A love of small spaces: Vicksburg native dreams up, builds tiny house
This article was first published in the March/April edition of Vicksburg Living. For more information on Vicksburg Living or how to subscribe to Vicksburg’s premiere magazine, call 601-636-4545.
Ever since he was a little boy, David Osburn has had big plans for a tiny house.
When he was 12, the Vicksburg native sketched out his first plan to turn an old school bus into a small home. By age 13 or 14 he was refining the blueprints and working up budgets. And, at 17, he started building.
Now a 19-year-old sophomore at Mississippi State, he’s living the good life in Starkville with a 221-square foot home that he designed and built himself.
“We laughed it off and thought he would grow out of it,” David’s mother, Donna Osburn, recalled. “He’d show us again at 13 or 14 and have all these elaborate plans. Then he started coming to us with a budget. By the time he was 17 we were going to tiny house shows to see if we could really build one.”
Tiny houses — generally defined as homes smaller than 400 square feet — have grown in popularity over the past decade. Tiny houses are generally inexpensive, have more amenities than a travel trailer or fifth wheel, and are easily transportable from place to place. They also, by necessity, appeal to those who ascribe to a minimalist lifestyle.
David Osburn said he first became obsessed with building a tiny house after watching a YouTube video when he was 12 years old.
“I’ve always been somebody that likes to tinker with things, but I guess it really started when I saw a video on YouTube of a guy who converted a short bus into a tiny house. I said, ‘Hey, that’s pretty cool.’ Then I said I’ll sketch out my own design,” he said. “I did that and wanted a little bigger. It went to a full school bus, and then a gooseneck trailer, then back down to this. I’ve probably drawn hundreds of designs.”
The design phase of the project lasted several years — most of which David spent trying to convince his parents Donna and Tom Osburn that it was more than a passing childhood phase.
Eventually, David won with an economic argument. Building a tiny house, he said, would cost roughly the same as renting an apartment during his college years. As an added benefit, the house could eventually be sold to recoup the initial investment.
“He kept saying if I rent an apartment in Starkville it’s going to cost this for four or five years. He had a very convincing argument,” Donna said.
An idea becomes reality
David’s initial plan was to build the house out of “plywood walls, recycled materials and cheaper stuff.”
Eventually, research revealed that plenty of tiny houses are available in kit form that includes the basic frame, a trailer, studs, windows, doors and other necessary parts. It does, however, come with some assembly required.
The Osburns decided to purchase the kit and build the house themselves, a process that took about two years. They hired contractors to put the siding and roof on, but did everything else from wiring to installing appliances themselves as time allowed.
“The way I did it, I enjoyed it because I wasn’t constantly working on it. I was still able to have some free time and that kind of stuff,” David said.
Tom has a background in construction, but by and large the Osburns learned about building a house as they went along. Plans had to be carefully drawn in order to maximize space and avoid mistakes. In such cramped quarters, being off even an inch can cause big problems. Considering the blueprint was David’s ever-evolving sketches on graph paper, the process didn’t always go smoothly.
“We didn’t mess up the exterior holes, but there were a few whoopsies,” Donna said with a laugh. “We put a light switch in, and then the stairs were an inch and a half wider than we thought. The blueprint was David’s chicken scratch on a piece of paper.”
That’s not to say that careful planning didn’t go into the layout of the home. David said figuring out ways to share space between features was a valuable lesson.
“One of the big things I learned early on is that some stuff just requires floor space, but it can overlap with other floor space,” he said. “You need room to sit on the toilet, to wash your hands at the sink and to shower, but there’s no reason the floor space for all three of those can’t be the same little square. Putting those together opens up a lot of extra floor space.”
David added that interior decorating also played a part in maximizing the space available. Choosing the right color palette, for example, provided an airy feel.
“In terms of planning, I just did a lot of research into what makes the space feel big,” David said. “Like having white walls, the windows pulled back a little, having dark floors and a dark countertop for little pops of color but also to hide dirt and stuff. When we actually built it, we built it from one end to the next. So if the shower was this big, that means this next cabinet could be this big and the kitchen this big, and the couch is whatever is left over.”
