Originally Appeared in the Sunday Edition of the San Francisco Chronicle

Sept 6th 2015

Written By Sophia Markoulakis 


Joshua and Shelley Engberg’s tiny home sits in the San Francisco Bay hills and boasts spectacular views

When Joshua and Shelley Engberg decided to transition from their 1,300-square-foot Pleasant Hill home to a 374-square-foot house on wheels, they didn’t realize that the move would also make them tiny-house celebrities.

Last year the construction of their ultra-small home was covered on an episode of FYI Network’s “Tiny House Nation.” Since then, the couple have created a website (tinyhousebasics.com) incorporating their custom trailer business, accumulated many thousand Instagram followers, and just returned from Colorado Springs, Colo., where they evangelized about scaled-down living to a crowd of 40 thousand attending the first-annual Tiny House Jamboree.

While the Engbergs might have purged plenty of belongings, they didn’t let the new home’s scale hinder their love of entertaining. If anything, the smaller space made them more efficient in how they throw a party.

“We used to have gatherings with up to 20 people, but it was too much work and we could never get around to talk to everyone. Now in the smaller place, we host a maximum of eight and it’s so much easier. We have more fun because we’re actually getting to socialize,” Joshua says.


Shelley Engberg in the kitchen of her tiny home. The kitchen is actually larger, proportionally, compared to the home’s overall square footage.

The couple sacrificed some living space in order to have a larger kitchen in relation to the home’s total square footage. “We have friends come over and say, ‘This kitchen is bigger than my apartment kitchen,’” Shelley says of the U-shape space. “I actually love the size and shape. I can access all the appliances easily.”

The propane-fueled range is a standard 24 inches, and the refrigerator is 10.7 cubic feet, offering plenty of capacity for the couple who love to cook. Though the original dishwasher was swapped out for a larger fridge, they don’t miss it. Counters are Granicrete, a polymer-modified concrete, that are lighter than traditional concrete and more durable than both concrete and granite.

Part of the kitchen space acts as a cocktail station, and decorative wall shelving is used to hold bar accessories and special liquor bottles. Glassware is stored out in the open, making it easy for Joshua to mix drinks for friends. Larger bottles of liquor and other party supplies are stored on shelving tucked underneath the 8-foot counter that is the hub of the living space. “It’s where we work, do crafts and socialize. It’s the best part of the house,” Shelley says.


Joshua and Shelley Engberg’s tiny house uses an accordion window to bridge outside and inside: The window opens onto an outside counter perfect for dining.

An accordion window connects the indoor and outdoor counter and allows the space to feel larger and more connected to the land and vistas outside. “It makes the house for us. We could not live without it,” Joshua says. The six-piece portable deck provides standing and sitting space and serves as a transition between the house and outdoor seating areas under the oaks.

The house’s two opposing cantilevered roofs provide extra headroom for the master bedroom loft and Shelley’s dressing room. When the couple decided to sink the king-size mattress into the flooring, they framed out the space so that the bed lays flush and is surrounded by carpet tile-covered storage compartments. These hold clothes and bedside items. Think of them as submerged nightstands.


Floating metal-and-wood stairs lead to the master bedroom loft of Joshua and Shelley Engberg’s tiny home in the East Bay hills.

Floating metal and wood inlaid stairs follow the line of the wall up to the master loft and are airy alternative to the often-seen boxy storage stairs that host cubbies. They provide a nice counter to the sliding climbing barn door that serves as a ladder for Shelley’s loft space and as a bathroom door.

Like other “tiny housers,” the Engbergs take full advantage of every inch of square feet, including the back side of the portable deck that has pull-out storage drawers for outdoor entertaining supplies.

For many, tiny-house living is a lifestyle built on the “tread lightly on the environment” ethos, involving off-the-grid utility systems and a nomadic approach to land use. For the Engbergs, it was a chance to escape Bay Area rents and do something dramatic during the couple’s fourth year of marriage.

The house, in the San Francisco Bay Area, sits on a dedicated RV pad. Both Joshua and Shelley were focused on finding a good piece of land so it was a bonus that the site they found had the conveniences of well water and electricity. “We literally knocked on doors in areas where we wanted to be,”says Joshua about the search. Says Shelley: “We made up flyers with our story, pictures of us, a link to our website, and a list of services that we could offer to the landowner.”


Shelley and Joshua Engberg relax in the sitting area of their tiny home in the East Bay hills.

They found homeowners with a large enough piece of land who were happy to have someone help maintain it and trade that sweat equity for a portion of the rent. “We put ourselves in their shoes and made a point to express what we could offer them, not what we wanted out of the arrangement,” says Joshua.

With such a prime piece of land and breathtaking views for miles, it’s no wonder that friends and family are never too far away. Most weekends involve friends gathered around the outdoor counter or under the deck’s heater, and not much has changed since they moved. “If you design for your needs and wants, you can make things work no matter how small your space is,” says Joshua. “The only thing I miss is our chaise lounge.”

Sophia Markoulakis is a freelance writer in Burlingame. E-mail:[email protected]