Tiny House, Tremendous Style

Living small takes creativity
all photos by jenn bakos
The house reflects Tudor storybook cottages, steamer trunks, clipper ships and gypsy caravans.

It takes a different sort of person to want to live in a tiny house. One immediately thinks of a minimalist type of character who boasts a bare-bones wardrobe and a pared-down interior décor. This fictional tiny house owner most certainly borrows books from the library rather than accumulating them.

The inhabitants of this tiny house don’t quite fit that mold.

Together, homeowners Chloe Barcelou and Brandon Batchelder own B&C Productions, a set design company for film, theatre and photography. They met in 2009 at a Starbucks where Barcelou worked as a barista, and soon their professional paths began to merge when Barcelou quit her day job and began working as a junior stylist for ENNIS Inc., a multispecialty styling agency. As her creations grew ever more fantastical, Batchelder quit his day job too, and turned to his considerable carpentry skills to making her imaginations a reality. Barcelou’s singular mix of fine art, fashion and fantasy gained the notice of filmmaker Hooroo Jackson, who hired her to art direct her first feature film, “Aimy in a Cage,” in 2014. In the short time since then, the two have set the stage for five films — as well as the most astonishing tiny house I’ve ever seen.

“You have to be creative to be creative in New Hampshire,” says Batchelder. “We had to reduce our cost of living so that we could work less and have more creative space to take the jobs we wanted. Movies are happening all over the country now in really cool places. A tiny house seemed the solution to our problem. It allows us to live more cheaply and be mobile.”

“And we thought, while we’re at it, why not make it a portfolio piece?” adds Barcelou.

Inspired by the styles of Tudor storybook cottages, steamer trunks, clipper ships and gypsy caravans, Barcelou and Batchelder constructed their tiny house almost entirely from salvage, much of it from the sets they concocted.

“We loved the look of Colonial timber-framed homes but knew actual timbers would be too heavy for the trailer. We had this huge pile of two-by-fours left over from the set, so the director just gave them to us. Saved him the money of having them disposed of,” says Batchelder. “So we made fake timbers by putting four two-by-fours together to create hollow beams and hand-planed them for effect.”

Left: The kitchen has only the essentials. Right: A vanity and an office area share the same space.

“We did buy the chandelier off the set, though. It’s a handmade one-of-a-kind, and we knew that it would be magical in our house,” says Barcelou. “But we’re super frugal. People sometimes think that because our house is heavily decorated, that it cost a lot,” she continues. “But so much of it is salvage. My desk cost less than $40 and our kitchen cabinets were $28 total. We’ve found so much on the side of the road and made it over to our style and needs.”

Other salvage examples include the shower, which they made from $25 of scrapyard materials ground down to bare metal and riveted together. The window is a Crockpot lid that cost a dollar. The gorgeous mahogany ladder was actually made from the trailer’s original side rails.

“Who uses mahogany for a trailer?” Batchelder laughs. “Our lucky day.”

Creativity extends well beyond the décor. Most things average homeowners take for granted — heating, water, waste disposal, winterization — Batchelder has engineered from salvaged parts, including the side bump-outs and the intricate pulley system that raises and lowers the roof to create extra space when parked.

“I know that we don’t really face the hardships of the pioneers, but it definitely sometimes feels that way. If we need, we make it,” he says.

The two estimate the house has cost them a total of $15,000-$20,000. They plan to put in another $5,000, much of it for updated systems.

Along with the obvious challenges of living in a tiny house they made themselves, are there any unexpected benefits?

“Mike Rowe from ‘Dirty Jobs’ says that people used to have a positive emotional response to technology, now it’s often negative, like when something doesn’t work,” says Batchelder. “Having to build all our technology, when it works, we’re just amazed. Hot water blew our minds. It makes you truly appreciate every convenience.”

“We lived here for three months without a shower,” Barcelou says. “The first time it worked, I was in there for an hour at least. It was the best shower of my life.”

A view from above in Chloe Barcelou and Brandon Batchelder's tiny house

Decorator and color consultant Amy Mitchell is the owner of Home Glow Design. Each week, she writes for Home Glow’s “Saturday Blog," focusing on fresh twists on classic style, American craftsmanship and value and quality for dollars spent. She lives in Hopkinton with her husband and two boys.