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Tiny House Legalized as Observation Tower

This episode by Kirsten Dirksen reminds me how important it is to stay creative and open minded while finding solutions for your tiny house build. The owner of this tiny home on stilts found a unique solution to meet building codes for his project: it’s an observation tower. Fred Reid, owner (and airline exec), calls it The House of Tree because it has no electricity or plumbing but it does have an elevated 360 degree view of the trees.

When you’re here, you feel as if you’re one with nature and this allows you to easily escape from everything else. The humble home is approximately 200 square feet and is surrounded by the epic redwood grove. Scott Constable, of Wowhaus, helped design and build this awesome little cabin in the air, who you’ll get to hear from if you watch the video below.

Fred Reid is currently president of Flexjet and has also served as an executive at Delta Airlines, Virgin America, and Lufthansa. This little cabin is his off-grid escape. It sits three stories above the ground in West Sonoma. Let’s go check it out, shall we?

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Tiny House on Stilts Legalized as an Observation Tower?

Tiny House Legalized as Observation Tower on Stilts, Creative!

Photo Courtesy of Kirsten Dirksen and Nicólas Boullosa of Faircompanies.com

Are there any creative ways that you can think of to get your own tiny house built legally? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this post on this tiny home on stilts, “Like” and share using the buttons below then share your thoughts and ideas in the comments. Thanks!

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More Like This: Tiny Houses | 30×10.5 Noyer Tiny House by Minimaliste | THOW

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 63 comments… add one }
  • Deanna Dick
    May 9, 2012, 1:17 pm

    I have two tree houses in my past and rough plans for another that will overlook Mad River. I also would like to have a tiny house built on a raft that could be launched in the summer and pulled to high ground in the winter.

    • Alex
      May 10, 2012, 10:36 am

      How fun Deanna. I have to look up Mad River to see where that’s at. Tiny house on a raft would be cool too. There are some funky pics out there of some. 🙂

      • Deanna Dick
        May 10, 2012, 12:12 pm

        The Mad River empties into the Pacific Ocean north of the small town of Arcata, California; not to be confused with the even smaller town of Mad River.

      • Curtis
        February 22, 2015, 11:13 am

        I was wondering how high up in the air is it? How tall are the pilings that it sits on?

    • February 23, 2015, 12:32 pm

      Love the concept, Deanna. I’m a whitewater guy (raft, kayak, even just goggles-n-fins), and would love to help with any design/modeling of your new tree house over the Mad River. Feel free to get in touch to discuss as it could be a great way to build upon your project. In any case, wishing you and yours the very best.

      Live Large — Go Tiny! – Thom @ 804-714-6247

  • Mary Lou Piatkiewicz
    May 9, 2012, 1:57 pm

    I tried to pull up the video on Fred Reid’s tiny house on stilts and all I got was bogus ads and B.S.
    If this is how you treat your subscribers then please unsubscribe me and I will figure out how to make my own tiny house. Your e-mails are too frustrating!!!!!

    • Alex
      May 9, 2012, 2:29 pm

      Hi Mary you are unsubscribed so you shouldn’t get my emails ever again. Thanks for trying. Alex.

      • Tim Solis
        May 9, 2012, 11:51 pm

        Hey Alex you do great job and I know it alot of hard work! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pop up but for all great free info I wouldn’t care. Please keep up your great work. Tim

        • Joe
          May 10, 2012, 10:46 am

          I concur with Tim!!! You Rock Alex!

        • Alex
          May 10, 2012, 10:49 am

          Thanks Joe! Nice house you’re working on!

        • June 8, 2013, 2:56 pm

          I had no trouble pulling this up either, and I’ve never had anything bad happen with any of your emails. Getting your email newsletter is a real bright spot in my day!! Thank you for doing all the hard work and putting in the time to give us all interesting and thought provoking stories. I can’t thank you enough!! 🙂

      • Robin Latham
        February 21, 2015, 9:21 am

        Well done. That lady was rude. You provide an amazing informative fun destination for all of us.

