South Whidbey teen builds tiny transportable house

Celina Dill works on welding improvements to the chassis on which her tiny house will sit. - Patricia Duff / The Record
Celina Dill works on welding improvements to the chassis on which her tiny house will sit.
— image credit: Patricia Duff / The Record

SUNLIGHT SHORES — Celina Dill is not your typical 16-year-old girl.

Since October of last year, Dill has had her head deep into the design process of the very small house she is going to build for herself. On wheels.

“I decided that I’ll probably want to move out in a couple of years and I don’t know where I want to live,” Dill said.

“And so I’m ready to have a place of my own, and it needs to be able to go anywhere because I don’t know where I want to live. So a house on wheels makes sense.”

Another thing that makes sense to the beyond-her-years teenager is the “Small House Movement,” which inspired her to “unschool” herself (create a non-traditional school designed to suit her interests) and get busy with her project.

Dill went ahead and took matters into her own hands. Her father, Walter Dill, will tell you that is no surprise when it comes to his daughter. She has been teaching adults how to ballroom dance since she was 9, in partnership with her dad and his traveling “Everyone Can Dance” school.

It was that experience, working as a mentor to adults, which Walter Dill credits with giving his daughter the ability to move seamlessly through both the world of adults and that of children.

“Celina is completely independent,” he said.

“Adults who know her respect her as an equal, because she is. Celina knows at least 20 things she wants to do.”

They even gave her learning style a name.

“We decided to call it ‘unschooling,’ because I’m doing nothing related to traditional schooling, but I’m doing a lot,” she said.

Although Celina Dill (who endearingly calls herself “Celina Dill Pickle” on her “My Tiny Abode” blog) is an excellent student with a 4.0 grade-point average, she decided after three semesters at South Whidbey High School to learn what she needed and move on. She came away with sharp skills from her metal shop class, learning how to weld, read designs, use tools and understand the language of metal building; skills she added to those her carpenter dad had shown her.

“This year I decided I’m not going to do school, and to just take the time to design and build my house,” she said.

“It’s good because everybody is thinking about condensing down and living simply. That’s why I joined,” Dill said.

Dill refers to joining the Small House Movement, a recent trend in the American housing market. She was first inspired by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company owned by Jay Shafer, the co-founder of the Small House Society. His book, “The Small House Book,” features 22 small home plans the author designed for folks who want to do it themselves.

But Dill wanted to get more specific than a pre-planned design. Everything is going to be custom-made or “fancy,” as Dill said, and she is determined to learn how to do it all because she wants to build every part of the house.

She asked Whidbey architect Ross Chapin for some guidance.

“I’ve been interning with Ross Chapin, meeting once per week and talking about design stuff and working on my little design. It’s such an inspiring process,” Dill said.

She became even more inspired when she heard Chapin speak at one of the Chiropractic Zone’s “Transformational Dialogues.” He talked about wholeness. Then he showed her a book, “A Pattern Language,” which describes in great detail ways to think about space.

“I completely redesigned my house based on what I read in the book,” Dill said.

“As I read through it, I made a list of all the patterns that applied to me.”

Dill learned how to think about the degrees of privacy in the house from the entry way — the most public — to the bedroom, which is the most private of spaces. She learned about how the sun moves through the house so that it warms its inhabitants and lights spaces, and how to build it so the sun doesn’t startle a sleeper too early in the morning.

A house for one person such as hers — a home that will be only 10 feet by 18 feet and will sit on a chassis pulled by a truck — must be designed well, Dill said.

“What does one person need to be comfortable? A place to eat, a place to sleep, a place to cook, a place to bathe, a place to sit and a place to enter,” Dill said.

Everything in the place, she said, has meaning.

“I’ve always liked small spaces, even as a child,” she said.

“She always wanted to live in the closet,” her father added.

Using Google’s “Sketch Up” software, Dill has custom-designed her tiny house with a gambrel roof to look like a little barn on the outside.

“But the inside will look like a French country kitchen,” she said, reaching for a big pile of books from which she pulls out a colorful, photographic tome of French country kitchens. She will recreate the traditional plaster walls of a French kitchen (too heavy for a house on wheels) by using papier-mâché and a limestone product she discovered.

“The whole downstairs will basically be the kitchen, because I love to cook,” Dill said.

But, with her head focused on the design process since October, Dill is eager to build. Now she is on the hunt to find the pieces of the puzzle that will make the house whole, using all her resourcefulness and wiles.

She is somewhat confined by a very small budget, but has already gathered a good portion of materials.

Dill has milled several logs, compliments of her dance students, Harlan and Karen Weber of Freeland, who showed her how to use their mill. She has found a vintage 1950s Dixie RV cook stove, a stylish farm-style sink and an eco-friendly toilet. She’s building a small bistro table, and will build some rolling chopping blocks. She’s spent most of her savings on the heavy-duty truck that will pull her tiny house behind her on a wheeled trailer and is busy working with an island welder on expanding and reinforcing the chassis.

“The house will be able to be moved on the chassis, but the house is not going to be a constantly moving house,” Dill said.

“It is mainly designed to stay where it is. I hope to be able to buy property one day where the house will stay.”

Aesthetics are important, too, she said.

Dill is presently looking for an old, comfy leather chair and a crystal chandelier, in addition to a list of building items, including plywood and ridged insulation she hopes to acquire inexpensively through trade or donations.

Building one’s own tiny abode on wheels is fairly extraordinary at any age, but Dill’s wisdom astounds even beyond her ambitiousness.

“I’m doing this thing that people dream of; owning your own house,” she said.

She said she does have plans for college, and she will go eventually because she is inspired to go, rather than just because it’s the thing to do when one is a certain age.

“The main thing is, if people follow their passions from a centered place, then other people will become inspired by that to follow their own passions,” she said.

“It’s for the greater good.”

See the list for materials still needed for Celina Dill’s tiny abode at her blog at

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