Abel Zimmerman Zyl, founder of the tiny homes building company Zyl Vardos, is known for his whimsical and extremely original designs. As he describes on the company's website, he's been building since 1994, but started his business as Zyl Vardos in 2007. Within less than a decade, Abel has been able to create an incredibly personal style that makes his tiny homes stand out from the crowd, for example, the tiny house he designed for Caravan-The Tiny House Hotel and that we've shown you in a former house tour.
Here's what he told Tiny Home Tours:
Please, introduce yourself and the company you represent. What makes you stand out in the tiny home market - what are you known for?
Hi, I am Abel Zyl. I am the founder of Zyl Vardos, which builds a variety of small and/or unusual structures. We run a small shop in Olympia, WA, USA. We build tiny houses, houses on a foundation, houseboats, and art structures. We also build solid-wood custom-shaped doors and windows and off-grid solar electric systems. I am known for unusual shapes and handmade windows and doors. My houses also stand the test of time very well… and I take pride in their long-term functionality. Really, I attempt to build houses that ‘flow’ and are fun to be in (and build).
What are the model(s) of tiny homes you offer and what are the prices?
I only occasionally repeat a design. All my projects are different from one another. The website has prices for the builds that I consider ‘models’ but I don’t really limit our work to any particular set of plans. We have worked very hard to create a short ‘gap’ between idea and actual form. This gives us a lot of flexibility.
Bianca Caravan 18': $44,850
Fortune Cookie 18': $44,000
Dewdrop 20': deckover design, cupola: $57,750
Little Bird 22' basic, with copper roof and 6 windows, one arch window: $65,850
Little Bird 22' fancy (similar to pictured below, more windows, stain glass, etc): $80,750
Pinafore 22', as pictured: $81,750
The Ark House: $83,000. 22' floorplan, but 2 lofts, and 32' overall
Zenia House, 20' x 8.5': $69,400
What is the most popular model, and why do you think people love it so much? What's the inspiration behind the design?
I believe the house called the ‘Little Bird’ is my most popular design. It was inspired by a tiny house Salome Desormeax built many years ago, but is different in many ways. It was named by the woman who commissioned the original ‘Little Bird’… after a series of paintings she was working on at the time.
There's no wonder why the "Little Bird" is Zyl Vardos' most popular tiny home model. The handmade 176-square-foot wooden beauty is great both inside and outside. You couldn't ask more of a house like this, boasting a complete L-shaped kitchen, with a 4-burner propane range and oven,a complete bathroom with flush toilet and shower stall and a main-floor bedroom that fits a queen size bed with plenty of storage underneath. The house also comes with a small wood stove and the option of a washer/dryer combo. Zyl Vardos also offers many style options, like adding gorgeous stained glass windows to the "Little Bird." Stay tuned for a coming tour of this tiny house!
What design feature are you particularly proud of and why?
I cannot pick a favorite, but here are the two that I enjoy most: 1) Sculpted rooflines, and light, efficient wood structure. 2) Amazing systems engineering. I am an electrical engineer foremost, a theatrical lighting designer second, but also design my own plumbing, greywater, heating and weatherization systems.
You may be aware that a lot of people are building their own tiny houses themselves, even if they don't have any designing or building experience. As professionals, what would you recommend for them?
Give yourself way more time than you think! An astounding amount of laborious hours goes into building a complete house. 1) Experienced builders get through this process with a crew of experienced help. Figure that one experienced carpenter may work 4-6 times faster than a well informed but less experienced DIY. 2) Time-tested materials and techniques will also catalyze a build. When you are DIY, ask as many questions as you can, so you can glean some of those time-tested materials and techniques. Lastly: The fun is in the journey… right? Persistence and sweat will get you through. Be flexible with details.
Have you guys ever thought of downsizing and living in a tiny house? If you already do, what's the best part of it? If you don't, why not?
I did, and built my own tiny house for myself and my 5-year-old daughter. I am since married with 4 kids, so I live in a farmhouse. The best part about tiny living is the peace of not having so many things to look after. As well, you are closer to the world around you.
Name one secret about tiny house living/tiny homes that most don't know (or most would find surprising).
Building a tiny house actually costs a bit of money! Most people expect a few appliances, power, hot water, propane gas… etc. This means you are compressing the complexity of a normal house into 1/10th the footprint (or more). This actually costs money to pull off. Also, building on a steel trailer is more expensive than building on the ground. Most people don’t realize that.