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Life in 120 Square Feet: My Tiny House Kitchen

This past weekend, over at the Tiny House Talk Facebook page, Alex reposted my video tour of my tiny house with the question, “Could you cook in this kitchen?”

While there were plenty of positive responses, there were also some questions and concerns about our kitchen I wanted to address right here on Tiny House Talk.

Our Kitchen under construction by Laura M. LaVoie

Our Kitchen under construction by Laura M. LaVoie

Click below to read more about my tiny kitchen.

  • No Plumbing. Our tiny house is not traditionally plumbed. We are 100% off the grid and all of our water comes from a spring on the land. We fill 4 gallon containers and carry them to our house and use that water to fill the Berkey water filter that sits on our counter with a basin that we use as a “sink.” This was a lifestyle choice and we’ve been happy with the decision. We have collapsible basins and a collapsible dish drainer that we use when we wash the dishes and are stored out of the way when we don’t use them. The system is rustic by most standards but we find that it works well. Unexpectedly, I also discovered that the simplicity of our water system made me connect more to household work. Chores that I use to dread are now just part of my daily experience and I look forward to them.
Berkey with Basin by Laura M. LaVoie

Berkey with Basin by Laura M. LaVoie

  • No refrigeration. We do not have any refrigeration in our tiny house. We use a Coleman Stirling Engine Cooler which is extremely efficient and can cool or freeze anything we need.  It is currently kept under our house (which is on a foundation) and hooked up directly to our batteries. We found that primarily use it to keep our beer cool. It is unnecessary to automatically refrigerate many fresh foods. We shop at farmers markets and plan our meals each week. We eat fresh food fast so we don’t have to worry about it spoiling. Eggs, for instance, can stay room temperature for a week so we use them for sandwiches, fried rice dishes and scrambles. Fresh meats will be used the same day we shop and cured meats can last for a while. We eat a lot of fresh and local vegetables. This has completely changed my eating habits for the better. We might not be able to keep ice cream in the house, but when we want it we go out for a special treat.
Coleman Stirling Engine Cooler by Laura M. LaVoie

Coleman Stirling Engine Cooler by Laura M. LaVoie

  • Cooktop and oven. In the video you only see on butane burner on the counter. We have two portable burners we can pull out when we need them. We use our kettle for making coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and even to heat water for our showers. We also have plenty of pots and pans (including a cast iron skillet, Dutch oven, and wok,) which are stored in an out of the way but accessible space. We live in the Appalachian Mountains and the weather is gorgeous from spring to fall so we like to make use of our outdoor space for cooking as well. We built an outdoor prep counter and use a smoker and a Camp Chef Camp Oven.
Outdoor kitchen by Laura M. LaVoie

Outdoor kitchen by Laura M. LaVoie

  • Storage. Someone mentioned in the Facebook comments that there was a lot of empty wall space. This was entirely by design. We chose to have open shelves for our dishes and glasses and everything else is stored in the cabinets below. This keeps the space open visually, which is something we prefer. There is so much space in the lower cabinets that we have room to spare.
Kitchen shelves by Laura M. LaVoie

Kitchen shelves by Laura M. LaVoie

  • Pine counter top. We spent a lot of time thinking about what we wanted to do with our counters. We thought about granite and tile but in the end we decided to use very nice pine board which we stained green to match our accents in the house. We used Salad Bowl Oil to finish it which gives it a protective and easy to clean coating. All of our food preparation happens on cutting boards and hot pots are placed on trivets, but these are things we used in our traditional house as well. After a year of use, the counter top is holding up quite well.
Counter and loft color by Laura M. LaVoie

Counter and loft color by Laura M. LaVoie

You can see some of the meals we’ve made in our tiny house here.

This is our kitchen. It was designed for our needs and desires. Every tiny house builder has created something different for themselves. This kind of personal touch is something that I love about the tiny house movement. For a gourmet tiny house kitchen experience, check out Andrew and Crystal Odom’s Tiny r(E)volution.

Our simple kitchen works great for us. After a year living in the house I wouldn’t change a thing. What kind of tiny house kitchen would you want?

