I call it a Tiny House because as a movement, it’s become really popular recently. There’s been TV shows and articles on it, and I call it that so people who are associated with that concept can better understand what I’m creating. The reality is, it’s accessible and alternative living for people like me – young women who want a safe place to live who cannot afford to buy a house.
I’ve always wanted to build my own home. Ever since I was a kid I’d be sketching layouts and blueprints even before I knew what a blueprint was. I was always fascinated with different spaces and architecture. It’s stayed in the back of my mind for a long time and didn’t pursue it in school, I was scared and I didn’t know why.
I ended up studying International Development. I’ve always been interested in social justice and how that plays a role. I’ve learned how sustainability plays a role across the world and in the US. Thinking about space and sustainability essentially. Even though I shied away from architecture as a kid, I was surrounded by a family of artists and I wanted to be different. It came back full circle when I discovered Landscape Architecture in college about designing green spaces consciously.
That’s when things started pouring out of me without me even trying. Though I hadn’t sketched in years, I was drawing things and processing things through my hands in ways I never have before. I was thinking I wanted to get my masters in Landscape Architecture. I went to Berkeley for 6 weeks to take a test to see if it was a program I wanted to take, and it was really great! But I realized that before I went back to school that I wanted to work with my hands and in the industry to get my hands dirty for a little bit. I’ve lived in The Bay for a few years and got some experience and in two years later, I wasn’t happy and felt creatively unfulfilled. I felt like there was still something I needed to do that I haven’t figured out yet. I did a lot of reflection and the ideas of home and building my own home came back to me for creative and emotional and spiritual reasons. Building a safe and stable home was very important to me.
Right as I was going through these reflections, I was in Northern California on a trip in a small town and went on a run to clear my head and that’s when I saw a Tiny House in real life. I started poking around and looking around and this woman walks out and lets me look inside the space and told me how she built it herself. It was in that moment for me that felt so real. I told myself I needed to do it and understood it and hearing her story gave me that moment of ‘if you can do it, I can too.’ That’s when I told myself I would try and it figure out what my niche is. If I went back to school, that would have been a default and to me, hands on experience is in my opinion one of the most important things you can show for yourself along with certification and training.
Within a month, I was in San Diego because opportunities opened up and having the support from my mother really helped. When I moved to San Diego, within 8 months of research, I talked to a lot of people and heard their experience, and then another 8 months to get my trailer. When I found a used trailer on Craigslist it took me another 2 months to get into it. Slowly, I started learning different design principles and how to make a blueprint, and how to modify a steel frame. Essentially I just learned the process as I went along.
I work at a fabrication shop and essentially that’s been my schooling for 2 years. I’ve been building over a year and finally built my frame and am working on my walls right now. This has been the longest, most challenging, most costly, time consuming, most amazing experience I’ve ever done. It’s really turned into a child of mine. And it takes everything out of me but is also incredibly rewarding. I’ve learned more about myself, what I want and don’t want in my life through this process, and try to uplift others along the way and include them in the process to share that it is a community effort. Because if I can do it, they can too, the same way that I’ve been taught. It’s both exhausting and incredible.
I decided to build my Tiny House on a trailer so I can tow it. I not only wanted my space to feel safe and secure, but also allow flexibility if I want to move to another city. Essentially, it’s a symbolism of taking control of my life. It’s welded to a trailer that formerly was used to tow motorcycles and ATVs, and we framed the house to be on that. If we need to move it, we attach it to a hitch of a truck and it’s so crazy because it does fit in a parking spot.
In terms of my build process, it’s been an incredibly iterate process. I have visions of how I want certain things, whether it’s a way something looks or working with a specific material. There’s a give and take to the creative process and it’s not until it feels right that it’ll click. I wanted to try something innovative and push myself to work with a different material, like metal for the framing. It allows more flex but I don’t have to worry about framing like I would with wood. It doesn’t follow the rules for conventional framing, but it’s also very exciting dabbling in this new territory. The space I’m creating is home but it’s also a community space where I can inspire other people and share the process. I want it to be multifunctional, flexible, closed-in while being safe and sheltered, and also open and welcoming.
The other aspect aside from the creative process is the element of meeting basic human needs. Being a young woman, a woman of color, a homeowner, and feeling like I can be involved in the process of building and knowing that I’m a woman in architecture and construction – all those things it’s very important for me to add my voice. To show that yes we are here and we can use these tools as well and shadow those stigmas and stereotypes. It’s about creating more opportunities out of it.
