Tiny Homes and a Camper Van Allow Two Kite Surfers ‘Freedom’

Who says you have to live in one place? Maybe a few tiny homes would be preferable.

That’s what Robert Losonsky and Edith Wassenaar discovered when they traded a typical home in the Netherlands for several smaller ones, adopting a peripatetic lifestyle — one that prioritizes activities like surfing over work — in the process.

Oddly enough, their embrace of small-scale living began with a hunt for more space.

In 2017, they were living in a 1,500-square-foot apartment in an upscale neighborhood in The Hague. “But we started to work more and more from home,” said Mr. Losonsky, now 54, who had a career in sales at Microsoft, while Ms. Wassenaar, now 49, worked as an independent marketing consultant and business coach.

Inevitably, there were conflicts. Ms. Wassenaar, for example, might want to entertain clients in the apartment while Mr. Losonsky was on a conference call. “So I thought, ‘Well, why don’t we find something small on the side, so we don’t always have to disturb each other?’” he said.

Because they were avid kite surfers, they decided to look for a place on the North Sea in The Hague and found a 600-square-foot fisherman’s house built in 1878 just steps from the beach. After buying it for 180,000 euros ($190,000) that April, they spent 18 months and 150,000 euros ($158,000) doing a gut renovation with help from Global Architects.

“It was in really bad condition and looked like not much maintenance had been done over the last hundred years,” said Arthur S. Nuss, the firm’s owner.

So they eliminated the walls that divided the house into multiple cramped rooms and proceeded to create an open interior with a beachy vibe: plastered walls, micro-cement floors, rustic wood beams and a small sitting area anchored by a wood stove.

To minimize the presence of the kitchen, which doubles as a dining space, they concealed the refrigerator and oven beneath a staircase leading up to the single bedroom. They also added wood-fiber insulation, new windows and solar panels on the roof to make the home more energy efficient.

When the renovation was finished, the couple were so pleased with their new compact living space, its proximity to the beach and its friendly neighborhood that they arrived at an unexpected conclusion: They wanted to live there all the time.

“That’s how the downsizing started,” Ms. Wassenaar said. “We started living in the small place and renting out the bigger home in the posh neighborhood.”

Mr. Losonsky added: “The funny thing is that we left almost everything behind in the old home. We could hardly take any cupboard or any desk because it wouldn’t fit. We literally left our old life behind and completely re-evaluated what was really important to us.”

Before long, Mr. Losonsky, who had bought the couple’s old apartment before meeting Ms. Wassenaar and had paid off the mortgage, came to another realization: With rent coming in and few expenses, he no longer needed to work. He retired in late 2019, just before turning 50.

Inspired by surfers who travel around Europe chasing waves in camper vans and buses, they soon decided that they also needed wheels.

Because Mr. Losonsky no longer needed to be in an office and Ms. Wassenaar could work from anywhere, “We felt this freedom,” he said. “Europe is so small, but so dense with culture and opportunities that we wanted to explore it more.”

They bought a lightly used 2018 Fiat Ducato van for about 25,000 euros ($26,500), dreamed up an interior design scheme for their home on wheels, and hired Custom Camp to outfit it for about 35,000 euros ($37,000). The camper now has a loft bed, wool-covered walls, a wood-paneled ceiling, a kitchen with a cooktop and sink, a shower and a composting toilet.

“Covid hit just as it was ready,” Ms. Wassenaar said, but that didn’t stop them from traveling.

They drove 1,000 miles to the south of Spain, where they camped for a few months. Then they traveled by ferry to the island of Sardinia, in Italy, where “we were living on the most beautiful beaches, with nobody around,” Ms. Wassenaar said. “We found ourselves in paradise.”

While staying in their van for longer than they anticipated, they spotted a run-down 650-square-foot house for sale in Mandriola, on the western side of the island. “We looked at each other and said, ‘It’s a project, but we already did this once, so we can do it again,’” Ms. Wassenaar said.

They bought the home for 120,000 euros ($127,000) in September 2021. Then they hired an engineer who told them that the roof was covered with asbestos and the sandstone walls were no longer structurally sound. The entire house, it turned out, needed to be rebuilt.

This time, the couple labored alongside their contractors, in between trips to The Hague. To save space, they installed a folding staircase by Klapster up to the sleeping loft; when it isn’t being used, it disappears into the wall. They stripped the bark off hemlock trees so they could use the trunks as ceiling beams and repurposed slices of the original sandstone as a decorative feature to give some walls the appearance of age.

“When you walk into the house now, the feeling is, ‘Oh, what a wonderful old house it is,’” Ms. Wassenaar said. “But it’s all new.”

The house, which they call Microcosmos, was completed in March 2023, after a renovation that cost about 120,000 euros ($127,000).

Now the couple can hardly believe the lives they’re living.

“It’s still starting to sink in what freedom we have created for ourselves,” Mr. Losonsky said. “All our friends ask when we’re going to stay in The Hague and when we’re going to stay in Sardinia. The true answer is we don’t know. We just want to go with the flow.”

Living Small is a biweekly column exploring what it takes to lead a simpler, more sustainable or more compact life.

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