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Laura LaVoie

Contributor and Tiny House Owner at 120SquareFeet.com
Laura M. LaVoie is a professional writer living in the mountains of North Carolina in a 120 Square Foot house with her partner and their hairless cat, Piglet. Laura graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Anthropology. She has been published in magazines and anthologies on the subjects of mythology and culture. She spent nearly 15 years in the temporary staffing industry before deciding to become a full time writer. Laura works closely with the Zulu Orphan Alliance volunteering her time and the skills she's learned building her own small house to build a shelter for orphans and other vulnerable children living near Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Laura also enjoys simple living, brewing and drinking craft beer, and popular culture.
{ 28 comments… add one }
  • David
    May 23, 2013, 9:47 am

    Love the kitchen, your thought processes in the design, and your explanations. I’m jealous! Thanks for sharing!

  • Alice
    May 23, 2013, 11:03 am

    Laura’s post raises interesting questions of whether one “eats to live or lives to eat.” I live alone and rarely entertain; thus I microwave frozen stuff and popcorn, nibble cheese and nuts for protein. I could e.t.l. in Laura’s kitchen quite easily (delete microwave). Her meals look delicious and I need a weekly photo of oddly noble Piglet!

    • Cahow
      May 23, 2013, 12:12 pm

      Alice: I have many friends like you, both male and female. I call them Nibblers or Grazers; grab a handful of grapes, slice off a chunk of cheese, some trail mix, etc. I don’t think they even use plates let alone utensils! (LOL) They all profess an intense hatred of washing dishes and baking, with marginal tolerance of cooking. However, for reasons unknown to me, they LOVE grilling, which I can’t abide. ~shrug~ Ain’t Humankind Odd? 😉

      To keep my blood sugar up (hypoglycemia), I also graze, but, I am quite keen about cooking/baking and MUST make proper meals for both my husband and I. Our kids are all gone but we entertain at least twice a week and love sitting at table, wine in hand and a fine meal to serve. When I’m not actively working (due to bad weather like the past 3 days), I bake daily and make 3 main meals. Again, THIS is my hobby and passion, it’s no different than some guy that likes to tinker with cars or someone who likes to knit. It’s how I relax. So, having a massive kitchen and every gadget ever invented by (Wo)man is part of my joy.

  • Erik Markus
    May 23, 2013, 11:08 am

    Very Nice.

    Love the pine counters. Portable appliances are an great choice to use where you want. The Stainless Steel water container looks awesome. The spring water sounds beautiful.

    The simple solid pine shelves are the way to go. Clean and natural.

    Thanks for sharing your home.

  • LaMar
    May 23, 2013, 11:31 am

    Well here is my take on it as a long time off-gridder:

    Simple as in not structured does not always make it more convenient.

    I hauled in water and cooked outside and did all those things like this couple for a few years when I was just starting off-grid but I can tell you it was not convenient and an off-grid house can be almost as convenient as a grid home if you want it to be.

    First I installed a 25 gallon RV style water tank under my sink with a 1 volt pump run off my solar panels. now I just fill that up once a week instead of hauling in water every day. That is used for cooking, washing dishes, running a shower and washing clothes.

    Second I installed a propane stove inside so I can cook when the weather is bad and I have my outside grill for good weather.

    Third I use a small energy star fridge freezer inside my cabin that runs off my solar and wind system so I could stop using ice boxes and my food doesn’t spoil.

    So to each there own but there is no reason to not have conveniences in a small off grid home.


    • Erik Markus
      May 23, 2013, 11:36 am

      I hear ya.
      I can’t imagine not having pressurized water. I wouldn’t mind hauling water to fill a tank, like you have. I find that I need to have the pressurized water and a small water heater.

      And yes, a reliable small refrig and freezer. I don’t mind building the solar panels to power them.

      each to their own.

    • Cahow
      May 23, 2013, 12:03 pm

      LaMar wrote: “So to each there own but there is no reason to not have conveniences in a small off grid home.”