      • February 23, 2015, 12:36 pm

        Agree with Tim, Alex. You and your team do a great job of tiny house content creation and vetting 3rd party media. If your site is now bringing increased traffic to the video source, they may have ramped up ad serving. Further, the user could have monetized the video after your post was published to cash in on clicks. It’s a shame to see some folks pump out negativity, but stay positive and keep on postin’. Wishing you the best! – Thom [>:-)

    • Theresa
      May 10, 2012, 11:50 am

      You’ve probably just got some viruses or spyware on your computer. I’ve had those problems with other sites, but not with Alex’s emails, so far. Try doing a scan. Good luck!

      • Lon
        February 21, 2015, 6:47 pm

        My thoughts exactly – careless web practices – her browser is a petri dish and I’m sure her online experience is exasperating … Like you, i enjoy Alex’s bug free emails!

    • john
      May 10, 2012, 8:02 pm

      not really into reading about how a airline exec that prob makes 25 times the average income in the united states hired an architectual firm to build him a cabin that he spends 10 days a year in. sounds so out of touch to me

      • Alex
        May 10, 2012, 11:46 pm

        Yeah, I know what you mean, I kinda thought that too, but still thought it was worth sharing ya know. Thanks John, best to ya

      • wow
        February 23, 2015, 11:52 am

        He makes too much money so he can’t be intp the same things you are into?

        Gee, millions of people need air travel, he’s doing something for so many people and you want to act like the last True Scottsman

  • dana pallessen
    May 9, 2012, 2:24 pm

    i have yet to find out the real reasons why smaller homes are not welcome in the usa. i lived carmel ca. around the corner in pacific grove, there are lots of tiny houses built i think over 100 years ago. they are what was areligious community. i think they started out as tents. they are what started the town. i recently bought some property that is i acre and according to the purchase aggreement there was no house on it. it was not even mentioned on the paperwork. it was called an outbuilding. the realtor called it a shed. it has a cedar shake roof, board and batten siding and interior, fully insulated, dormered in the loft area and as a full kitchen, fold-out ikea sofa bed and built in dining area. we use the loft for storage-a built in open front cupboards for clothing, etc., we call it our tiny house in homage to your website . waldheim-home in the woods. we were told it is recreational property until we put in a well. so we are. low light solar(it is in the woods, and a humanure toilet. our olny neighbors are 1/4 mile away and we are surrounded on 3 sides by state land. all for 20,000 cash. so we have an outbuilding, a shed. and do not have to worry about codes.

    • Alex
      May 9, 2012, 6:04 pm

      Sounds pretty cool Dana thanks for sharing. So you bought the property and it pretty much came with a bonus tiny house? That’s so cool!

      • dana
        May 10, 2012, 9:08 pm

        i lived in carmel in the 1980’s , around the corner from pacific grove. i no longer live there. it just got to be too populated. i live on my property in my tiny house just north of portland oregon. and it is as i wrote above . no bull!

        • Kenny
          October 20, 2012, 12:51 am

          Sounds very nice, Dana. Maybe I can meet you one day in Portland.

    • Kenny
      May 10, 2012, 2:11 pm

      Sounds wonderful. I love Pacific Grove. Did you buy the property in the 80’s or prior? My wife went to school nearby in Monterey. There was no affordable housing to buy in the area for a middle school teacher, nothing. I am very curious about your tiny home on land… sounds unreal.

    • Yarg
      June 9, 2013, 7:48 am

      Jay Shafer touches on some of the more trenchant reasons behind the antipathy to tiny dwellings in his 2011 YouTube video “Beyond Curb Appeal” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hq9xf0OhaVI). It really is a follow-the-money kind of thing. In this and similar such situations, I’m often reminded of the enterprising medieval cutpurse who spots a well-worn log lying across a river and sets himself up to as “official” toll collector for all who wish to cross. Keep your eyes peeled for this phenomenon wherever there’s a need that can be, or has traditionally been met for free. There you will find public or private sector interests asserting their authority to meter and profit. Any place to sit, walk, sleep, or stand, certainly fits the bill, as does food (OMG! GMO!) and even water (Video Unavailable: youtube.com/watch?v=mxFzJ2Gtgxc). Don’t overreact, but do be aware.