There was a big element that was sparked by a need. For me, it was a combination of the need of financial necessity and emotional healing that I wanted to do from challenges in my family life. It’s amazing how many metaphors that building a home can essentially mean. Even as I’ve entered into different phases, there have been different parallels that would come up in my own life, different experiences that have allowed for different types of healing.
I’m trying to prove that you can make what you want happen. For me, I’m literally paying for this as I go out of my own pocket, with chunks at a time whether it is 50 dollars or 20 dollars at a time. Though it’s a slow process, it’s also very humbling. I want people to see that there’s opportunity for that. In a lot of ways it’s allowed me to be more creative and resourceful. For example, I needed a handful of tools and it was overwhelming thinking about the cost of it, so I put an ad out requesting for specific tools to borrow or be donated for my project and within a week I had all of those tools donated and those little things make a huge difference. Both financially and in my boost of energy. I’m incredibly grateful for those who’ve helped me just by lending a hand in any way.
Through the house build, I knew I wanted to form my niche and it just so happened I started my business out of it. I started Micro Modula as a modular, minimalist lifestyle brand – where I want to promote this kind of living and minimalist design through the jewelry I make, furniture, of the house itself, or the way of living simplifying this type of lifestyle. My next step is to develop more structure to the business and finish the walls to my house. It’s interesting because I do have the foundation for both, and it’s adding the support to both the business and the supports of the house itself. I really want to be more thoughtful about learning about entrepreneurship and having a plan of the next 5 years.
I consider myself a designer, I make everything from jewelry, furniture and the house. Making the jewelry happened by accident because I’m picky of the jewelry I wear. Where I work, there’s a lot of scrap acrylic and I started making pieces of earrings that are very simple that can go with everything and not only go with my aesthetic but my lifestyle and people liked them! So I started making more and selling them! As of now they are made of scrap acrylic that would otherwise be thrown away so it gives it another life in a sense. And I’m also developing a line of foldable modular furniture that can fit in any lifestyle both on the road and in a tiny home.
I consider myself a minimalist and it means a lot of things to different people but for me, it means understanding what’s more important to you in your life whether that’s material or interpersonal. It’s focusing on those core things and shedding everything else. It’s been a very powerful journey to focus on what is important and I think it helps focus my energy and my time. It’s a constant exercise because if I get something, something else has to go.
It’s great because the earrings are kind of a way for people to support my project and my brand because if they do buy them, it’s a token of knowing they are supporting this house build. With that, I just hope to continue to evolve and grow and even add more to the collection. It’s been a learning process to know what I have to say creatively.
A big part of it, is embracing fear and diving in regardless. I think that’s one thing I learned is to take the time to figure out what you want and be utterly fearless in chasing that. And don’t let anyone stop you! You can consider circumstances and people’s opinions and process it, but be steadfast in what you need and what you get out of it. The more I work, the clearer the vision gets. The further along I go in this house build, the more tangible it feels. It’s hard when it’s an idea up in the air and you’re just verbalizing it, but when you continue to verbalize it, build it, the more it becomes reality and continue moving forward. Right now, I’m so far in it that there’s no going back. And that goes for any creative process. At some point you just have to trust your intuition and trust your gut. Focus on it and make it happen until you’re happy with it.
In experiencing a creative rut, having that very clear vision from the start helps, especially when you’re going through those phases of ‘what am I even doing?’ and you just have to keep going. Take the time to process, research, and plan. And if something doesn’t work, keep trying or try an alternative. I’ve learned to focus on those smaller tasks to get closer to completing a whole project, just like having a list and crossing things off of it. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, breaking it down to smaller tasks really helps. For me, reflecting is essential as well. Having those moments of checking in with yourself certainly help with the process. It’s also knowing that if you’re stuck, that’s part of the process. Embrace every single moment. With this house, I learned that I really can’t force anything.
Among the many creators and makers that we’ve met, Mariah is the first we know to build her own home, and not just any home, but a Tiny House! It’s incredible getting to not only hear her journey, but to see the progress she’s made in creating this home that embodies her minimalist lifestyle.
And it is through her process of creating this home that she found her niche in building an additional business – Micro Modula. She repurposes acrylic to create earrings that are both minimal and bold at the same time. It’s beautiful to see her creations in different scales, from her jewelry, furniture, and even to a home! She hopes to share her process of her house build with the community and share her voice to especially empower women to inspire them that they can do it too (whatever that IT may be for them)! We love following along her process and seeing her continue to build the community as well as her home, and don’t forget to do the same! It’s a wonderful thing to support and build!