Mini-spaces fill many needs: Backyard getaway, office, playhouse

  • Stephen Marshall, owner of The Little House on the Trailer in Petaluma, stands on the porch of a 240 sq. ft. model home on his Petaluma Blvd. lot.

Chris Lind has a spacious house in Petaluma, but sometimes a man just wants to get away to his country cabin.

Lind is lucky; he can be there in a New York minute. A few steps from his back door, he can be stretching out his long legs on the shady front porch of his little "Sugar Shack" as he calls it, looking out at the corn and bee hives and the weathered chicken coops of old Petaluma.

This is Lind's escape space. Inside, there are creature comforts like a futon, a TV and a DVD player. Lind's wife, Denise, also likes to mosey down and sit a spell after the pair have tended their chickens and worked their big vegetable garden.

This getaway place is a collaboration between Lind's dreams and Petaluma-based veteran cabinetmaker Stephen Marshall's skills. You imagine it and Marshall will build it. Just make sure your dreams are small — 120 square feet, to be exact. Marshall, a Petaluma-based veteran cabinetmaker and builder with 40 years' experience, has turned his talents to making tiny houses.

He builds heirloom-quality buildings that look like miniature houses, set on a foundation or on wheels. If you ever want to move, you can take it with you.

His most popular are, like Lind's, only 120 square feet, small enough to qualify under most planning and building codes as sheds, so no building permit is required. Marshall calls it the Sonoma Shanty.

But don't let the name fool you. Marshall can finish them with recycled Douglas fir floors, old-fashioned beadboard wainscotting, skylights and built-in cabinets. His inspiration is the historic old cabins of Point Reyes.

Legally-speaking, you can't live in them, although he can make a larger "Little House On the Trailer" that could be professionally transported and set up in an RV park for seasonal living. Marshall uses one of these beautifully finished homes on a trailer — complete with teeny gas fireplace, hardwood floors, crown molding, all-in-one kitchen and compact bath — as an office. His fleet of cute miniature houses has been attracting the attention of passersby on Petaluma Boulevard North.

"I'm driving along and spot them and go, &‘Wow! What's this?'" recalled Lind, who was looking for a higher-quality building for his garden that didn't look utilitarian, like your average pre-fab shed.

The Shantys are equipped with electricity but no bathroom or kitchen facilities, in order to stay within the law. Nonetheless, there are still endless possibilities for what Marshall and his wife, Kathryn de Laszlo, see as a little "room of one's own."

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