It’s official. John Labovitz lives in the tiniest house in all of Portlandia. But he’s the real thing – not a character in the IFC satire.
His house measures 119 square feet, and it sits on the back of an Isuzu truck in northeast Portland. It was recently profiled by Kumail Nanjiani of the Portlandia TV show. I happened to tour the home last year, as you can see in the video above.
Labovitz makes the most of tight living quarters with a single cooking burner that runs on denatured alcohol, an itty-bitty wood stove built for a sailboat, a desk that doubles as a seating area, and lots of hooks.
The house is custom-built to look like an upscale gypsy caravan with a vaulted ceiling and boxcar layout. He pays rent to park it in the driveway of an existing home.
“I sometimes refer to it as my Victorian RV,” he says. “I imagine this is how an RV would have been built in 1900.”
Small homes are hallmarks of eco-conscious Portlandia, and the real Portland, too.
The city of Portland actually offers incentives for homeowners to build small houses in their backyards to increase urban density and preserve open space on the outskirts of the city.
But Labovitz’s house is sparse even by tiny home standards. It doesn’t have a bathroom; He uses the facilities at his landlord’s house just a few steps away. It doesn’t have a sink or running water, either. Instead, Labovitz has a water jug and a big bowl he uses to wash his dishes.
“In my design process, I thought a lot about what I really used things for and how I really used them,” he said. “I asked myself: What is a sink? It’s a place to wash vegetables or wash my hands. So, I have different ways of doing that. It’s kind of like a really nice version of car camping, which I’ve always liked.”
Once upon a time, Labovitz was paying the mortgage on a much larger home. He left that house to rent an 800-square-foot cabin in California before permanently downsizing to his tiny home on wheels.
Before making the switch, he took stock of his belongings and pared them down to the bare necessities.
Not everything Labovitz owns fits into his tiny home. He also rents a photography studio and gallery space nearby where he stores the equipment he uses for work.
The National Association of Home Builders reports new houses across the country have gotten bigger over the past year because only elite buyers qualified for mortgages after the housing market collapsed. But Labovitz and others have found that if they build small they don't need a mortgage to own a home.
On a site called Tiny House Listings you can buy a house for as little as $7,000.
“I like that simplification,” said Labovitz. “It’s simplification, not deprivation. It feels simpler and easier for me."