  • Marc G
    May 9, 2012, 2:39 pm

    This is my thing about tiny houses. How does one get past the red tape? I’m 53, pretty healthy, but I don’t know if I would want to be schlepping up all those stairs in the later years.

    • Alex
      May 9, 2012, 6:07 pm

      Hey Marc there are some designs without sleeping lofts at all. Like Tiny Home Builder’s Tiny Retirement design. There’s a video tour I did a while back on it..

      Video tour (youtube)

  • Michele
    May 9, 2012, 3:38 pm

    I love Dana’s response to this post. We are yearning for a simpler life, no mortgage and all the freedom that might bring. I hope to stumble over a situation like they have found.

    In the meantime, we dream, and this website feeds that dream. Thanks, Alex!

    • Alex
      May 9, 2012, 6:07 pm

      Thanks Michele! 🙂

  • sesameB
    May 9, 2012, 4:31 pm

    Excellent, just excellent. Need I say more, Alex. You and your work continues to keep me inspired. (smiles) I love my serene and silent environment, too, here in sunny south central Arkansas.

    • Alex
      May 9, 2012, 6:08 pm

      Thank you 🙂

    • Jamie
      May 10, 2012, 3:41 pm

      Hello SesameB, Just a ‘howdy’ from North Central Arkansas. I too am an admirer of the website and Alex’s work. I would like to hear from you, just for fun, if your interested. Thanks

  • Gloria
    May 9, 2012, 4:46 pm

    Alex: FYI, I was able to click on the video above and didn’t have a problem viewing it. I feel badly that that lady had a problem… Oh well… Just wanted to let you know it worked for me.

    • Alex
      May 9, 2012, 6:09 pm

      Hey Gloria! Thanks for letting me know!

  • Elizabeth
    May 9, 2012, 7:08 pm

    This house is an oasis. Wow, I could see myself enjoy the earliest hours of the morning there.


  • Carole King
    May 9, 2012, 8:37 pm

    I can see Russia from this treehouse. lol~ Beautiful craftmanship, just wondering what u do for hauling the groceries up there and what about jugs of water for consumption and washing/bathing. I would enjoy the windows and would feel comfortable with a .45 because after all that is the nature forest with all kinds of wild animals,i.e., bears and bigfoot. lol

    Sunrise and Sunsets would be spectacular.

    Sincere thanks for sharing.

  • Danielle
    May 9, 2012, 10:05 pm

    What a great house! I can imagine how calming it must be to just relax there. I’ve always thought labeling the house as a shed would help get around the stupid codes. Even if it is not built on a trailer, it would still be easy enough to move and, being a “shed” could easily plop down into someones back yard.

  • L.A.
    May 10, 2012, 9:24 am

    The key to being legal is in “what U call something”.

    The word “house” is really a legal word for dwelling. Banks, law makers, finance companies, code enforcement people, and everyday people KNOW what a “house” is. Banks make loans on “houses” that have so much sq. ft……………however the words “home”, Earthship, shed, play house, tree house, observation deck, outdoor studio, etc……banks and Wall Street do not make loans on them. A “home” can be ANYTHING U call a home. Be that a bus, play house, pimped out tool shed, or chicken coop.
    Just remember……..call your project anything but a “house” and U should be able to stay legal.

  • Theresa
    May 10, 2012, 12:18 pm

    Wow, it’s as if I can actualy smell the forest floor crunching under foot. I wish I had the opportunity to experience total solitude, just for a few days/couple weeks. Just to see if I could stand it. I crave it, but perhaps, once I had it, I wouldn’t like it. Do you know of any vacation spots where that experience is possible? Oh hey, I’ve just downsized…. a bit. I’ve lost 15 lbs. and exchanged my Nissan Quest(Van) for an “old school” Mazda Miata. Whoohoo!! I’m on my way! Bit by bit. You’re awsome Alex, keep up the great work!

