Among the unique items that make up the décor of the Community Boat Project's second “tiny house” is an exterior wall that's nearly blanketed with old license plates, including one that's be chopped up and rearranged to read, “RT 66.”
“I'm from Oklahoma originally, so Route 66 has a big significance for me,” said Aiden Rush, one of the Community Boat Project students who could point to key features of the uniquely designed 8-foot-by-15-foot house and take credit for them.
Rush was part of the pool of roughly 20 laborers who spent four hours a week — their Thursday class sessions at the Community Boat Project, up the hill from the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building in Port Hadlock — assembling the house over the course of a nine-month school year.
“We're always saving these old license plates, with the idea that someday, we'd do something with them,” said Wayne Chimenti, captain of the Community Boat Project.
Chimenti pointed to an equally distinctive feature of the house, the frames that comprised an upper exterior wall surrounding a window, as another example of how the house utilized “upcycling.”
“Westport Yachts in Port Angeles gave us all these materials,” Chimenti said of the tropical hardwoods and high-end plywoods. “It's all really expensive wood pieces that have been intricately machined, and they just handed them to us for free. Some of them were misordered, some were off-cuts, others were left outside and got water-stained or silvered, but they're all still good.”
Chimenti explained how the construction of this school year's tiny house, from upcycled materials, was merely an expansion of the existing goals that led the Community Boat Project to tackle its first tiny house last year.
“At one time, Port Townsend was known for its 'Shed Boy' culture,” Chimenti said, elaborating that the term “Shed Boy” was coined in Port Townsend, and refers to someone who chooses to live “an alternative life” in a small shelter. “Today, the more appropriate term is 'Shedder,' as it's more gender-neutral, and carries the metaphoric sense of shedding materialism. Shedders are being washed out of Port Townsend by a tidal wave of Airbnb and new money.”
Chimenti noted that many of his students are working-class younger people for whom the dream of owning one's own house has become an impossibility otherwise, between “the gentrification of Port Townsend,” a rise in property values and a shortfall in available housing.
“We wanted to show these kids that they could build their own houses for almost nothing,” Chimenti said. “If you have the skills, and you're willing to put in the labor, all you're really paying for is the wood and other materials.”
As the Community Boat Project prepared to build another tiny house this school year, Chimenti said there was an increased focus on “how cheap we can make it,” which led to a “livable art structure” which he estimated was made from 80 percent recycled materials, with the only new items being its electrical wiring and fittings, as well as its insulation.
“It's really empowering to someone with a lower income, when you tell them that, for the cost of many six months of rent in town, they can build their own house,” Chimenti said.
Two of the Community Boat Project's students, Elliott Avery and Kasha Mascarena, were even able to secure payment from the WorkSource state employment program, to subsidize their labor on the house beyond the weekly class hours.
Mascarena explained that the house-building qualified as job training, and praised the mentors who worked with the student crews.
“This project was great, learning skills from architectural design to finish work,” Avery said. “I could totally build something like this myself now, and have a place to live.”
The tiny house was designed by the students under the direction of retired architect Dwight Nicholson, first through plans drawn on paper, then via a scale model built with 1/8-inch plywood.
At the same time, shop manager Simon de Voil credited Carl's Building Supply of Port Hadlock, the Waste Not Want Not thrift store of Port Townsend and those same mentors with serving as the other main suppliers of hand-me-down materials for the project.
“Our goals were to teach students essential life skills — including problem solving, critical thinking and the basic hand skills to do the work — by building a house from as many free materials as possible,” Chimenti said. “This gives students a different take on home living, beyond the three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot, mortgage-burdened life of the average American, while providing housing for some deserving individual in Jefferson County.”
The tiny house is currently viewable at the Community Boat Project in Port Hadlock, but only until it sells. Chimenti noted “the calls have been coming in” since it was posted on Craigslist in recent weeks.
“Our ideal buyer is a young person, between 18 and 35 years old, who wants to stay and work in Jefferson County,” Chimenti said. “Our last project went to a young farmer in Chimacum. That is the dream owner. In some small way, we want to be part of the solution to this housing crisis, as this area gentrifies on an exponential scale.”
Cole Taylor, one of the mentors who guided students on the project, praised the project for honing the students' hands-on skills while expanding their horizons.
“Through this, you learn it's OK to make a house how you want.”
“We were able to be creative thinkers, and not limit our mindsets,” Avery said. “This has taught me so many skills. This field is my job and my life now.”
To support the Community Boat Project and their efforts, you may contribute through the GiveJefferson.org campaign for United Good Neighbors, which starts Oct. 1, or contact the CBP via email@example.com.