      I hear ya, LaMar. I grew up, off grid, on a dairy farm. No running water, no bathroom, tub in the mudroom that water was boiled for. Now imagine, feeding 20 farm hands under that condition! My Gran had 4 empty pails by the hand pump out back; NO ONE was allowed into the house without bringing at least two full pails into the kitchen! It was just standard practice: You want In the house, you brought water! She had a large cattle watering tank in the mud room that my Granpa rigged up to flow through a pipe into the dry sink; Gran could turn a spigot on and off but it was gravity fed.

      Same thing at my Great Grandparent’s log cabin in the BWCA area of Minnesota. Out house, bed pans for a night when the bears were around, and endless pails and pails and pails of water to be used indoors.

      Hey, as long as Laura isn’t asking ME to haul in water, I’m happy for her. Obviously, she derives pleasure from this activity. I guess it’s like the country folks who want to split several cords of fire wood vs. the country folks who pay/trade/barter for already split cords to be delivered, using their time and body strength for other activities.

      There’s never been more than 24 hours per day so we must each choose how we want to use those hours.

    • May 23, 2013, 3:40 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

      We have not found our set up to be a problem for us and we like it, but it is always good to hear other people’s stories.

  • Cahow
    May 23, 2013, 11:55 am

    We each have to march to our own drummer and it’s handedly apparent that you, Laura, and Matt(?) and Piglet have an entire drum corps!

    I don’t believe that I was one of the posters asking questions but your answers make so much sense, for YOUR lifestyle. I wish more contributors that share their Tiny Homes could be as forth coming as you, in advance of questions. However, perhaps it never even occurred to the person that anyone would ask questions of “Why this and not that?”

    Any way, congratulations on being true to your vision. It makes sense to you and your family and truly, those are the ONLY ones you need to please.

  • sc
    May 23, 2013, 1:32 pm

    Definitely one of my least favorite layouts. I find the all wood interior to overwhelming visually. the berkey filter is beautiful, but using that bowl as a sink? i dont get it, its narrow at the bottom and could easily tip over. building a new house/kitchen that needs hauling 4 gallons of water everyday??? the way she is describing it sounds like a monastic/zen lifestyle. I hope it helps with her writing. I wouldnt have time for the work as poetry stuff myself.

    • May 23, 2013, 1:35 pm

      I appreciate your concern but please remember this is not an untested theory. We’ve been living this way for the last year and we really love it. Like I said, that is what is great about the tiny house movement. You can have a kitchen very different from ours and be happy.

      And the bowl is sturdy and has never tipped.

  • debbycollier
    May 23, 2013, 2:12 pm

    I love the wood everywhere, and find the sparse furnishings charming. I applaud your vigor; however, I am getting on and need to provide for those times when I don’t feel so well. I think I’d go for inside cooking and pressurized water, not carried. Also, I like to preserve food for winter and to share with friends, so would need storage for that. Thanks for sharing your setup and plan. The system for cooling food is new to me.

  • alice h
    May 23, 2013, 5:32 pm

    I’m lazy, I like to let gravity do as much of the work as possible. It’s only fair for all the trouble it causes. My new tiny house is going to be hooked up to a large rainwater collection system uphill of the house but still below the roof level so water goes in by gravity and then will be piped into the house by gravity as well. It can then take itself away neatly by draining into a dry well with a greywater diverter option. The garden water can be drawn off even lower down the rainwater tank and most of the garden area is down at the bottom of the hill anyway. My land slopes down across the narrow side as well as dropping steeply downhill on the long side so might as well take advantage of the terrain. Many people in my area are going with rainwater systems, some even for potable water. I do a fair bit of canning and whatnot but can use my outdoor kitchen for that or go to my son’s house. There is also a local canning kitchen run by one of the food aid groups available upon arrangement so a person can sometimes go elsewhere for more space consuming kitchen activities, or start a group and use the local community centre kitchen. I have electricity so my kitchen has a tea kettle, stainless steel electric skillet, toaster oven (good for small batch baking, by the way there’s an excellent book by that name http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/184646.Small_Batch_Baking ) I’m afraid I’m one of those people that uses a M/W, so one of those too as well as an induction hotplate. For outside and/or power failures I have a firepit and a propane single burner, or I can take the more portable appliances outside when the power is on. Right now I have a tiny dorm fridge with just enough freezer space for a few freezie pops or an ice pack but later will be getting a slightly larger fridge. I also have a propane BBQ I’ve baked in there but would like to build a wood fired bread oven. I don’t have enough counter space in the Boler and no sink but the new tiny kitchen’s sink will be more of a water disposal funnel going to the dry well than a serious washing space. I prefer two large stainless steel bowls for dish washing and rinsing, can take them outside or use inside or for other purposes. Water heating is/will be via kettle, stovetop or woodstove. I often use my canning pot as a temporary covered greywater holder for the previous dish rinsing water, which can then be used as the wash water for the next batch. I also save hand washing water in my other old dinged up canning pot to use for washing the sawdust toilet. Water from my washtub shower can be used for clothes washing and that has its own covered greywater pail in the wash house. I call it the “bucket and chuck it” water system. The new tiny kitchen will be full of pullout work surfaces and a few that roll right out from under the cabinets with their own extensions as well if needed. Counter will be 18″ deep for the most part, not sure yet what the surface will be. Kind of leaning towards concrete for now. I can hook up to community water but not without a septic system and the yearly cost is quite high, plus the cost of the septic system which is way more than my whole house will cost. A decent rainwater system would probably cost about the same as a few years’s water bills and gives more autonomy.

