guy.”
Contact Joshua Bowles at 366-9290 or email JB@lyricwoodworking.com. Find Lyric Woodworking online at lyricwoodworking.com or on Facebook and Instagram.
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WHEELS OR NOT, BUILDING RULES APPLY
Most proponents of tiny homes built on wheeled trailers claim the structures are recreational vehicles and need only be registered as such to be considered legal.
Not so fast, says the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting.
According to Deputy Director Tim Hiu, no matter if the vehicle in question is a lunch wagon, recreational vehicle or tiny home built on a trailer, it all comes down to use and transportability.
“A building is any structure used or intended for supporting … occupancy,” Hiu wrote via email in response to Honolulu Star-Advertiser questions. This includes “any structure mounted on wheels, such as a trailer, wagon or vehicle which is parked and stationary for any 24-hour-period and is used for business or living quarters.”
Hiu added that if a “street-legal vehicle” is moved once every 24 hours, then it “is not defined as a building.”
If a vehicle is intended to be used as a permanent structure, then the owner needs to apply for a building permit, he said.
Zoning and subdivision rules also may be a factor, so it’s wise to consult with professionals knowledgeable in those areas when considering the purchase or construction of a tiny home.
Call the Department of Planning and Permitting at 768-8000 or visit honoluludpp.org.