Post image for Phil Thiel: the faster you go, the narrower your perspective.

Naval architect Phil Thiel died at the age of 93 in May. Here’s an insight from his Seattle Times obituary:

“Phil’s philosophy was, the faster you go, the narrower your perspective,” Cunningham said. “I learned the word ‘flâneur,’ from him. It refers to a person who sees things in fine detail, who comes across things by chance. That was Phil’s preferred method of traveling.”

His family continues to maintain his website and his pedal-powered boat designs, including the Escargot, available for sale.

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Post image for Pedal-powered Shanty Boat

The 18’6″ x 6′ Escargot is a pedal-powered boat designed by Phil Thiel. I absolutely love the idea of this small, easy-to-build shanty boat as a house.

The minimalist design is beautifully simple. Functionally somewhere between a motor-driven cruiser boat and a kayak or canoe — it’s perfect for eco-tourism rentals and slow houseboaters alike.

The boat is aptly named due to the fact that it only goes 3-4 miles per hour at a pedaling rate of 50rpm.

91-year-old naval architect Phil Thiel, born in Brooklyn, now in Seattle has created human-powered boats since his teenage years. According to Wooden Boat magazine, he has only driven a car twice in his lifetime. He sells fully detailed plans for $150 by mail.

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Post image for A-Frame House Inspiration

The A-frame house is a minimalist structure with such a steep roofline that it efficiently sheds snowfall. These houses were widely popularized after WWII as a symbol of the modern vacation cabin. Here are just a few that have caught my eye lately.

A "love hut" in Zegg Community near Berlin, Germany


Okayama, Japan

San Clemente, Chile

Photograph by Ruth Mountaingrove, 1972

Western Norway

Post image for Experimental Living on Indy Island

Photo from Stephen Simonetto

This tiny island was featured on my blog last year when nobody was living there, but now I have photos from the current resident, Katherine Ball.

Her six-week residency entitled “No Swimming” runs from August 12th until September 25th and Katherine is blogging from her iPad along the way.

It is definitely a spartan existence living in a 20 foot diameter fiberglass and foam igloo. “I’m using a lot of resources from the museum, keeping food in the visitor center. I could cook out here but then I have to wash my dishes. I could create a miniature grey water system,” said Ball when she first moved in.

photo from

Built by artist Andrea Zittel, the intention is for a different artist to live here every summer and modify the island however they like.

They call it Indianapolis Island or “Indy Land” and it lives on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Katherine is implementing the use of mushrooms (mycobooms) to filter toxins out of the lake water. “It’s strange that people I talk to all over the country are resigned to the fact that our waterways are polluted. I would love to help people feel like ‘our waterways are polluted, we need to try to fix this’ instead of simply accepting that pollution is normal.”

Read her blog for more information on this biologically-oriented pollution solution.  Photos by Michelle Pemberton / The Star. Thanks to Deryck for the head’s up.

Post image for 7 Lessons Learned from Living on the Road

For five months my partner and I have been on a perpetual vacation, living off-the-grid in our Toyota 4Runner as modern vagabonds of the American West. That’s right, we said goodbye to the house, ditched the trailer and downsized to a truck (AKA our teeny tiny house), pictured above in central Nevada.

Camped out in New Mexico

Our makeshift RV
Michael removed the backseat and outfitted this 4-wheel-drive SUV with a cozy sleeping platform, privacy window shades, and a Thule roof box we affectionately call “upstairs.”

Sunrise at the end of the road (Carrizo Badlands, California)

We carry with us a large cooler of fresh food, a box of dry food, and two 6-gallon water containers so we can be boondocking out in the middle of nowhere for a week or two without having to resupply. 

Inspired by Leo Babauta’s 38 lessons learned, I wanted to create my own message for anyone inspired to travel the way we do. Here are the 7 most valuable lessons I learned from 5 months of living on the road:

1. You don’t need as much stuff as you think you need.
Really. If you have very little stuff it’s easier to move, clean up, pack up, and keep important items at arm’s reach.

2. Go slow.
There’s no reason to rush. Don’t make concrete plans. Engage with where you’re at rather than worrying about where you gotta be next. If you have stumbled upon someplace pleasant, stay an extra day or two. Why not?

