After welcoming their baby girl a year ago, Bela and Spencer wanted to put down roots. So, they bought a tiny house (300 square feet, to be exact) and found a patch of land in the hills of Boulder Creek, California. Ahead, the editor and stay-at-home dad talk about the allure of small spaces, outdoor living and a bedroom that feels like a boat. Take a peek…
How did you decide a tiny house was for you?
Bela: People often get a tiny house to downsize or live more sustainably. We agree and support those motivations, but, to be totally honest, we decided on a tiny houses because we think they are the the best houses you can buy for the money.
Spencer: When we moved to California four years ago, the rent was way higher than we had expected. We ended up living in 15 different places. We were spending so much that we decided to reevaluate our lives. What else could we do with this money? We realized for $150,000, we could buy an amazing house in an incredible place — that just happens to be tiny. We decided to go for it.
What’s the area like?
Bela: We own our home, but we rent the land it’s on. We have a secluded half acre near hiking trails and redwood groves. If you walk up about five minutes, you get to a ridge with a panoramic view.
Spencer: I hike up to the ridge with our daughter, Escher, almost every morning to watch the sunrise; we often go as a family in the evenings to watch the sunset, too.
Are you near a town?
Bela: Ten minutes down the mountain is Boulder Creek, an old-school town with neighborhood picnics, no stoplights and a firefighter pancake breakfast on the Fourth of July. It’s small but lacks nothing: there’s an organic grocer, two hardware stores and plenty of restaurants. We pass through the town almost every day on our way to the local swimming holes, Santa Cruz beach or Big Basin Redwoods.
What was it like getting the house up there?
Spencer: It was a pendulum between insanity and amazement. We knew it was extreme to get a house delivered up a mountain on a truck, but we figured the professionals could handle it. But when the guy saw the steep road — with potholes and low-hanging branches — he refused to do it. So, we had to ditch the house there overnight and hope that nothing happened to it. We eventually found someone who said he could tow it and some good samaritans working on the property helped us cut back foliage on the road, so the 13-foot house could get up the hill. Everyone banded together — one guy was riding on top of the house with a chainsaw chopping branches. It was an ordeal, but now when we’re out on the deck watching the sunset, it feels like such a beautiful thing.
Tell us about the mural.
Spencer: In Nashville, the artist behind 1767 Designs creates art installations with wood rescued from homes and buildings before their demolition. Ours was made with wood from an old church.
What do you love most about the house?
Bela: My favorite thing about the house is all of the windows. There’s so much natural light. The garage door allows us to open the entire house up to the deck, which makes us feel like we’re indoors and outdoors at the same time.
What’s the typical rhythm of your day?
Bela: I’m the managing editor of The American Journal of Bioethics at Stanford, but I go into the office only twice a week. Much of my job is remote, which gives me a lot of freedom. We try to make the most of it.
Spencer: I am a stay-at-home dad, so I take care of our daughter and the house. I also did a lot of the design work along with our builder.
What advice do you have about living in a small space?
Bela: An essential part of living well here is organization. If you make a mess, it will be a lot more obvious. We also designed our house to have differentiated spaces by using soft barriers, like floor-to-ceiling curtains. Unlike many other tiny houses, where you essentially live in one room, ours feels more like a traditional home.
How did you two meet?
Bela: Spencer was working in the kitchen of a restaurant, and I saw him while I was at the bar. I thought he was sexiest man I had ever seen. It was one of those instant connections. It was amazing.
Spencer: We launched in right away and got married a year and half later. It has been just the two of us in pretty much everything we’ve done since.
Bela: Our partnership gives us a stability when making all sorts of crazy life decisions: traveling, having a kid, buying a tiny house. Sometimes you feel like you’re jumping off a cliff, and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, are we doing something totally crazy?’
Have you figured out what household things you do and don’t need?
Bela: Living with less requires discipline – you have to find out how you live and pare down to just the items that you actually use. We got this copper tea kettle because tea is a daily ritual for us, but we didn’t build large closets because we only have a set of favorite clothes that we wear on a regular basis.
Your kitchen pans are so beautiful!
Spencer: They are from Blanc Creative, these guys who handmake steel and copper pans in Virginia. We generally try to source things that are built to last with traditional craftsmanship in the U.S.
Bela: The cool thing about having a tiny house is that we can furnish it exactly how we want. We could never afford to furnish a full-size home this way, but because it’s smaller, we were basically able to get whatever we wanted, even more expensive stuff.