A family project
David’s tiny house project soon developed into much more than a simple construction project. It became a chance for the Osburns to grow closer as a family, and for David to learn some life skills.
Working together, they soon realized, would be a cherished family memory.
“We’ve always been a pretty close family. Obviously, this project brought us a lot closer together,” David said. “My dad has taught me so much about different aspects of it. I had a rough idea beforehand, but now I really understand it, and in the future it’s stuff I know how to fix in my own house instead of having to have somebody come out and fix it for me.”
While David and Tom handled the bulk of the work, Donna joked that she was “the mediator” between their different personalities.
“David is an impatient person and Tom is very meticulous, so my job was mediator and painter,” she chuckled, before adding that the latter job was not as glamorous or easy as it sounded. “It really brought us closer together. But he wore us out. We made 43 drawers one weekend, and then when we were done he said, ‘OK, Mom, now you have to paint and stain all of them.”
The family bonds the project created were only one satisfying part, David said. Another was seeing the house come together and realizing what they were accomplishing.
“The first time it really hit me was the day after we got all the sheeting on the outside. I remember walking around inside it and being like, ‘Wow, this is really happening,’” David said. “It’s just such a cool feeling, something that I had worked for and thought about for so long was finally becoming real. It was also a scary thing, thinking I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. It was nothing too difficult, but it was such a fun project.”
Small, but awesome
David’s tiny house was completed early last year, and he moved in on April 1, 2020. The house, which can be towed, was parked on land in Starkville whose owner plans to build a tiny house community. Several cottages that originally housed Hurricane Katrina refugees comprise the other homes and are starting to find residents.
The community is only a few minutes drive from the Mississippi State campus.
“It’s nice. I remembered how much I liked my privacy and being out there. He’s got some Katrina cottages and people are just now starting to move into them. I’ve been out there since August by myself. You have to remember you can’t just leave all the windows open all the time,” David laughed.
Now that his house is finished, the last laugh belongs to David. His 221-square foot home is roughly the same size as the dorm room he lived in as a freshman at Mississippi State, and has just as many amenities if not more.
Appliances include a stackable washer and dryer, two-burner stove, a microwave that doubles as a convection oven, wi-fi internet access, and a full-size refrigerator.
The house is 26 feet long and is oriented horizontally. The left side contains the bathroom, laundry and shower, and is accessible via a sliding wood door. A loft with a bed and storage space is also located above that area, and is accessible by a small, steep staircase tucked between a wall and the kitchen counter.
The middle is the kitchen, which includes a small table and ceiling fan, and the right side is a living area with a couch, desk and television. Another sleeping loft with a bed hangs over the living room.
Storage is built into the house everywhere. Nearly two dozen drawers and several shelves are in the kitchen alone.
The house also includes a small deck, fire pit and grill.
“I’ve got pretty much everything I need,” David said.
Although plenty cozy, David said there is still plenty of room for entertaining. As many as five people have slept in the house, he said, and he figures a few more could fit comfortably inside for an evening of hanging out.
“You just have to be real good friends with everybody,” he said with a laugh.
Since it is located off campus, David said the tiny house has become a frequent hangout spot for he and his friends. It’s also a great conversation starter.
“We’ll be talking to a new group of people or something, and one of my friends will point out, ‘This is David. He built his own house,’” he said.
David said that, after a year in the tiny house, he’s happy with the set-up. He doesn’t have a lot of stuff to lug around yet, and hasn’t gotten claustrophobic living in the cozy confines.
David, a mechanical engineering major, plans to live in the tiny house throughout his college career, which will last at least two or three more years. He’s not sure if, after graduation, he’ll simply move the house somewhere else or sell it.
“The guy I’m parked on his land now, he’s offered to buy it when I’m done. But it’ll depend on whether I want something bigger or if I’m happy with it,” David said. “Obviously it’d be nice to pick it up and move it wherever I end up getting a job, but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make that decision until after I’ve lived in it a while longer.”