Many folks move to rural areas to enjoy small-town life. But Brian and Mary Jean Ruhnke Laechlin have taken it farther than most: They’ve gone big on getting really small -- tiny, in fact!
Mary earned a degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Kohl’s corporate training in Wisconsin. She transferred to San Antonio four years ago with Kohl’s and met her soon-to-be husband, Brian Laechlin, online.
After they married, they lived in Brian’s house. Deciding they wanted to save money for their future, they sold the house and moved in with Brian’s parents. After living with their in-laws for nine months, the couple decided the time was right to explore other housing options.
Brian grew up in Adkins. He’s an East Central High School graduate, as is his father. He wanted to bring his family up in Adkins.
Mary grew up as a city girl in Wisconsin in a very large house. She remembers having separate phone lines for downstairs and upstairs. Her parents would call the upstairs line to let the kids know that dinner was ready. This former city girl didn’t want to live that way.
Mary found an ad on craigslist for a tiny home -- one of four built by the Northside Independent School District’s Construction Academy. The couple went to view the houses, but Brian wasn’t convinced he could live in such a small space.
Yet Mary couldn’t get the tiny gray-and-white house out of her mind. After a few weeks, she mentioned the house again to Brian and told him how much she really wanted it. He acquiesced and told her to call about the house. Mary was in luck, said the school principal; two other people had the tiny house under contract, but their financing fell through. The house was hers if she wanted it!
Brian and Mary bought the 386-square-foot home for approximately $29,000 in August 2014; Dodson House Moving transported it free of charge to their 14 acres in Adkins. The money went right back into the school’s construction academy program.
The abode may be small in size, but it’s big in amenities and features.
The house has granite counter tops, a full-sized stove, an almost full-sized refrigerator, a tankless water heater, a full-sized bathtub, modern fixtures, and a glass bowl sink. There’s also a loft for storage or to accommodate guests. A pantry cabinet houses dishes and non-perishable food items.
The master bedroom measures 11 feet by 10 feet and fits a queen-sized bed. It also features a full-sized closet with sliding doors. Mary, an artist, has her easel at the foot of her bed. Her art covers the walls of the tiny house.
Living space is extended by a deck the couple built for outdoor entertaining/family space.
The couple have learned to scale down and live minimally, storing vacuums and brooms in little nooks and crannies. Every square inch of space is used wisely, yet the house feels very open and uncluttered.
Fast-forward to August 2016, and Brian and Mary now have a daughter, Skyler, 14 months old, and are raising her to love the farm life.
Her needs are accommodated in this tiny house, too. Brian’s father built little Skyler a bookshelf, which adorns the living room wall. Her high chair hangs in arm’s reach on a bicycle hook.
The family enjoys the benefits of lower utilities; their electric bill runs around $45 a month and water is between $50 and $60 a month, Mary said. They maintain a simpler lifestyle and have no cable or Internet. It’s all about nature, family time, and life on the farm.
The farmstead includes a chicken coop that the goats shelter in when it rains. The Laechlins have 16 head of cattle, two goats, three dogs, and several cats. An old railway line runs through the back of the property. Mary and Brian routinely find old railroad spikes and insulators. Mary wants to refurbish and rebuild the old railroad trestle someday.
A huge hackberry tree shades the pond, which includes a duck house.
The couple worked really hard to clear the land to start their farm.
Mary and Brian are considering having another child. They realize they will need more room, so they’re planning to add a “barndominium,” Brian said, that will be at least 1600 square feet.
The tiny house will become Mary’s art studio. The two say that perhaps when Sklyer is older they will feature the tiny house as a bed and breakfast.
When her city friends come to visit, Mary said, they are enthralled and amazed with the farm and nature experience. That’s part of the draw and charm of their tiny house adventure.
A paving stone Brian and Mary Laechlin made advocates their tiny-house philosophy:
“Love grows best in little houses with fewer walls to separate where you eat and sleep, so close together you can’t help but communicate. And if we had more space between us, think of what we’d miss. Love grows best in a home like this.”