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Tiny living in Wairarapa

The average house size in New Zealand is 149m2.

But for one Wairarapa couple, they’re happy with just 10 per cent of that.

Emily Norman reports.


Wairarapa couple Jodie Williams and Matt Bain. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Wairarapa couple Jodie Williams and Matt Bain. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Matt Bain and his partner Jodie Williams spent last year building a humble abode measuring just 7m long by 2.5m wide.

The build was inspired by the “tiny house” craze, a concept which has taken off in recent years globally, as people decide to downsize their living quarters to upsize their happiness.

And it seems to be working for Matt and Jodie who say they are now “living bigger” in the outside world instead.

Their tiny house cost them $45,000 in total to build themselves at about $2,500 per sqm.

This matches the average national build price per sqm.

The idea to build the tiny house came about when Matt stumbled upon a “random” article on Facebook about a man in Dallas who had built one.

“I sent Jodie the link and she replied back saying she could see me doing that,” he said.

“So, that night I drew a pencil sketch and it just evolved from there.”

Big is good, less is more... PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN
Big is good, less is more… PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN


Matt is the managing director of The Sign Factory in Masterton, and although he never built a house before, “in the sign and display business you do learn how to be practical”.

Matt's tiny house sketch. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Matt’s tiny house sketch. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

“I had a practical knowledge and I wasn’t scared of asking for help.”

The tiny house is on wheels, which gives the couple a bit more flexibility for location – “though it’s not the sort of thing you’d wheel around too often”.

They also own the piece of land in South Wairarapa where the tiny house is now situated.

The first step was to have a custom trailer built – one that was designed to take the weight of the build on the outside instead of taking the weight in the middle.

“Along with how we would build the trailer, there was a long list of questions and a lot of thought put into it,” Matt said.

“How are we going to keep it warm? How will we keep it ventilated?”

These, and other questions, were answered as the build progressed – the couple bought a Kimberley wood stove, and have installed a home ventilation system from Holland.

“It is constantly taking the air out of your house, through a ceramic core, and brings fresh air in from outside at almost room temperature,” Matt said.

The mezzanine bedroom. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN
The mezzanine bedroom. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN

Nearest to the front door of the tiny house is a small living area with two chairs and a white staircase to the right that doubles up as shelving and cupboards.

Up those stairs is Matt and Jodie’s mezzanine bedroom. It is one of two loft spaces in the building.

Directly underneath the bedroom is the kitchen and at the end of the house is the bathroom.

Matt even has a projector so he can watch movies on one of the blank walls.

While the couple saved up to build the house, they had moved in to even smaller accommodation to save on rent – and get used to confined spaces.

“I’ve got a bit of stuff in storage, but there was a lot given away,” Matt said.

“I went through stuff and asked, have I used that this year? If I used it once, I gave it away, if I used it often, I kept it.

“Now all that’s gone, we just have the bare necessities… like the coffee maker and a jug.”

This style of minimalistic living also helped with keeping the mobile house under the weight limit of 3.5 tonne.

Partway through the build. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Partway through the build. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Matt said everything, except for the trailer was weighed using bathroom scales.

Because of the build, Matt and Jodie have avoided a mortgage, which Matt says literally translates to “death pledge”.

“If you’ve got the vision [for the build], you’re halfway there, then it’s just the courage to make the first step.

“All I ever wanted to do was accomplish one thing every week.

“At the beginning, it was a financial goal to tick off each week — enough to get the build rolling – and then we just kept carrying on.

“Big is good, but less is more.”


  1. I would be more than happy with that, some have such huge houses these days but such small families; it’s just making work for yourself!

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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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