For a California couple, the ultimate freedom is found with a small home and a hugely rewarding lifestyle.
Tiny is trending. For people taking up residence in a diminutive dwelling or making their abode mobile with a trailer, the motivations for a pared-down lifestyle are varied. For some, it’s a value system that revolves around minimalism and sustainability. Take Lindsay Schauer and Isaac Kendall, who recently left the tech industry and their one-bedroom San Francisco apartment to set off for a wild isle of Kendall’s native New Zealand to build a tiny home and raise their two small children. Prior to the pandemic, Jesse and Lindsey Chambers also traded their city lives for a 27-foot Airstream trailer and began “wandering America” (as their popular Instagram handle proclaims) and working remotely — before it was something we were all doing. Even Elon Musk purports to live much of the time in a 375-square-foot prefab tiny home in Texas.
Here in the West, living small may also be an unexpected necessity. Cesar and Mariana (they prefer to withhold their last name) and their young daughter lost their Healdsburg home and farm in the 2019 Kincade Fire but were able to remain on their land, thanks to a Living Vehicle, the luxe, off-grid trailer they purchased from another couple who had survived an Oregon wildfire. “Our family is environmentally conscious and losing our home to a fire only reinforced our mission to address climate change by living as off the grid as possible in a smaller, more ecofriendly footprint,” Mariana wrote in a blog post a year after the fire. “Our experience over the past year with the LV has pushed us to consider rebuilding in a completely different way than we expected.”
A similar mission first led Santa Barbarabased husband-and-wife partners Matthew and Joanna Hofmann to found the company that made Cesar and Mariana’s home on wheels. Matthew, who is CEO, previously ran Hofmann Architecture and designed and renovated small, often vintage and mobile, spaces for clients. Creating Living Vehicle with Joanna, who handles sales and marketing and brings her designer’s eye to interiors, was a natural extension of both their professional and personal lives. “We have been living in small spaces for well over a decade now. It’s just our choice of lifestyle, whether it’s trailers or vans or buses. We’re a little more alternative, the way we like to live — a little more flexible and free,” Matthew says. “All those spaces that we’ve lived in have shared one thing: They don’t specifically cater to full-time living very well.”
After deciding to shed the confines of working with an existing vessel, the Hofmanns instead decided to build something from the ground up. They released the first Living Vehicle model in 2017 and have sold out their small production lines each year since. Twenty-five units of the 2022 model, starting at $249,995, can be customized. The outside features marine- and aircraft-grade materials to withstand extreme weather. On the inside, its 232 square feet of space can sleep six. The flexible and sustainable — yet still luxurious — amenities include a removable cooking island, an all-electric solar refrigerator and optional hardwood back-wall paneling for a 32-by-36-inch shower with a rain showerhead and heated towel racks. “For me, my morning shower is really my meditation, my way to wake up in the morning,” says Joanna, who prioritized what is often a notorious compromise in mobile living or traveling.
Chronicles of the down-sized life
One family’s tiny living adventure:
One couple wandering America on Instagram:
One way to live small:
“Every time we move into a unit, we play around with some customization,” Joanna continues. “Living in it gives us ideas for future designs.” The mobile office, for example, was a new feature last year, allowing for remote work on an 80-inch walnut desk that lowers to reveal a queen-sized bed, eliminating the need to store work away. High-tech features include SONOS surround sound for an optional 70-inch home theater and an automated front deck for morning yoga or evening grilling. (Cesar and Mariana use the deck as a mudroom for shoes and gear.) The Hofmanns have also raised their 3-year-old pup, Luca, in a Living Vehicle and incorporated pet-friendly aspects like waterproof flooring and an outdoor shower. “We see it as a canvas,” explains Joanna of the design possibilities and use of high-quality materials like teak and stainless steel. “We don’t over decorate it. We create a beautiful foundation for folks to come in and put their own artwork in there, give their own flair to it.”
Each year, the Living Vehicle’s sustainability and energy independence has improved as well. New enhancements include upgraded solar panels, which nearly double the energy storage, and inverter power up to 20kW, meant for offgrid adventure rather than reliance on standard RV hookups. “It can do things like charge your Tesla companion vehicle,” Matthew says. This capability has made it popular with Northern California clients who can charge commuter vehicles when it’s time to go back to city offices.
Bay Area clients are also “part of our innovator group,” Matthew notes. “Before we were an established business, we always had a close connection with the folks up in the Bay Area. I think it’s just their ethos, the sustainability, the progressive nature. Folks see this beautiful blend of getting out to nature but also being able to keep the luxury appointments that we expect in modern-day life.”
For the Hofmanns, that blend has resulted in a lifestyle focused less on accumulation and more on connection, both with one another and the natural environment. “It really changes your paradigm as a human,” Matthew says. “It helps you understand resources, connecting with your world and what you take and how much you use — you become a lot more aware.”
While the couple still spends a majority of their time in Santa Barbara, their favorite Northern California pit stops have been in Marin and Sonoma counties, with their rolling hills and morning fog. “The goal is all about spending more time in one place and then being able to pick up and travel,” Matthew says. For Joanna, this lifestyle is not a new trend, but rather embracing and “understanding the type of lifestyle you’re looking for.