A little goes a long way at this tiny island house
Christine Plum has so many design ideas — enough to fill a huge house. The problem is, Plum designs only tiny houses and has to squeeze all those creative concepts into a little more than 500 square feet.
“There is a lot more in these houses in terms of finishes and special touches than in any new construction,” Plum said. “I obsess over every detail. I draw the houses out on graph paper and no two houses are alike. But, to me, they are perfect.”
Plum grew up in Houston in a family heavily involved in the construction industry, so she was familiar with the business. But her early career took a different path. She was educated as a chemical engineer and for 17 years was a stay-at-home mom to home-school her three sons. She later worked outside the home as a restaurant manager. Her life changed direction a few years ago when she bought a small cottage as a weekend home and short-term rental. Inspiration for building grew from that experience, she said.
Last year, Plum decided to build a house from scratch.
She has since completed four tiny houses in Galveston, all raised more than 10 feet from the ground. Plum named each one a color: Blue House, White House, Black House and, most recently, Green House.
Plum first was designing cottage-style houses, but the designs have changed. The White House is all white inside with black windows and a masculine feel; the Black House is a dusty rose inside and more feminine; and the new Green House is a “mullet” house — traditional in the front and modern in the rear.
The Green House has some interesting features. For instance, within the 536-square-foot house are two bedrooms, a living/dining area and fully equipped kitchen. The primary bedroom has a queen-sized bed and the second has a pair of bunk beds. The bedrooms share the bathroom, which has a handmade sink bowl mounted on restored, old long leaf pine wood. The glass shower is the exact opposite, featuring marble and gold design tiles on the floor and rectangle white tiles climbing the walls. It’s a room of contrasts, both rustic and glamorous, Plum said. To save on space, all the rooms have pocket doors and lots of large windows for natural light.
The kitchen features a green Italian Hallman gas stove and black appliances. A large open shelf, made from a rough plank, is held up and secured with two men’s leather belts. The countertops are dolomite, a sedimentary natural white stone that resembles marble with streaks of gray. The custom-built cabinets are a bluish-black, the same color as the cathedral ceiling.
A black ceiling? Unusual, but it works. And the natural light pine floors offer quite a juxtaposition because ceilings are usually light and floors dark. The living room and kitchen ceilings are interrupted with wooden beams crossing the room and in each corner of the house. The top 10 feet of the 35-foot-long piling is exposed — with its nuts and bolts.
“I didn’t want to cover up these 10-by-10s because they really add to the room,” she said. “And they go 15 feet into the ground. They are huge.”
The front of the house looks very beach-house traditional with the porch overlooking the front yard and two tremendous oak trees providing shade. Plum didn’t want to upset the trees’ roots, so instead of a concrete path, she had a wooden bridge built that wouldn’t disturb the natural setting, she said.
The back porch, which opens from the double doors in the rear of the house, is large enough for a table and chairs for outdoor dining. Plum mounted two special lights on each side of the doors that glow at night.
“The first time I had electricity here and turned on those lights, I just sat in my truck and cried because it looked stunning,” she said. “It was exactly how I imagined it would be.”
Under the house is a private outdoor space. The entrance from the street is through a wood door with stained glass, which she purchased from the Antique Warehouse in Galveston. Plum made three swings from reclaimed wood and hung them adjacent to an old wood counter and decorated the walls with prints of Galveston paintings by local artist Shawne Moore, who also painted another piece that hangs over the fireplace upstairs. An antiquated stoplight, purchased from the Galveston Historical Foundation warehouse, has been rewired and lights up red, yellow and green.
Plum repurposed a wooden industrial cart, making it into a chaise lounge with a bright geometric pattern, which matches the casual chairs nearby. Plum has sold her houses furnished because it’s part of her vision and design, she said. She buys furnishings at local resale shops and antique stores to find the exact pieces to fit her ideas, has them recovered and repaired and hopes the new owners like her taste, she said. She also reaches out to local artists for paintings, wall hangings and even custom-made tile, which she carefully selected from an artist in East Texas.
Plum sold the Green House for $243,000, but noted she included many special details and touches that don’t come with typical new construction.
Being in business for herself has taught her a lot, but mostly she credits her loyal crews who have helped her, taught her and mentored her along the way, she said.
“They are excited about our projects, too,” she said.
The houses are unique and she doesn’t try to appeal to everyone, she said.
“Some people just want to downsize and live a more simple life,” she said. “But there is something special about a little house. On a house of this size and scale, it is bolder than a regular house. Things are accentuated more. I love the coziness of a small space and I want to be surrounded by high design, handmade tiles and original art. My concept is I can give my high design in a small space.”