A handcrafted storybook cottage

This tiny storybook cottage was handcrafted by its owner. It has 1 bedroom in 520 sq ft. | www.facebook.com/SmallHouseBliss

Ron and Sue Corl have been living the tiny house lifestyle for 28 years. Today Ron is sharing with us their storybook cottage, designed and built by himself.


Nestled in central Ohio, amongst the largest Amish community in the world, is our “Rudolph Cottage.” We are Ron and Sue Corl, and have lived in our 520 sqft tiny since 2007. It’s based on Sue’s childhood dream of having the little cottage that Rudolph, Hermey & Yukon Cornelius stayed in on their journey. Our storybook cottage design shows that the small lifestyle need not be lived in a tiny box, bereft of color and personality. In 1998, we purchased 30 acres of steep woodland. By 2000, we had no money and were living in a 200 sqft 1968 camper. That lasted 7 years! It leaked and got so cold in the winter, an ice dam would form on the door overnight. We would use a blow-dryer in the morning to get out. Sue would say – “Yeah, good times! And don’t forget about our 3 cats and big dog in there, too!” (There’s a joke in here somewhere about a “3 cat – 1 dog night!”)

Moving up to a “huge” 520 sqft cottage felt like moving into a mansion. It took over 2 years to gather all the materials including cutting some trees on the land and having them dried and cut into posts. By collecting materials first, you can design around window & door sizes instead of buying costly new materials to fit your predetermined plan. Be flexible! Our windows were brand new overstock, and I paid $5 each at auction! I designed around them for the overall look. If you can search Craig’s List and go to auctions and yard sales, you can source almost everything for pennies on the dollar, but it takes time and often you don’t have that luxury – like the luxury of living in a leaky camper!

This tiny storybook cottage was handcrafted by its owner. It has 1 bedroom in 520 sq ft. | www.facebook.com/SmallHouseBliss

I hand built the cottage over a 5 year period. The land is hilly, so the easiest foundation to do was simply posts. I’m a furniture designer so my approach was to build the largest cabinet I had ever built! Every piece of wood was custom cut and molded to fit, from the live-edge siding to the striped hardwood interior walls & floors. The total raw material & utility hook up costs were around $18,000, but that doesn’t include over 1300 hours of labor or the travel & fuel costs in the project. It’s insured for $110,000 replacement cost, but that’s still too low to have all this hand work duplicated.

This tiny storybook cottage was handcrafted by its owner. It has 1 bedroom in 520 sq ft. | www.facebook.com/SmallHouseBliss

The main living space is 16’x12’ with a loft bedroom above. The cabinets and bed are built-in to utilize every inch. We could have used a ladder up to the loft, but we knew that wouldn’t work as we grew older. I still designed the steps to save space though. They look like an experiment gone awry, but Sue painted a clue on the risers, “It’s Left up to you.” If you start with your left foot, you can walk straight up, just like regular stairs. The Blue Diamond & Fern ceiling simply had to be that way! We are both artists and decided that the cottage should be our palette. That’s another benefit of living small – if a creative idea doesn’t work out, it doesn’t take long or cost much to change it.

Coming from that teeny, tiny camper bathroom, we splurged on a 9’x9’ bathroom with a 4’x4’ tiled shower – pure luxury. The walls are all sided with 100 year old boards we pulled out of a demolition project. I wanted it to have the feel of an old back porch that had been turned into a bathroom long ago, complete with a 1940’s sink. Yes, that’s my custom designed composting toilet!

This tiny storybook cottage was handcrafted by its owner. It has 1 bedroom in 520 sq ft. | www.facebook.com/SmallHouseBliss

We have learned how to do the “kitchen dance” in our 7’X8’ foyer/kitchen. It’s a balance for Sue to cook every night, but the fridge and pantry cupboard are in the living room, so I can pop through for a beer whilst she is getting a can of beans. On the sink cabinet I used an old Porcelain Coke sign that was almost rusted through. We call the Coke girl Judy for no reason whatsoever!

We are working on a book, “The Little Book of Living Small”, and starting a new online venture, Shiny Tiny Mansion. Our tag line is “Small Lifestyle Amplified”. We will have a small living reality blog, how-to videos, floor plans, multi-function furniture & accessories, and if the desire is there, custom small home plans and workshops. Email me directly at info@shinytinymansion.com or go to the site and sign up, and we will notify you when we are fully up and running.

Thanks for looking!!! – Ron Corl


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Photographs by Randy Fath, courtesy of Ron Corl.

Text copyright 2014 SmallHouseBliss. All Rights Reserved.

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