    • Erik Markus
      May 23, 2013, 10:14 pm

      I’m glad to hear you have a vision and perhaps a plan.

      Just FYI- paragraph breaks, or at least a blank line between every 3rd or 4th line will make your text easier for people to read.

      Thanks for contributing.

    • May 24, 2013, 5:01 am

      Hi Alice! Wow, what you’ve described as your lifestyle sure doesn’t sound like you’re lazy at all! 🙂 Have you discovered the Rainwater HOGs? I’ve included a couple of them in my Tiny House design, for potable water. Kinda ingenious water tank design–they’re 72″ tall, 20″ wide and only 9.5″ deep! You can link them together, stand them up right along your wall for rainwater catchment, or lay them flat on the ground, under a porch, even. They hold 50 gallons each. Plan on doing a whole post on them, but haven’t gotten to it yet, so here’s the site: http://rainwaterhog.com/ Good luck with your projects!

      • alice h
        May 25, 2013, 11:07 pm

        Those definitely look interesting. Most people in my area use the big round green things that hold over 1,000 gallons so they can collect enough in the rainy season to get through the drought periods we seem to get more often.

    • Kim
      May 24, 2013, 1:40 pm

      Hi Alice,
      I always look forward to your reply on new blog posts. You always have great ideas and let us in on your personal living ways. I think you are the living the way I want to move towards more each and every day.
      I was wondering if you might consider doing your every own blog post maybe with a few pics of your systems and what your day looks like as you go about your chores. I would love to hear more about the ideas you mention above, they make me stair off into space and dream of living more sustainably and self sufficiently.
      Hope this doesn’t feel like an invasion of your privacy but I am really on board with what you write.
      Thanks for sharing,

      • alice h
        May 25, 2013, 3:05 pm

        I have tons of photos of my place but what you have to remember is it’s a part-time life with a temporary setup for now (watch out for those “permanent temporary” setups, they have a way of lasting a lot longer than you first thought). Some of what I do now will also be part of the new tiny house, some will change, though the basic setup principles remain the same. It’s not picture perfect but it works for me.

        Some of the things I do came about from years of small living on or off grid, some from internet wandering, some from just turning a situation over in my mind and breaking it down to it’s most basic form and starting with the simplest solution. Work with what you have or what you can find and reconfigure as needed. That’s going to be different for each person depending on how they like to do things and what they have access to. Everything takes some combination of time, energy and money. If you have less of one you need more of another. And you definitely need to be healthy enough to make what you do work.

        I used to use 5 gallon blue water jugs, now I find them too heavy so I have more 2 1/2 gallon ones and a cart to move them around. My area rarely freezes even in winter so I can do a lot of stuff outside and use simple water systems that people in colder areas can’t. I’ve lived north of 60 for many years, this is much easier. Also no bears on my island so that removes another whole layer of concern with outdoor kitchens.