3. Go the opposite direction everyone else is going.
OK, so we have our biases (my sweetie and I are both rather introverted) but I think everyone could appreciate the outdoors a little more if they had it to themselves. We often pass up campgrounds and weekend crowds to make use of remote dirt roads and startlingly quiet public lands.

4. Leave a place better than you found it.
Carry out an extra bag of trash, even if it’s not yours. It’s good for the ecosystem and your karma.

5. Be nice to strangers.
Ask questions. Talk to the locals especially. They often have the inside scoop on the places you’re headed, and maybe even a good story or two. On the loneliest highway you never know when you might need their help.

6. Reward yourself with small pleasures.
When you are away from modern conveniences for so long, it’s important to treat yourself well. For us we splurge on good, healthy, fresh food at the grocery store (and a fair amount of chocolate too). We also figure in plenty of leisure time for reading books.

7. Get creative.
Get lost. Make it up as you go along. It’s not about where you’re going, but how you go.

Post image for The Tiny House Movement is Growing…

A year ago I was just settling in to calling it a “movement” and before that it was just my weird obsession. Now it’s in the New Yorker: The rise of the tiny-house movement. Creative downsizing is taking hold in the hearts and minds of Americans these days, if nothing else than by necessity.

I like how the author Alec Wilkinson makes a distinction between the various types of people who are moving into tiny spaces. In my own words I’ve condensed the categories here:

  1. Young people who cannot conceive of being able to afford a “real” house or supersized rent in a big city.
  2. Older people who are done with home ownership, trying to keep some semblance of savings, or are empty nesters.
  3. All idealists who are seeking a lighter footprint and privileged enough to design their own lifestyle.

In combination, this movement is made up of some fascinating people, some of whom are mentioned in the article. Photo above is Jay Shafer with his wife and son and Tumbleweed House, photograph by Jeff Minton.

But I want to highlight a couple of folks who do not get as much press attention as Jay. These are wonderful women whom I am pleased to call my friends.

Tammy Strobel,

A couple of years ago Tammy was a new blogger on the tiny house scene. Now she is one of the top. Last year she was featured in the New York Times, on the Today Show, and other major media outlets.

Tammy and her partner Logan had us over for dinner recently in their small Portland apartment and showed us pictures of their tiny house being built. Less than 100 square feet, the work of art they’ve commissioned should be finished this fall.

Cheers to Tammy and Logan for their commitment to social change and their personal follow through. Tammy has even been able to earn a living through her writing. I look forward to hearing more from them as they move into their tiny house and explore simple living as a couple.

Photo credit: The Oregonian

Dee Williams,

A true hero, Dee is the lay-person who built her own 84 square foot house and has been living in it for the past 7 years. Affectionately called “The Little House” she opens it up for tours and speaks to kids about voluntary simplicity and sustainability. Positive change begins at home, she says, and she means that literally.

I love all the attention she has been getting, on the cover of Yes!Magazine, in TIME Magazine, on NPR, on NBC Nightly News, etc. but my favorite so far is her TEDx talk in Portland last May.

Dee has written an incredibly helpful book called Go House Go: How to build a tiny house on wheels and I highly recommend it if you’re considering doing it on your own. It is hands down the most helpful thing I’ve read for tiny house wannabes — that is, people who are planning to build a little house on a trailer. (Also, a building workshop is not a bad idea either.)

Give it up for the ladies! Keep an eye on them. As the Dalai Lama said in a lecture two years ago, “The world will be saved by the Western woman.”

Post image for Vardo Truck Camper

An email arrived reminding me that tomorrow is the last day the Vardo plans will be on sale from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. This got me daydreaming about building a DIY truck camper on top of my friend’s old Toyota pickup truck.

By far the smallest design offered by the company, this vardo incorporates a full-size bed and 35 cubic feet of storage below. I’m not sure about the practicality of this on the road, but it is certainly one of the cutest handmade campers I’ve seen in person. This creation lived next to Jay’s house as a teeny tiny guest house in Sebastopol when I was there.