Riffin' with Giffin: A Q&A with Our Tiny House Expert

As a big fan of Tiny House Nation, I elbowed my way to the front of the line at the FYI office to chat with the show’s host, carpenter and tiny-living problem-solver Zack Giffin. Check out the video above for highlights from our convo (including his A+ effort to build me a tiny home out of building blocks) and see what he had to say about emojis, tiny-house doubters and his knack for innovative customizations below.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve helped to build as part of the show?

There are houses that I love and there are projects that I love. The house that stands out in my mind as unique and highly functional was in Austin, Texas. It was a two-trailer tiny house, and it had this beautiful deck area in between, and the thing that I really liked about it is that functionally, you can get more out of a small space by having a little bit of separation – you have two small spaces and you separate them, and all of a sudden you have a courtyard. I went back maybe eight months later and saw the homeowners, and the way that they were living in that space – and how functional it was – really sold me on the design.

My favorite project that’s been on-air so far is Waveland. It was these barn doors to a bedroom, and one of them folded out to a table, and benches came out. The reason I loved that one so much is that it’s super mechanical, but there was a lot of beauty in terms of the woodwork and craftsmanship. I was just tickled that it turned out as well as it did.

Have homeowners ever suggested a project that you knew you couldn’t do, and that you had to immediately talk them down from getting enthusiastic about?

Everybody thinks I just say “Yes, yes, yes,” but the reality is: We are dealing with actual budgets. We do have constraints in terms of what we can offer, and that’s completely part of it. When push comes to shove and I know that what they’re asking for is gonna take away from something that’s more integral and important to their life in a tiny home, then I’m gonna let them know that. Being somebody that has actual experience living in a tiny home, I think that’s actually my job.

Are you ever worried that your ideas for specific customizations won’t turn out well?

Listen, I’m constantly concerned I’m gonna show up and fail. That is my biggest concern – that I’m gonna show up and do my best and it’s gonna be lousy. John does a pretty good job of helping me through those times. He’s a little bit of a counselor, not just for marriages or relationships, but he also kinda helps me through my anxieties of “What’s gonna happen if what I do doesn’t turn out well?”

What emoji would you use to describe working with John?

The big smiley face! That’s what’s on my tool belt, and I don’t wear those tool belts for no reason; I wear those because I’m happy, and I’m happy – part of the reason is – because John’s my partner.

What’s the biggest misconception that you encounter about tiny living?

The biggest misconception is that “tiny house” means one specific thing – that to move into a tiny house means that you’re gonna forever live in one specific size. John and I say all the time that it’s about being appropriate. That size that is appropriate in my life, at this moment, is not gonna be the same size that’s appropriate in my life once I have a family, you know? And if I have one kid, the size that’s appropriate is not the same as it is with two kids, or with four dogs. It’s more about being realistic with what your needs are, and maybe erring a little bit on the side of minimalism.

When you go into a normal-sized house now, do you feel weird? Like, “Hey, this is too much space, tone it down?”

I think about the space in terms of the need. If I see a family that obviously has way more space than they need, I mean, I’m not gonna be judgmental, but at the same time, if I see that family is not actually happy, I start to question. Maybe your lack of contact with your loved ones is part of that. Maybe the space that is excessively sized is contributing to that. I don’t judge anyone for having too big of a house, but I do feel that you should be realistic with yourself about what it is that makes you happy.

Watch Tiny House Nation on Saturdays at 9/8c to get your tiny house fix and learn more from our tiny house pros.

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