White homing pigeons fly in an undulating flock over Candy and Steve Mathews’ ten-acre Ferndale property. From their hillside, the land looks out over Mount Baker and is dotted with structures- a few barns, a garage, a complete woodworking shop and the first of their tiny homes – a life-size dollhouse where their daughter celebrated her third birthday back in 1985.
After forty-five years of marriage, many completed spec houses, remodels and two tiny homes later, Steve Mathews fondly remembers the invitations Candy sent out for their daughter’s birthday party and the small brooms and household accessories their friends brought to the playhouse for her house warming party.
Cascade Tiny Homes are larger than the life-size dollhouse Steve Mathews built all those years ago, but they maintain the same charm. In custom building affordable tiny homes, the team’s shared vision becomes a doorway to creative, multi-purpose design, and a willingness to help their clients discover an altogether different way of defining spatial requirements.
The Mathews have joined a growing movement that heralds hyper-functional space over the high cost of standard single-family dwellings. Their most recent tiny home project redefines time as a commodity, one that can be more valuable than the material possessions we fill our homes with or the money we earn to afford a larger residence. Tiny homes with smart layouts aren’t a sacrifice of space, rather, an efficiency of space. This idea begs the question: what if a home could be a freedom instead of the primary monthly expense of nearly every US household? Freedom can lead to all kinds of creative housing materials – new and repurposed.
Cascade Tiny Homes evolved from Candy Mathews’ exposure to shipping containers through her former workplace, Big Steel Box, a local shipping container rental company. “When I worked there, Steve and I always wanted to take a shipping container and turn it into a tiny house,” Mathews explained. They finally bought the shipping container in 2009, and after many years of it sitting on their property (and when Steve could take a break from his other building projects) he finished the 8×20 tiny home conversion in the fall of 2015.
The Mathews’ nephew and his wife bought the tiny house for their property on Orcas Island. The couple lived in the tiny home until Steve Mathews, with help from his daughter Stacey, finished building their primary residence. The tiny home’s seven-foot long kitchen was perfectly adequate for hosting dinners for their uncle and remains their home away from home.
Steve Mathews’ ability to convert a steel cargo container into a modified tiny house was a challenge for a man who’s used to working with wood. But even cutting and welding steel became second nature for this seasoned craftsman. After graduating from high school in Bellingham and a season of commercial fishing, Steve Mathews’ mother encouraged him to find a trade. Woodworking seemed a natural fit and within a few years he was a union apprentice carpenter, then worked part time as a boat builder at Uniflite. He later finished his apprenticeship at Cherry Point, helping to build the oil refinery in the late 60’s and early 70’s, before becoming a fully-fledged union carpenter.
The Mathews’ most recent tiny house was completed last December. “My specialty is if someone has a rough idea of what they want to do,” Steve said. “I love to take that and fine tune and massage the idea to make the structure more of what they’re asking for.” When the Mathews’ neighbor across the street wanted to help her lifelong friend downsize, she invited her friend Shannon Carlton to move onto her land and connected her with the Mathews. Beginning last July, Carlton gave Steve her sketches and he began to make her tiny house ideas into reality – even rendering to scale a 3D model of her future space.
With two children in college and working full time at Haggen’s in Everett, Carlton decided to sell her condo, transfer jobs and move onto her friend’s acreage. After much collaboration, the project was complete and she’s been living in the space with her daughter for the past three months. Her daughter, Jordon Carlton, said, “The space is highly livable,” and although she had her reservations about living in 360 square feet, she said she loves it and spends a lot of time there. She continued, “You feel like you need more [space] but you don’t use that much.” Simplified living has its perks. Shannon Carlton plans on spending even more quality time with her grown children when they all vacation together in England and Scotland next month.
Additional dwelling units are needed in Bellingham and beyond. Candy Mathews adds, “I think it’s socially important to provide someone a living space.” She continued, “And people are realizing that they don’t want to work 50 hours a week to pay a mortgage just to have a place to put all their stuff. I see what Shannon Carlton has done and I see what she’s done with her life in the year we’ve known her. I think people understand that they don’t need the huge ‘American Dream’ and that it isn’t all that much of a dream. We’re unlimited in the US as to what we can do. But what we want to do may not be what we’ve been told we need to do.”
Steve summarized, “If you want to make a change, don’t be afraid to.” Just put a good plan together and let the Mathews’ do the rest.