News & Media

Tiny house, big benefits: Freedom from a mortgage and worries — and stuff

The Washington Post

June 25, 2015


The retirement cottage on wheels

Pasadena, Md., residents Greg and Renee Cantori have had a tiny house parked to the side of their 1,400-square-foot 1970s ranch home for three years, awaiting their retirement. The Cantoris, who believe in collecting life experiences rather than material things, have had long careers in the nonprofit sector. They added green features such as a composting toilet, gray-water garden, programmable thermostat and LED bulbs to their main residence. And Greg, 55, has been bike commuting on and off for 30 years, currently cycling 50 miles round trip for his job in Baltimore. Greg and Renee, 53, even opted against installing a dishwasher in their kitchen because they appreciated the family time the task provided as their two daughters were growing up. “Conveniences create isolation,” Greg Cantori says.

So it’s not surprising that the couple has chosen a post-career tiny-house lifestyle. “We will be doing things that we enjoy and spending time together doing it,” he says.

A tiny house “becomes your launchpad,” says Raleigh, N.C., architect Sarah Susanka, author of the “Not So Big House”series who promotes building homes that are small but higher quality. “It’s a lot easier to live in a tiny house when you’re in a beautiful place,” she says. “A version of this is the micro units in cities where the city itself becomes your living room and dining room.”

The Cantoris’ 238-square-foot tiny home sits a few hundred yards from their 39-foot sailboat, which is docked on a creek that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. After they retire, they plan to sell the main house and spend time on the boat and in the tiny house — a lifestyle Greg Cantori dubbed “surf ’n’ turf.”

Many retirees travel the country in RVs, he says, but a tiny house “feels like a real house.” The cottage-like blue house with white trim is a light-filled space with dormers and beadboard ceilings and walls. It has a large loft that fits a queen-size bed and a smaller loft for a twin; Cantori split a stepladder in half to create rungs for each loft. On the main level, the house has a sitting area, kitchen and bathroom. The house has a shower/composting toilet on the far end. The original builder fitted it with a combo washer-dryer, but the Cantoris plan to remove it; they’ll hand wash clothes or use a small manual washer. They also want to buy solar panels and a rain collection system.

The Cantoris bought the $19,500 house three years ago in preparation for the retirement plan, but also because they needed a guesthouse and office. Greg and his brother towed the house from Ohio to Maryland, once parking in an Ace Hardware parking lot and returning to find a line of people waiting for a tour. The couple’s land in West Virginia, where they will base the house, is within biking distance of a town for access to supplies, groceries and entertainment. If they move it, they’ll tow it with a U-Haul truck.

Greg Cantori wants to find a place for these homes in society, and asked the executive director of Civic Works, a Baltimore nonprofit organization, to set up a project in which kids in its YouthBuild program would construct tiny houses. (Students of the Academy of Construction and Design, a trade school at Cardozo Education Campus in Northwest Washington, have been building a tiny house on a lot owned by Micro Showcase, a D.C.-based nonprofit that highlights micro building.)

Cantori, who serves on the advisory council for the youth project in Baltimore, hopes to find a way to use the completed structures to house the homeless.

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