Rainy Olsen stands beside her 600 square foot home.

Living large

Rainy Olsen's house in Ashland is only 18 feet deep by 20 feet wide, about the size of many living rooms. Between two floors, she has a total of 664 square feet to work with, which makes it one of the smaller houses in Jackson County.

The .23-acre lot that claimed Olsen's heart has an odd shape spanning a wooded canyon. It varies from 33 feet wide along the street at the top of one hill to 165 feet wide where it climbs the opposite hill. Olsen didn't realize it came with restrictions that would make it almost impossible to build on most of the property.

"The best thing about the lot is the open space," Olsen says. "It has a little creek going through it. There is open space above me, and the whole canyon across from me. It's like being in the country, but I'm still right in town."

"There are hillside ordinances regarding extreme slopes," says Ashland architect Carlos Delgado, explaining the problems they faced. "And she was in a flood plain. There are solar-access restrictions in Ashland, and there was a utility easement, not to mention the standard, 6-foot setbacks."

"Luckily, you can't see into the future," Olsen says, acknowledging that if she had known what she was getting into in 2005, she probably never would have bought the lot.

After planning what she thought was a modest 1,000-square-foot house, the cost was just too high. For a while, she thought she was going to be unable to build. Then she had some new ideas, and she met Delgado, who loved the idea of the challenge.

"A lot of people don't come to architects for small projects," he says.

"We do a lot of green-building technology," says Tom Sager, design-project manager for Delgado. "But truly, the real 'green' is smaller buildings, and that's what we liked about this project."

The house that team put together is a charming, miniature Craftsman. From the parking area on the street, two sets of aggregate stairs lead down to a small deck, actually a bridge tying the house to the hillside.

"This is where I spend every morning," Olsen notes, "because it's warm up here."

The barn-red front door with dentil trim opens to a miniscule entry, where tiled stairs lead down to the home's living area. Upstairs, is a hidden washer-and-dryer closet and the door to bedroom and bath.

There are windows on three sides of the bedroom, centered on the queen-sized bed on a raised platform with storage underneath. A small, 4-foot-wide, walk-in closet and balcony with french doors add character. The full-sized bath has a deep tub for soaking.

The stairway down to the living area also serves as a heat well for warm air to rise from the gas stove in the living room. The house has no air conditioning or central heat. Deciduous shade trees, an awning and windows that can be adjusted keep it cool in summer.

Half of the first floor is living area, with a built-in window seat that transforms into a guest bed. Other furnishings are two comfortable chairs and an armoire for television and storage. The dining area also is built-in, with table and banquettes that transform into another guest bed.

The open, U-shaped kitchen is just 9 feet, 10 inches by 7 feet, 2 inches, but it has enough room for full-sized, stainless-steel appliances. Putting the sink across one corner gave Olsen 4 feet of counter workspace. Extending the top cabinet down to the counter created a small pantry. A very tiny half bath is tucked beside the kitchen. A 10-by-22-foot deck with an awning outside the living area adds a little more space.

"I have no wall space," Olsen says, "which is fine with me. I'd rather have windows."

Despite their tiny size, all the windows frame views of trees and grass, lending an expansive feel to the house. Olsen says she is pleased with her miniature home, despite its restrictions.

"If something comes in, something has to go out to make room," she says. "But that is freeing in a lot of ways."

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