New Yorkers are obviously more than experienced with the concept of tiny living, from itty-bitty studios carved out of larger apartment buildings, to the highly functional micro apartments that popped up in Kips Bay last year.
But “tiny homes”—as in, the small, stylish, often mobile houses that are as much lifestyle as they are practical living spaces—are less commonly found in the five boroughs. The city’s density puts limits on where one could feasibly stash a custom-built tiny home, and mobile ones have their own host of issues: Where do you park? What happens if someone breaks in? And is it even legal to park one if you do find a spot?
Still, those considerations didn’t stop Alexandra Archibald from pursuing the tiny house lifestyle in New York. Archibald, who runs an online vintage shop called Petite Tenue, bought a 200-square-foot, 1972 Airstream trailer that was retrofitted to be a tiny home; she’s since renovated the space, and uses it both as a primary residence and a home for her store.
Archibald decided to go tiny for the same reason that’s inspired countless others: because of the freedom that a tiny house affords, versus, say, being on a lease for a year or longer. She also wanted to have a physical space for Petite Tenue, but one that she could take to vintage showcases and pop-ups around the country. A tiny house, then, seemed like the most logical choice to satisfy her wanderlust and her business needs.
But finding a tiny house in New York City isn’t exactly easy, and Archibald ended up purchasing hers from someone in upstate New York. “It was a lot of searching, asking people, and trying to get a little word of mouth going,” says Archibald. (She also appeared on an episode of HGTV’s Tiny House Hunters.)
Actually finding a space for it in the city was also a challenge; as she notes, “I didn’t meet anyone who was doing the same thing as me in Brooklyn, so I was kind of figuring it out on my own.” Archibald uses Red Hook as a home base—“it’s very quiet and easy to park,” she explains—when staying put for a few days, and also drives around to other neighborhoods to showcase her wares.
After she purchased the Airstream, she spent four months renovating and paring down her belongings before moving in. But that process—which often causes the most drama on shows like Tiny House Hunters—wasn’t an issue for Archibald. “I figured that I would be happier with less stuff,” she explains. “At first you’re kind of like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to get rid of this!,’ but then you’re like, ‘Well, I can survive without that.’”
When it comes to the interiors, the trailer reflects Archibald’s love of vintage, as well as her desire for a bright, open space. “The last apartment I lived in in Brooklyn was kind of like a cave,” says Archibald, “so I wanted to do the complete opposite of that.” The previous owner had painted the Airstream white, and Archibald added touches like brightly colored textiles, including vintage Yves Saint Laurent sheets and fun throw pillows. The Airstream also has a convertible bathroom—so customers aren’t confronted with a toilet when they’re trying on clothes—and the “store” portion is separate from where Archibald sleeps and eats.
Archibald admits that going tiny isn’t without its challenges. “You have to think about amenities in a different way,” she explains. “I have everything available to me, but it’s just not as easy as it is in an apartment.” Because her water and electricity are tied to a water tank and a generator, respectively, she’s judicious with how she uses them, which is a change from apartment living. “I’ve been a little bit less prissy about certain things” like air conditioning, she explains.
She also recently got married, and her husband, a musician, moved into the Airstream with her. “I had my whole setup with my stuff, and then I had a whole other human and their things coming into the space,” she says with a laugh. “It was definitely a challenge, but I think we worked it out.” Her husband even added a custom bookshelf to the Airstream to hold some of his books and guitars.
As for advice for those who are curious about the tiny house lifestyle, she says “you have to have a bit of an open mind, and take whatever comes at you in the process. But it’s definitely worth it.”