  • Darcy
    May 24, 2013, 12:56 am

    Yikes, if this designs works great for you then fine as long as you are happy. I personally could not live like I was camping all year round. Not to sure why you call it a kitchen as it does not function as a kitchen, you might be better off putting in a closet with a lot of shelves, to give you more storage because right now all you do is store stuff in lower cabinets. No running water, sink, fridge etc. I am sure the winters are ruff.

    • Erik Markus
      May 24, 2013, 9:48 am

      Freedom of choice is far better than some subdivision where all the houses are the same.
      Oh sure, they might look different on the outside, but on the inside….

      boring, predictable, been there, blah.

    • May 24, 2013, 10:16 am

      I believe we call it a kitchen because it is one. Our perceptions of the modern kitchen are very specific but people cooked with more sparse conditions than we have for quite sometime – including much of the history of our own country.

      We have closets but they are for our clothes. Our lower kitchen cabinets hold everything we need with room to spare.

      We live in the American south so winters are mild and short. I may not recommend this for areas that experience worse winter weather than we do but I wouldn’t suggest it was the wrong way to build something.

  • May 24, 2013, 5:23 am

    I really appreciate the comments above that support the “to each, his/her own” philosophy. There is truly something for everyone in this big, wide world, and thank the great uba tuba for that! I know I would be bored to tears if we were all similar in how we think and choose to live. While this kitchen design wouldn’t work for me personally, I applaud anyone who chooses to live as they wish, especially when you have to buck the “norm” to do it. I think it’s fun to see all the different things people choose to do, and I try to find at least one thing I can learn from each person, (I do not always succeed at this!) even if it teaches me something I don’t want. The thing I learned from Laura’s post here, is that you can make a kitchen counter out of pine, and have it hold up for at least a year…sweet! Thank you, Laura, for having the courage and transparency to share your private space and life with us. That takes moxie. Good on ya’, girl!

    • May 24, 2013, 10:19 am

      Thank you for your comments.

      The pine counter should hold up longer than a year. We will occasionally need to reapply the Salad Bowl Oil but the process isn’t any more difficult than a thorough cleaning, especially on such a small surface.

      • Jimmy Walker
        June 10, 2013, 8:12 pm

        I love your place. I’m currently converting a 640 sqft portable building into my verison of a tiny house. Yes, it’s a bit bigger than yours and has running water, electricity and gas. But I also have solar and wind tech in the works!
        I only have one question. I’m an longtime, avid woodworker. What made your desison to use salad bowl oil for a finish for your countertop? You do understand how, what and why salad bowl oil is suppose to be used? You are flirting with eccoli and rancid issues if you are not careful. Salad bowls and countertops are two totally different types of uses. You could use a water-based poly for the countertop. It would be safer food wise and much more durable and eco friendly. Just saying. Please be careful. Jimmy

        • June 11, 2013, 10:20 am

          Thanks for your comment Jimmy.

          I can assure you that food, raw or otherwise, never touches our counter surface. The salad bowl oil is simply a finish to protect the wood from water spills and make it easy to clean up. More often than not our food it being prepared outside – especially meats which we love smoke or grill.

          However, we did research counter top finishes and salad bowl oil was recommended by several reliable sources and it works well with our particular kitchen set up.

  • Jen
    May 24, 2013, 7:54 am

    I love your setup and am planning on a similar one. No indoor plumbing means no repair bills or damaging leaks! I think that doing it the way you are connects you to the land more and makes you think more about using non-toxic products so you’re taking better care of our Earth. It also conserves water, instead of using gallons upon gallons of potable water for daily usage you’re using a very small fraction and not wasting as much as most people.

    I have a lot of people saying the same things about not wanting to feel like they’re ‘camping’ year round but they forget we’ve only had indoor plumbing and electricity for 100 years or so and that we all lived this way, unless you were wealthy, for hundreds of thousands of years and did just fine. I’m sure they don’t think about how wasteful our ‘modern conveniences’ can be and don’t realize it’s only a couple of minutes a day worth of work to do it the way you do.

    I know I’m not listening to the naysayers and am going ahead with my plans because I’m building my house for me and no one else!! Thanks for sharing, Laura!!

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