An Off the Grid Fairytale-Like House (For When You Want to Run Away)

The little house that Diana and Michael Lorence built for themselves in the woods of Northern California is like something out of a fairy tale. Unlike many tiny houses you see, it’s not built on a trailer base, since minimum square footage requirements don’t apply in the middle of the woods. But there’s another thing that sets this little house apart: it’s completely off the grid.

The Lorences call their place Innermost House, a reflection of the quiet, contemplative life they live there. The house, which was built by Michael and a local carpenter over the course of a year, measures 12 x 12 feet, for a total of 144 square feet. Within this tiny footprint are a living room, a kitchen, a study, and a bathroom. The last three rooms are really only small nooks, each measuring about 5 feet deep by 3 1/2 feet wide. Above the kitchen, bathroom and study is a sleeping loft with a small closet. Diana estimates that the house, which was built of fir with a naturally rot-resistant redwood siding, cost about $50,000 to build.

You’re probably curious about how it’s possible to live without electricity. Essentially, the Lorences do it the same way people have for thousands of years: use a fire to heat their home and cook their food, and candles for supplementary light in the evening. All of the cooking is done over the hearth, in a single cast-iron pot. Cold water comes to the kitchen from a cistern uphill, which collects rainwater. The bathroom has a flush toilet, a wall faucet, and a drain in the middle of the tile floor, for sponge bathing. Water for baths can be heated in the fireplace. (Sponge bathing may seem a bit unusual to us in the era of running water, but it’s what the Victorians did to keep clean, and is apparently quite effective.)

In the winter, the house is heated by the fire. In the summer, temperatures outside can reach as high as 100 degrees Farenheit, but, thanks to a sheltering oak tree and the house’s thick plaster walls, which retain and radiate the cool of the evening, indoor temperatures remain quite comfortable.

Life in the house is very simple—it’s built for quiet contemplation and cozy evenings of conversation around the fire. Diana points out that the living room is so small that you can easily lean over to make tea in the fireplace, or reach for a book on the shelf, without getting up from your chair. It’s definitely got me dreaming of escaping from the city and finding someplace to curl up in a cabin by a roaring fire—if only for a little while.

Want to learn more about the house? There’s an interview with Diana on Fine Homebuilding, and you can see a video of the couple in the house at Fair Companies. The Lorences have also started an Innermost House foundation, which is “dedicated to renewing the transcendental roots of everyday life.” You can read more about it on their website.

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