When Peter and Elizabeth Lewis decided to leave Atlanta and live in a tiny house in Maine two years ago, they knew there would be some challenges to living in 270 square feet. One they never considered, though, was how to fit 18 rolls of toilet paper all at once into their tiny bathroom.

They also never thought a global pandemic would enter the picture and completely transform how everyone lived, worked and behaved. But last March when Gov. Janet Mills issued a statewide stay at home order to help control the spread of COVID-19, the Lewises became one of the thousands of families in the state suddenly spending more in-home time together than ever before.

It could have been a recipe for disaster — two people and one very rambunctious rescue mixed breed hound named Phil working and living together in a very tiny space. But the couple and Phil took it in stride and simply incorporated pandemic life into their tiny living routine.

The best of plans

When the couple began building their tiny home in 2017 they knew two things for sure: They wanted out of Atlanta, Georgia, where they lived at the time, and they wanted to be near an ocean.

Beyond that, they were ready to set their house down just about anywhere.

“Anywhere” turned out to be the wooded lot in Castine that they are currently renting. It had everything they needed, including privacy and access to electricity, water and septic.

From day one in Maine, Peter Lewis worked as a faculty member at Maine Maritime Academy while Elizabeth worked remotely from home as an epidemiologist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Everything, it seemed, was going according to plan. But, to paraphrase Monty Python, nobody expects the global pandemic.

When Maine Maritime Academy sent their students home, Peter Lewis joined his wife working remotely from home and suddenly Elizabeth was sharing her tiny office space full time with her husband.

“We’ve been together since 2012 and knew each other’s habits pretty well already,” Peter Lewis said. “If either of us needs some private time, we put on headphones.”

The hardest part of tiny living and the stay at home order in the early weeks of the pandemic was shopping for household necessities, according to Elizabeth Lewis.

Under the state’s executive orders, going for groceries was considered necessary out-of-home travel, but residents were asked to limit trips to the stores as much as possible. That resulted in a lot of people stocking up on items — and a two-fold problem for the Lewises.

“We did not want to go out to the stores and when we did go, we could not buy things in bulk to stock up because we just don’t have the storage space,” Peter Lewis said. “And at first with everyone panic buying toilet paper, the smallest pack left in the store were packs of 18-rolls.”

So, they did what they had to, creatively stacking the toilet paper on and around their toilet.

A very tiny house

Clockwise from left: The view of the kitchen, stairs and office in Elizabeth and Pete Lewis’ tiny house in Castine; Elizabeth plays with her dog, Phil, in her yard; Elizabeth enters her tiny house. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

The only thing Peter and Elizabeth Lewis say their tiny home lacks is a mudroom. But carving out space to stash muddy or wet winter boots just did not seem important when they planned and built a house on wheels two years ago in Atlanta.

“Peter wears a size 13,” Elizabeth Lewis said. “A size 13 snowboot is enormous and takes up a lot of room.”

At 270-square-feet of living space, their tiny house is small even by tiny house standards. There is no unified building code or legal definition of a tiny house, but a residential structure under 500 square feet is generally accepted to be a tiny home, according to various online groups advocating the simplified lifestyle.

Every bit of the Lewis’ home serves a purpose, devised with careful self-reflection. Their entire pre-tiny lifestyle was closely examined, evaluated and re-thought as they prepared to build and live tiny.

“Even our bedroom plans involved Phil and he’s why we have a king-sized bed,” Elizabeth Lewis said with a laugh. “He sleeps with us so we decided to move up from a queen [size bed] to the king so Pete and I would have more room, but Phil still manages to hog most of the bed.”

That king-size bed takes up almost all of the floor space of the home’s sleeping loft. The ceiling of the loft is too low for an adult to stand up, but Peter Lewis points out if he wants to stand up after getting out of bed, he just walks down the narrow stairs to the ground level.

At the bottom of the stairs is the tiny bathroom, with just enough room for a small shower stall and composting toilet. Turn right and you are in the couple’s office space. To the left is the combined kitchen, dining and living area. Large windows and a tall ceiling give the entire space a light and airy feeling and make it appear roomier than it is.

Everything in the home pulls double duty — from the hinged individual steps on the stairways that open for storage to the L-shaped couch that lifts to reveal more storage or can be pulled out for guests.

The couple had gotten some practice living tiny while still in Atlanta when they moved from their 800-square-foot apartment Elizabeth described as “swanky,” to a 400-square-feet apartment that had the outdoor space they needed to construct their tiny house.

“We threw away half the stuff we had when we moved the first time,” Pete Lewis said. “Then we threw away half of what we had kept from that first move when we moved into the tiny house.”

They also make the most of the great outdoors and natural setting in which the tiny house currently stands.

The Lewises love being outside and they each spend as much time as possible in their yard working, reading or playing endless games of three-ball fetch with Phil, who is serving out his own doggy version of a stay at home order.

“Phil lost his off-leash privileges this summer,” Elizabeth Lewis said. “He got mixed up with a porcupine.”

Next time

From left: Elizabeth Lewis talks about living in a tiny house outside her home in Castine on Aug. 26; Phil the dog walks in the house to get some water. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

This fall, the Lewises plan to move their tiny house one more time when they relocate onto several waterside acres they purchased in Castine. They will live there for the foreseeable future but say there will likely be upsizing at some point, especially if they have children.

“If we build a bigger house, it won’t be because we don’t like living in our tiny house,” Elizabeth Lewis said. “It will be because we outgrow this house with lifestyle changes.”

Among those changes could be a wee bit more space for laundry as the small combined washer-dryer appliance they currently use leaves a bit to be desired, they said.

“With the dryer function, your clothes are essentially steamed,” Elizabeth Lewis said. “So sometimes they come out dry and sometimes they don’t and then it’s a decision of do I hang them to dry or put them through the dryer cycle again.”

They’d also like a bit more room to accommodate guests who so far have opted to stay in hotels rather than live tiny even briefly and perhaps a bit more storage for things like supersized packs of toilet paper.

It also goes without saying that the next house, large or tiny, will have that mudroom for those size 13 snow boots.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.