Spencer: Yeah, we are able to afford this fully customized, top-of-the-line tiny house. If you were to put our house on the scale of a 2,000-square-foot house, it would go for a million dollars.
Who cooks in your home?
Bela: Spencer does all the cooking. We always say, ‘each according to their ability.’ He excels at some things that I suck at, like cooking and cleaning.
Spencer: Right, but I am also a total scatterbrain. My life was officially a failure before I met Bela; she got me on the right track. So, yeah, Bela keeps our family on track and makes sure we’re doing the right thing, and allows me to guide the aesthetic details.
Where do you eat?
Spencer: If we’re having a more formal dinner, we’ll sit at the table outside; if we’re having a lounge-y dinner we’ll eat in the tent or go up to the ridge. We love to host dinner parties, so we wanted the ability to have a nice sit-down dinner. The table can be stored underneath the kitchen floor when we’re not using it.
Bela: Our deck is about the same size as the house. One of our main attractions to this house, versus other tiny houses, was that it wouldn’t force us to sacrifice the things we loved doing.
Grill: Primo Grill.
What do you serve for dinner parties?
Spencer: My favorite thing to make is a pan-roasted ribeye. It’s so much fun cooking it in a pan and getting that really hard sear on the outside so it’s crispy and juicy. It’s an exciting thing to cut up and serve family-style with a lot of salads.
Tell us about your bedroom.
Bela: It’s a cantilever room, so it hangs off the side of the house. It’s basically just a king-size bed in front of a huge picture window.
Spencer: Yeah, you feel like you’re on a boat or an airship or a cloud. You’re on this incredibly soft mattress, and all you see is sky, the moon and little bits of the trees.
Bela: Making the bed can be awkward, though!
Does Escher love her loft?
Bela: Yes, her room is a little haven for her. I think she’ll love growing up in it. But I was worried at first. Partly because it was lofted, but also, was it big enough for her? Would it be a fun space? Would it be a safe space?
Spencer: It’s hard because she doesn’t yet have a voice, so we had to plan for her. It’s easy when you plan for yourself, you know what you can handle. But we wanted to make sure we didn’t to take advantage of her by not giving her enough consideration. We tried to make sure that her space is nice, private and also spacious for her size. I think it worked out well.
Do you two go up there?
Bela: Yes! Something I love about the loft is that she can stand up in it, but an adult can’t, so you have to get down on her level to hang out with her. It turned out to be a cool unexpected feature.
How do you keep the toys under control?
Bela: Having a baby does give me a constant impulse to buy everything, but we try to keep her toys from piling up. We take her on plenty of hikes and she spends a lot of time playing in nature. She’s also a social butterfly and LOVES to party.
What has surprised you most about living in a tiny house?
Bela: The seamless transition. We thought that there would be a period of claustrophobia or adjustment, but the size never bothered us.
Spencer: One small drawback is having to be so precise with our movements, especially when the house is brand new and we don’t want to damage anything.
How are you documenting this new experience?
Bela: I tried to keep a diary as a kid, but when I went back to them as an adult, basically every entry is like, ‘Dear Diary, I don’t have time to write today.’ When I met Spencer and then had Escher, there was so much I wanted to remember. So I started keeping a bullet journal, where I write a line for any special memory.
Tent: Stout Tents. Outside rug: bought in Mexico.
Your tent is so awesome!
Bela: An extra room on a house will cost tens of thousands of dollars, but a canvas tent can provide the same comfort for way less. Escher runs circles around the center pole — we chase her and she’ll squeal the whole time! We also use it as her art and reading room, and she love to play with all the zippers.
Spencer: We have all this land, and we wanted to make sure we used it. We have a garden on one side of the house and the tent on the other. It keeps everything feeling fresh; instead of having a sense of living in a tiny house, you have a sense of living on an estate.
What will you do in the winter?
Bela: The tent is fully weatherproof, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on it once the rains start. We have a modest to-do list to winterize the house. It doesn’t get that cold, but the storms can be fierce and mountain roads can shut down temporarily. We’re also planning on visiting our families in North Carolina for a period of time.
What are your evenings like?
Spencer: When Escher goes to sleep, we go to the tent to relax. It’s 100 feet behind the house, so we can still hear her. Pretty much our favorite thing to do is chitchat — we spend a lot of evenings just talking to one another about our days, our future plans, what have you.
Bela: We have been together for seven and a half years and we still haven’t run out of things to talk about.
Thank you so much, Bela and Spencer!