Built to Scale

An electric-violin-playing minimalist swaps the big apple for a tiny house that’s still huge on style

On a blindingly sunny Monday afternoon, I find myself in South Fayetteville trying to figure out what a “tiny house” is. Once, twice, three times, I slow down in front of a house in this eclectic, up-and-coming neighborhood, only to move on after deciding that while the house may be on the small side, it doesn’t quite fit the tiny bill of the domicile I’m in search of.

To be considered tiny, a house will typically fall under the 500-square-foot range. Considering that the average American home measures in the neighborhood of 2,600 square feet these days, that does indeed seem, well, tiny. But those who embrace the tiny-house lifestyle tout its big rewards. It’s cheaper and less time consuming than a typical house, they say. Plus, it forces you to simplify, as less square footage equals less space for excess. What I’m looking for, I surmise as I meander through the neighborhood, is a sort of cute grounded-tree-house situation.

Then I see it. And, friends, let me just say this: There’s nothing tree-house-y about this house. In fact, what convinces me to stop isn’t so much its tininess as its uniqueness.

Uber-sleek and modern, the house’s boxy facade is a combination of wood (Brazilian abaco, I’m later told) and black corrugated metal. A separate, unattached structure—is that a giant amp on wheels?—is parked perpendicular to the front of the house. A sprawling wooden deck unites the two separate structures.

As I walk up the steps of the deck, the owner of the house, Asha Mevlana, throws open the bright-teal front door and welcomes me with a warm smile. Striking, with long dark hair and large dark eyes, Asha’s a recent transplant from New York City. And today, sporting what she dubs her “New York City uniform” of all black, she looks every bit the rock star she actually is. Asha plays the seven-string Viper violin with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the rock-slash-classical music act known for its dazzling arena-style pyrotechnics and laser-filled performances.

As I cross the threshold into the house, I’m taken aback by just how not-tiny its interior feels. Thanks to lofty 14-foot ceilings and gobs of light from a glass garage door, the space seems larger than its 400 square feet. (Note: That garage door is strictly for light and access into the house; a garage is something you forgo when you sign up for tiny-house living.)

Asha’s bright, airy living room is all softness and elegance, thanks to muted-blue- and cream-colored walls, a plush, white sectional sofa and wood side and coffee tables. A blue and white lattice area rug ties the room together. The living room opens into a downright spacious kitchen, the sort that would feel big in a house three times this size. Black marble countertops, white cabinets and white subway-tile and stainless-steel appliances all echo the clean lines and elegance of the living room.

Touring a tiny house takes much longer than one would expect. As I take in all the details of the space, I get a sense that tiny-house living is at its best when the house is tailored closely to fit the lifestyle of its owner—there simply isn’t room for frivolity. What specific design elements were included in this house to help facilitate Asha’s lifestyle?, I wonder. As if she’s read my mind, Asha begins showing me how her coffee table doubles as a film-editing bay (did I mention that this Renaissance woman is also a filmmaker?) and gives me the full tour of her dream kitchen, which serves as the perfect backdrop for an aspiring home cook, as well as her small loft bedroom, where standing up isn’t an option. For Asha, I realize, a major priority in mapping out the design of her tiny house was to finagle a space that would be conducive to entertaining and pursuing her passions. When it comes to tiny-house living, square footage is rationed, so if you want a big this, you’ll have to settle for a smaller that.

After my tour of the main house, Asha and I take a seat on the sofa, and she begins to unpack the tale of how she moved her big, full life into a tiny house here in South Fayetteville. She begins by filling me in on the logistical details of her life—born in Boston, attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts, pursued a career in the corporate world in New York City after graduation. She explains that her journey to her tiny home really took off in earnest about 15 years ago when at 24, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“An experience like that focuses you overnight,” she tells me, her eyes flashing. “I realized what was important to me. It’s when success stopped being about money and started being about experiences.”