    • Alex
      May 10, 2012, 6:04 pm

      I feel the same way sometimes. I’m looking for suggestions, too, for vacation spots in solitude. I’m going to make it happen this summer for sure, so I’ll let you (and everyone else know) what I find. I want to figure out if I’d like it. I’m pretty sure I will. Congratulations on getting yourself in better shape and downsizing car! Thank you so much!

  • Pat
    May 11, 2012, 8:01 pm

    i’m building a 228sq ft on a 18foot flatbed trailer..I have a license for the flatbed and the building on top could be taken off, ’cause it is bolted to the steel bed..I was told by someone that it is a trailer with a cargo load…..but I do believe if I never call it a house or it looks like anyone is living there I’m OK…no electric..off the grid….I can only hope that there is not a problems…any other ideas??

    • Lon
      February 21, 2015, 7:16 pm

      no ideas to speak of … live well in your portable shed

  • rich
    May 12, 2012, 8:13 pm

    Alex, it is true that few can afford to hire an architect to design a retreat that’s used once a month, but it’s cool that someone would and I think the architect really enjoyed being able to practice design with integrity instead of designing some million dollar palace for the 1%ers.

    My future hut will be closer to the ground but I did build a tree house about 30ft above the ground with hand-me-down wood and nails that had to be straightened when I was a kid. A highway wiped out the whole neighborhood but memories of being in that little sanctuary with a rope elevator remain vivid.

    I want to compliment you on how you handle the rude visitors to your site. Have you read “the 4 agreements” by Ruiz?

    Keep up the good work, Rich

  • Cindy
    May 12, 2012, 8:35 pm

    This was a cute place I thought,at first. I was turned off though with the comment about “solar” power and bringing in water is the next step to lap top computers. That sounds all nice and thoughtful but a little out there so it lost its charm. Tell me that in the middle of the night when I wake up and have to go to the bathroom. Not as hard I guess if you are a man but not so handy for a woman to not have bathroom access and some water. I like the container house the mother with kids built. More “real”.

  • Peter
    May 13, 2012, 11:57 pm

    Being from Minnesota, I think I’ll call my tiny house project the fish house. Some of the fish houses one can rent to ice fish in really are no different than, and have many of the same amenities, a tiny house has. They are portable and can be placed (towed) anywhere on the frozen lake. Some are put on trailers (or winched onto them) and transported to area lakes. Building materials vary widely because most of the are made from recycled materials. I’ll have to post some photo’s in the future.

  • tom
    May 21, 2012, 8:14 am

    The problem with getting tinny homes legale is the lack of towns being able to tax you to death.

  • Eunice
    October 18, 2012, 12:59 pm

    I can’t find the You Tube video but a man went around building codes in Hawaii. He bought the lot turned in blueprints of home with garage to the department in charge of this. He build the garage/apartment first and had them inspect and approve as the built it. When he finished the garage/apartment that’s it. He’s had this paid off and he only works part time as a house cleaner. This is an idea I am planning on trying out.

  • Ricky
    December 16, 2013, 11:23 pm

    That kind of rudeness is what puts a negative slant on American manners.If you dont like the site unsubscribe yourself..keep up the good work Alex u have kept me entertained deep into the early hours of some mornings. I start at one site and end up looking at at least 10 others.

  • dawn
    December 17, 2013, 12:39 am

    i too plan on buying land to build my tiny home. what scares me is where to buy? so many codes to watch for? i would love to know if anyone knows the codes in washington and oregon? im 51 year old woman who would love to be close to the ocean and fish everyday for my supper!! i just dont want to buy land and than be told i can never build that size home??? any body have any healthful ideals what to look for? i wish tiny houses would help us with place that allow small home or homes on wheels…… it sure would be helpful before i buy!

