Artist goes from living large to petite retreat
Once upon a time, Sheila McGraw lived in a 4,500-square-foot house in Friendswood. Today, she lives in a 650-square-foot house in League City with no regrets.
Originally from Toronto, Canada, McGraw’s move to Friendswood in 2006 was a new beginning until a divorce altered the course.
But change doesn’t faze McGraw. Her life has been a journey of extraordinary events. She’s a successful artist, children’s book author and illustrator, fiction writer and an astute property investor.
“I’ve been buying and selling houses most of my life,” McGraw said. “Most of my homes have been rather large to accommodate a studio for my art, but I was intrigued by a small area of League City near the water, and always had my eye on it. More importantly, I was ready to take a minimalist approach to living.”
The tiny house movement has been sweeping the nation for quite some time, with most tiny houses less than 400 square feet. But McGraw likes to refer to hers as a tiny Texas house and a “petite retreat.”
After buying the house in September 2015, she began the transformation.
“The place was like a surfer’s cabin,” she said. “Lots of bamboo, rattan and tropical décor, which is not my style,” said McGraw, who prefers clean lines and modernism.
The house, which comprises a lower level and sleeping loft, had one saving grace — an exposed brick wall with a wood-burning fireplace on the main floor. A living area, kitchen and one minuscule bathroom completed the downstairs. The stairs leading up to the loft were tricky and the handrails weren’t up to code.
McGraw knew it would take her several months to get the house up to speed, especially after hearing from neighbors that the downstairs took on an inch of water during heavy rains. Foundation issues also required ripping up the Saltillo tile floor. To avoid flooding, she made the radical decision to add 8 inches of concrete inside the house.
“Adding concrete meant everything had to go up — door frames, electrical and plumbing,” she said.
McGraw’s contractor gutted the house, and to her specifications, poured the concrete and completely remodeled the interior, adding 3 feet to the loft by cantilevering it outward, marrying new joists to the existing structure. The additional space allowed for a second bathroom and closet.
She finished the wooden stairs and painted the risers and upstairs floors black and added stainless steel railings.
McGraw positioned her king-size bed in the middle of the room, and because it wasn’t against a wall, she made a clever headboard out of two kitchen countertops fastened to two dressers.
Leaning toward a rustic and industrial look, McGraw sealed the downstairs concrete floors, maintaining the natural color; painted the brick wall and newly installed Sheetrock white; and added craquelure — a crackle effect — across the fascia of the loft and the downstairs coat closet.
“A big part of me said, ‘don’t go crazy,’ but there were so many things that were not quite livable,” she said.
She changed the Formica countertops in the kitchen to black granite, and added an 18-inch-wide stainless dishwasher and Shaker-style cabinets. She enlarged the downstairs bathroom, making room for a stackable washer/dryer. Every available space is outfitted for storage.
Surprisingly, McGraw’s petite retreat doesn’t include an oven — just a stovetop and microwave that has a convection oven, plus an outdoor grill.
She bought most of her furnishings from Ikea, Home Depot, Target and a few online outlets. Whenever she shopped, she went armed with a tape measure. The two wall lights that extend over the banquette she bought from Restoration Hardware were her biggest splurge.
“I needed something tiny-house scale that complemented the industrial-meets-steampunk ceiling fan in the living area,” she said.
A nice-sized outdoor patio is where McGraw likes to spend time pondering possibilities for the backyard. Outdoor furniture left by the previous owners will do for now, but her mind is already swimming with possibilities. On the drawing board is a studio shed, a priority for McGraw, who first rose to fame in 1986 as the illustrator of the popular children’s book, “Love You Forever,” which just celebrated its 30th anniversary. Her newest illustrated children’s book, “I Love You Too, I Love You Three,” was released last year.
Now that the renovation is almost complete, McGraw is enjoying the calm and tranquillity of her tiny residence, but organizing is a priority when space is limited.
“I spend a lot of time at The Container Store,” she said. “You can’t let an inch of space go to waste in a place like this.”