When her cancer treatment ended, Asha decided to get off the corporate ladder to pursue her true passion—the violin. She’d played the instrument ever since she was a young child, and in fact, her degree from Wellesley was in viola performance. Her decision to enter the corporate world had been an attempt to play it safe. After her diagnosis, she decided playing it safe was no longer an option if she wanted to live the life she truly wanted.

So armed with a new outlook on life, her violin and very little else, she moved to Los Angeles, where she ultimately landed her current gig playing with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. For the past seven years, she’s traveled for about 2 1/2 months out of the year with the show.

Then about two years ago, after reading Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Asha decided to make yet another life change by taking to heart the book’s advice and unloading the vast majority of her belongings—50 trash bags’ worth, to be exact. “It was so freeing to not have excess stuff weighing me down,” she says.

As the threads of her story start to come together, I begin to get how a traveling musician, one already accustomed to tiny apartment living in New York City and who absolutely eschews excess and clutter, became “obsessed” with the tiny-house lifestyle. By then used to going after the things she wanted, Asha took a chance and applied for a slot on the FYI Network’s show Tiny House Nation, a show that helps folks realize their dream of building a tiny house. When she was approved for the show and its producers asked her where exactly she wanted her tiny house to land, Asha knew just the spot: South Fayetteville, Arkansas. The draw? Her brother, his wife and their two children are longtime residents of the area, and after visiting them for years—well, she’d become smitten.

South Fayetteville is a far cry from the bustling streets of New York City, but it isn’t your typical suburb, either. Indeed, in the past few years, the neighborhood has seen quite a bit of interest from developers who want to transform it into a walkable, multipurpose neighborhood. To that end, a handful of modern urban-style multistory townhouses and colorful row houses have been built in the area (a few of which I passed on my way to Asha’s house). In addition, the neighborhood park, Walker Park, is in the process of getting a major face-lift, and a trail leading to Mount Kessler is in the works.

Taking in the neighborhood, you can’t help but notice that Asha’s tiny house is a one-of-a-kind anomaly. But you need only pull back the lens and have a look at Northwest Arkansas as a whole to see clearly that the tiny-house trend is kinda catching on around these parts. For one thing, there’s a tiny-house community that recently cropped up outside of downtown Rogers, which is being marketed to seniors over the age of 55, and here and there, folks who own acreage are opting to erect custom-built tiny homes on their land. For the most part, however, you won’t see tiny homes in downtowns or subdivisions throughout Northwest Arkansas due to zoning laws that tend to zone them as mobile homes.

Asha’s desire to participate in her new neighborhood’s evolution toward becoming a place where diversity is welcome is actually what prompted a major change to the blueprint of her house. Under the original plan, the porch was to be built out back, but Asha proposed that it be attached to the front instead.

“The whole idea is that I’m moving here so I can actually meet people, not hide away from them,” she explains. “For me, moving to Fayetteville is about finally being a part of a community. In New York, I was in this huge building with maybe 500 other people, and I knew one person, kind of.”

As Asha leads me outside to check out the porch, she tells me excitedly of her plan to have it double as a stage, where she’ll host concerts with other local musicians.

Which brings us back to that detached structure—the one that looks exactly like a giant amp—currently parked out front. With this space, form very much follows function, probably in a way that the originators of the phrase likely never anticipated. The space—which measures about 160 square feet and is every bit as bright and airy as the main house—was meant to be a place for Asha to be able to disconnect from the house and practice her music. But as so often happens in the design of a tiny house, it evolved into a multipurpose space. Now, it not only houses Asha’s main closet and serves as a potential guest room, it’s also an actual working speaker—something that’ll surely make those neighborhood concerts on the deck a much better jam. And to make sure she stays in her neighbors’ good graces while she’s practicing her violin, the room is entirely soundproofed with recycled denim.

After the tour, Asha invites me back into the living room to sit for a spell. We settle on the sofa and, with two iced teas between us, begin to chat.

The conversation meanders to life in New York City to books to doughnuts. Before long, we’re chatting like old friends, and that’s when it occurs to me that Asha’s house truly is a reflection of who she is as a person: Cool and chic on the outside—warm, light and open on the inside.

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