By Casey Bennett–
It’s amazing how far a tiny idea can go.
It was only a little over a year ago when Robert and Bettina Johnson decided to sell their home in Victoria and move their young family to the community of Alkali Lake (called Esk’et in the Shuswap language), 45 km southwest of Williams Lake. Robert spent his childhood in Alkali, and both he and Bettina had it in their hearts to one day make the move back there to be involved in their community. Robert, a Red Seal journeyman carpenter, spent the last 10 years working diligently in Victoria’s rising housing market, while gathering ideas for his own unique housing designs. They moved back, armed with their tiny house design, and starting working on it, documenting their progress on YouTube.
And then, it happened.
What was supposed to be a simple experiment has quickly gained the attention of tiny house builders and enthusiasts the world over. The Esk’et Tiny House, built on a 20-foot trailer, with its uniquely shaped roof and flowing design, is a design that showcases exceptional craftsmanship, Aboriginal carving, and cold-weather features fit for a Canadian house, while featuring a fresh and modern interior. The first model, they’ve named the “Esk’et Sqlelten” for “salmon,” in honour of the cultural significance, and the salmon-shaped roofline, and carvings
Sustainable and affordable housing is a big topic worldwide, and one that will not be going away any time soon. Building with repurposed materials, leaving a smaller carbon footprint, and living within your means are ideas many of us are connecting with. Small spaces encourage less consumption by design.
The Tiny House builders and owners, Bettina and Robert Johnson. Photos: Casey Bennett/caseybennettphotography.tumblr.com
Robert and Bettina knew it was part of their vision to help encourage sustainable and affordable housing for people of all ages and income. “It’s really important for us to see people have a house to call their own without succumbing to debt. We’re interested in seeing people take on similar projects and build their own tiny homes and be inventive in the process,” says Bettina. Their series of videos, with fun how-to tips and practical advice about the tiny house building process, can be found on their YouTube channel. They also are getting ready to offer the Esk’et Sqlelten Tiny House building plans for purchase to DIY tiny house builders.
“Since our Open House a few months back, there are still questions and unknowns for some people when it comes to the Tiny House lifestyle,” says Robert. “It’s not surprising because it is a fairly new concept for many and so far we’re the only tiny home builder in our region. The idea of opening the house as a bed & breakfast is an opportunity for people to live in the home and see for themselves what it’s actually like.”
Thus, the next chapter in their ever-growing tiny ideas.
The Esk’et Tiny House is officially open for business as a bed & breakfast and has even earned a spot on the Aboriginal BC Tourism website. Up to four guests will get to experience staying in the uniquely charming tiny home, nestled in the remote valley next to a creek. Inside are two spacious lofts for sleeping, a kitchen equipped with a stove, fridge, and sink, a three-piece bathroom, and a living area that is cozy and never feels cramped—the propane fuelled fireplace is a wonderful touch. There are also plenty of activities to be done in the area including hiking to explore the traditional territory, rivers, and canyons, Churn Creek, and Farwell Canyon, experiencing the local culture, and hearing the stories of the Esk’etemc.
Since returning to Alkali Lake, both Robert and Bettina have been active community members and supporters of local businesses. Robert has recently been elected into Band Council and has been delving deeper and deeper into the cultural history and future of the place he calls home.
“Instead of simply being a bed & breakfast to sleep in, we are inviting people who stay here to experience the culture of the Esk’etemc, and what it has to offer,” says Bettina. “The people here have a rich history and an exciting future and we hope guests will get an opportunity to walk away having learned something about Alkali and the people who live here.”
The Johnsons are also big supporters of local First Nation artists and have opened up their tiny home to showcase art work, which is available for purchase by guests during their stays or through an online shop. The artist receives 100 per cent of the commission sales.
Bettina has been active on social media to promote and meet like-minded people who have the same aspirations and lifestyle goals. The Esk’et Tiny Home Facebook page is nearing the 1,000 Likes mark and they are garnering accolades from magazines and bloggers all over the world, from Germany to Slovakia. She has worked effortlessly on the website, updating it often. There, guests can find booking information, pricing, an events calendar and visitor information.
“We’re taking this tiny house venture one step at a time,” says Bettina. “But we’ve had a lot of support along the way, and that’s been very encouraging. This first Tiny House is just the beginning and we hope to continue to build in the community and develop strong, meaningful relationships, both locally and further-reaching.
The Johnson’s are open to questions and comments—to arrange a site visit, email them at “firstname.lastname@example.org”
Interested in booking a night or two? Looking for tiny house inspiration? Please visit www.eskettinyhouse.com.
Casey Bennett currently resides in Williams Lake. He works as a graphic designer/layout artist and is an internationally published photographer, still shooting with an old ancient medium called film. He listens to Soul, Motown, Hip-hop and Electronic music. He currently has work being exhibited at Black Box Gallery in Portland, Oregon.