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Small House, Big Living

Laura Yates sitting on the steps of her tiny house, The Little Leaf.
Laura Yates’s tiny house required her to scale down her possessions. “Downsizing makes you put a need and a value on the things you keep,” she explains. “The things I own are important to me. It is a good process, because there is no point keeping something if it is going to live in a box in storage.” Photo by Leo Quirk.

When Laura Yates, MS/MPA’16, came to Bloomington in 2014 for the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs’s grad program, she brought The Little Leaf, the 220-square-foot house she built by hand.

Yates wanted a place to live while attending school that wouldn’t distract her from her course work and would be an alternative to spending money on rent.

“I knew I wanted to design and build the house myself,” says Yates, so she did a lot of research and attended a tiny house workshop to understand the process. “I had to learn a lot about structural integrity. There are also lots of resources online, and I have family with construction experience.”

Every inch of space is intentionally designed to maximize storage, light, and comfort. “I designed my home so daily routines don’t feel cramped or complicated,” says Laura Yates, MS/MPA’16. The 220-square-foot house can comfortably sleep four people, thanks to a lofted queen bed and twin beds that serve as bench seating. Photo by Leo Quirk.

When Yates told her friends and family about her tiny house idea in early 2014, she wasn’t sure how they would react. At that time, you couldn’t find programs on TV dedicated to the “tiny house movement,” which advocates living simply in small homes. Turns out, everyone was excited for Yates and wanted to help.

Yates says she spent about five months building the house on her uncle’s property in Plainfield, Ind. He had all of the tools and taught Yates a lot of skills along the way. A professional electrician and plumber, who were family friends, helped too.

“I feel really comfortable fixing things, because I know everything about the house and the process of putting it together,” she explains. “When the water pump went out, I knew exactly where it was and how to fix it.”

Because building costs were low, Yates was able to splurge on the birch paneling and doors. Well-insulated windows and glass doors supply natural light, save on electricity, and make the house feel more spacious and open.

“When I go to sell the house, I hope I find a buyer who will love it as much as I do,” says Yates. “Building the house by hand gave me a special connection to my home.”

Laura Yates and her tiny house appeared in the Original section of the Spring 2017 issue of the IU Alumni Magazine, a magazine for members of the IU Alumni Association. View current and past issues of the IUAM.

Original shines a spotlight on the works, talents, and interests of IU alumni across the globe. Have something unique worth sharing? Let us know at


Written By

Amanda Zuicens-Williams

Amanda Zuicens-Williams, BA’01, is former associate editor of the IU Alumni Magazine. She enjoys meeting IU alumni and sharing their unique stories.

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