Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k Budget

You might assume you need previous building knowledge to create a tiny house from the ground up, but self-taught designer Mariah Hoffman is proof that you can do almost anything you put your mind to.

Mariah had always dreamed of designing and building her own home, so that’s exactly what she did. At 23 years old, she moved to San Diego, took out a personal loan, and purchased a used trailer to build a mobile tiny home. It took five years to create the 156-square-foot house on wheels, and Mariah said it was the most exhausting, challenging, and amazing thing she had ever done.

When Mariah was in the early stages of building her tiny home, she learned that her Lola (grandmother) had passed away in the Philippines. To honor her grandmother’s memory and her sacrifices to provide shelter for her family, she named her tiny home Lola.

The journey to creating her beautiful house on wheels was not an easy one. Mariah had no building skills or tools, so she put up an ad with her local DIY fabrication shop, and friends and strangers donated and lent her tools for her exciting project.

Now that she had the right equipment, she had to learn all about metalworking and woodworking to get started. Mariah started by modeling her house in the 3D program SketchUp. She did about 90 percent of the construction herself but hired licensed subcontractors to help with the electrical work and structural welding.

Mariah was 28 years old by the time she finally finished and had spent $12,000 over that time, doing the work paycheck to paycheck. She now runs her own multi-disciplinary design studio called Micro Modula, designing products and coaching people to build their own tiny homes.

tiny house micro modula 8 - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetMariah Hoffman spent $12,000 and five years building her own tiny home from the ground up. She used exterior-grade shou sugi ban plywood as the cladding for her 156-square-foot sanctuary. This cladding uses an ancient Japanese siding technique involving preserving the wood by charring it with fire for bug, fire, and water resistance. Photo: Stacy Keck

tiny house micro modula 3 - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetMariah put the finishing touches on her 8 x 20-foot tiny home called Lola in 2020, but she plans to expand the 64 square feet front deck and add a rooftop deck for indoor/outdoor connection. Photo: Stacy Keck

tiny house micro modula 19 - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetRather than purchasing door handles, Mariah decided to save money and opt for something different by using 2×4 pieces of wood on either side of the door. Photo: Stacy Keck

micro modula 2 - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetSimplicity and continuity were a considerable part of Mariah’s build. She achieved this with birch paneling on the ceiling, interior door, kitchen shelving, and countertops. She also used a polycarbonate twin wall over the bed and windows to capture filtered light to create the illusion of extra space. Photo: Stacy Keck

entryway tiny house - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetMariah never included a closet for clothes in her tiny home, which is one of her biggest regrets. She added hooks by the door for her handbag and coat to make up for it. Photo: Stacy Keck

micro modula 1 - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetHave you ever showered under the stars? Mariah loved the idea and designed her bathroom with a custom skylight. She created the steel framing with horizontal niches and now has a light, bright, and spacious shower that feels both luxurious and natural. Photo: Stacy Keck

tiny house micro modula 7 - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetStorage is a significant consideration in any kitchen, and Mariah ticked this box. She purchased a free-standing kitchen from IKEA, which she said was both affordable and of the perfect style for her tiny home. Photo: Stacy Keck

tiny house micro modula 2 - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetNo kitchen is complete without hanging storage. Mariah purchased a wire grid wall from a retail supply store and installed it above her free-standing kitchen. It houses her everyday essentials like pots, bowls, and utensils. Photo: Mariah Hofmann

tiny house micro modula 12 - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetMariah decided to incorporate her tiny home’s exterior into her kitchen with the use of a hand-burnt sugi ban backsplash. Not only does it tie in seamlessly with the overall design of her house, but it was free as it was leftover materials from her cladding. Photo: Stacy Keck

tiny house micro modula 1 - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetMariah spent a lot of time turning the bedroom of her tiny home into a peaceful and relaxing oasis. It features natural wood throughout, contrasted against black windows and steel framing. She also purchased a beautiful fan and painted it black.

To compensate for the lack of a closet, Mariah built storage cubbies under her bed for clothing, art supplies, and cleaning supplies. She also installed IKEA wall-mounted shoe organizers for all her shoes that take up minimal space. Photo: Stacy Keck

tiny house micro modula 22 - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetMariah grew up in a family of creative people. Her sister, grandmother, and great-uncle were painters, her mother was in fashion, and her father was an art dealer. It was only natural for Mariah to install a picture ledge above her bed to display her art pieces and books. Photo: Stacy Keck

tiny house micro modula 6 - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetEvery tiny home needs a table for eating, socializing, and working, and Mariah found what she was looking for at IKEA. She purchased a folding table that would fit over the wheel well of her trailer and only had to make a minor leg adjustment for extra clearance space. Photo: Stacy Keck

tiny house micro modula 5 - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetAll curtains in Lola for privacy and warmth retention were handmade from drop cloth Mariah purchased from Home Depot. Photo: Stacy Keck

tiny house micro modula 18 - Self-taught Builder Constructs Her Own Tiny House On $12k BudgetMariah created a multi-purpose hinged countertop out of birchwood. It takes up minimum space when folded down but can serve a multitude of purposes when raised. Mariah uses it for food preparation, serving food, working, and as a bedside table. Photo: Stacy Keck