  • Helen
    December 17, 2013, 11:19 am

    Sesame my dream is to buy some land near hot springs arkansas in the mountains. I would love to have 8-10 people all build small homes on it.

    • Jamie
      December 18, 2013, 1:26 am

      Helen, I just read your post about a ‘community’ of small homes in Arkansas. I am from Mountain Home area but am in Georgia, why I dont know. Anyway, I too would like a ‘dream’ such as yours. I have friends in Glenwood, perhaps we could meet someday and discuss the possibilities. If interested, drop me a note.

      • Helen
        December 18, 2013, 11:21 am

        Jamie well I guess this is a start gathering up like minded people from the same area. I live in indianapolis right now. My husband and I want to move back to arkansas and retire. I am not going tiny house but I want to small. 650 to 750. It could be 4 to 5 years before we move. We are interested in buying land now and paying it off. Hope to hear from you soon. Helen

      • Helen
        December 18, 2013, 3:10 pm

        How do we get each others email without going public.

  • crissie
    December 21, 2013, 4:10 pm

    Kuddos to Alex! I loved your response to the rude lady! U handled it much better than most would have, including myself! I have never had a problem with any of your emails, and I look forward to receiving them. Thank you for your time & effort, keep up the good work! Happy Holidays! 🙂

  • dawn
    December 23, 2013, 10:11 pm

    i love the tiny house being up off the ground BUT one question………no bathroom and no kitchen…….are you going to add them? or is the county not going to allow them???

  • Chantay
    February 21, 2015, 9:25 am

    Cool post! For the record, I’ve never had any problems with you website or post, and they are the highlight of my day. I hope to purchase land in 2016 and a tiny house (8×24) to park on it. I live and teach in the St. Louis area but believe I will most likey have to purchase land just over the river in IL. I, too, am very concerned about being legal– but I won’t let that stop me.
    Thanks for this site! It is so helpful and inspirational.

  • Phill
    February 21, 2015, 10:59 am

    It qualifies as an observation tower because it really is an observation tower. This structure is an anti-responsibility escape that lacks the basic functionality of an actual house, like providing the means to cook meals, wash dirty dishes, empty your bowel, bathe, supply electricity to recharge the cell phone that international airline executives inevitably require to communicate with colleagues, subordinates and clients. Besides featuring a practical kitchen and bathroom, a tiny home should be relatively inexpensive ($25,000), since the point of making it tiny is to escape the debtor prison of mortgages. This exclusive and elite indulgence in the trees was probably not inexpensive. The owner has a real home, while this serves as his weekend fort.

  • Justin
    February 21, 2015, 12:15 pm

    I appreciate getting these emails, in fact I look forward to them. They/you have inspired me to built a tiny house on the back of a 1970s M35a2 duece and a half. It will be my expedition camper, totally off grid. I get ideas all the time from other people’s tiny homes, mine will be on wheels. Keep up the good work.

    • Alex
      February 22, 2015, 9:11 pm

      Thanks Justin! Your project sounds awesome. Hope you’ll send me pics sometime 🙂

  • Elle
    February 21, 2015, 4:08 pm

    I was mezmerized just watching the video. This is a beautiful and well-engineered retreat in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Thank you for sharing, thank you for posting. 🙂

  • Kayce
    February 21, 2015, 11:42 pm

    Without electricity, fine.
    No plumbing? What’s the point?!

  • esperanza kraft
    February 22, 2015, 2:50 pm

    Alex let me thank you for all the hard work you do by lett ing folks like me dream. How we achieve these dreams is taking all this free information provided . Keep up the good work!!

  • mark matherne
    August 24, 2017, 6:32 pm

    lets get down to the nitty gritty! what are the specs required to get tiny house zoned as an observation tower. wich agancy do i contact etc after reading abouth this already have a design made if its say 24 feet or so people in forested areas would just always build a skinny tower a frame design with 3-4 floors

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