Married in 2013, Steph and James were living like many of their contemporaries, in a good-size rental property in suburban Brisbane.
“It was a great house that had everything we needed and was well located to the city. [But] about 18 months ago, after a blissful holiday in a remote cabin where we had time to read, play music and be surrounded by nature, we started to wonder if we could live more simply on a permanent basis,” Steph says.
At a wedding in January this year, Steph and James were discussing their burgeoning idea to relocate to a tiny home when a friend remarked that his grandad was selling his vintage caravan.
“We had a feeling something like this would happen so we knew the time was right to give it a try. We purchased the caravan from grandad Rex and his wife Ann in Sydney and James drove it up to Brisbane to start its new life as our home, named RexAnn!”
The caravan had been used for holidays for well over 30 years and was in need of a drastic update. Steph and James set to work planning a clever transformation at the same time as deconstructing their old life in the rental house.
“Sorting through our belongings was very cleansing, and we really thought about what we actually needed and what was surplus to requirements,” says Steph.
“We ended up taking about five trailer loads of stuff to a local op shop and put a few key items that we may want one day into storage.”
They renovated the caravan during their spare time away from study and work, and finally moved in during May 2016. By that stage they had replaced most of the worn-out fixtures and fittings in favour of comfort, smart and practical storage, and additional stylish touches.
“We painted the interior white, pulled up the linoleum floor and laid dark wooden boards, replaced the worn-out single beds with a queen, and basically just modernised it while keeping some elements of its 1970s personality,” Steph says.
“We used a beautiful 100-year-old cypress pine to construct our main dining and study table and had new sofa cushions made to fit the L-shaped space perfectly. RexAnn now has everything we need to live comfortably, and it still surprises me how little ‘stuff’ we actually need.”
The caravan is connected to mains electricity so the couple can make their morning cups of coffee, cook in the oven and keep their wine cool in the fridge. Outside, and just in time for summer, they have put up a new undercover annex area complete with a barbecue and long table for dinner parties.
RexAnn is parked on a picturesque five-acre block of land an hour outside of Brisbane that belongs to James’ parents. While they have access to the main house just a few hundred metres away, the caravan is mostly self-sufficient, and they have plans to make it completely self-sustaining in the next couple of years.
“The main problem is one of water supply. We use rainwater from the tanks to cook with and we buy bottled water to drink. There are bore-water tanks, and our plan is to make use of these in the future to pump out water for our bathroom and to feed and maintain vegetable beds. At the moment we grow a few things to eat such as tomatoes, pumpkins and chillies, but in time we want to be growing 100 per cent of our own fruit and vegetables.”
One of the most surprising things the couple has found about living in a caravan is the reaction of friends and strangers alike when they describe life in their tiny home.
“Neither James nor I grew up on a hippie commune, and so sometimes friends and family members are confused by our tiny home lifestyle choice,” Steph says. “They wonder if we are OK or have fallen on hard times; then when we explain our reasoning, the tranquility as well as how much money we can save, it all becomes clear. They go from looking confused to saying, ‘That’s so cool!’”
While Steph and James miss the convenience of popping down the hall to take a quick shower or spontaneous nights out with friends, they wouldn’t dream of giving up their slice of bucolic bliss.
“We love lying in bed listening to the trees rustle or being outside with a cup of tea looking up at the stars. It is wonderful. Of course there are things we miss, but we just have to be more organised. We still crave the odd night out, but an hour’s drive into the city to see friends and have a great meal out is perfectly achievable.
“We both just grew tired of noisy neighbours and busy roads and out here we can go days without seeing anyone else, and that suits us. We work for ourselves, study part-time and James has his music, so while it can be lonely sometimes we would never go back to city life.”
The future for Steph and James is very much about staying small. They have plans to take RexAnn travelling to Tasmania and in the long term, they hope they can maintain a tiny home, even when the time is right to start a family.
“We may not be able to stay exactly as we are now in RexAnn, but there are plenty of other options when it comes to tiny home living.
“This land is really beautiful and I can see us looking at options such as container homes or relocating a little cottage here but for now at this stage in our life, little RexAnn is just right.”