Wednesday April 23, 2014 Full Website »

You Can Live the Tiny House Dream in a Brooklyn Backyard

You Can Live the Tiny House Dream in a Brooklyn Backyard
Sarah Goodyear

You're in the city. You know this because you've been traveling along busy city streets -- Brooklyn streets. The brick towers of housing projects are visible on the horizon.

But open the door to a tiny wooden structure in the backyard of a townhouse, and it smells like a country cabin. Is it the kerosene lamp? The raw wood? Whatever the source of the aroma, it takes you out of New York and into a different frame of mind.

This little hideaway is known as The Den at Wolfcloud, and it is the creation – part physical, part conceptual – of Mckendree Key, a 33-year-old artist. She originally designed the cabin to be her studio, but now she's turned it into “The Den Transaction,” an art project of sorts. A very practical art project that will help her to fix up the house she bought five years ago, which needs some work:

The Den Transaction is an experiment in which overnight stays in this space are bartered for services or goods. Services such as gardening, composting, painting, repairing, chicken coop construction, construction of other items such as furniture, organizing, cleaning and cooking are all acceptable for trades. Products such as art, food, plant material, jewelry, livestock and other goods may also be traded....

Transactions will be documented and exhibited on this website.

The idea of space as a commodity has long been a theme in Key’s work. Like any New Yorker, Key is familiar with the continual haggling and anxiety over square footage that characterizes the city. The Den is one way to quantify that. What is a stay in a city cabin worth? What shape will the negotiations take?

So far, the brand-new project has produced some electrical work and a couple of dinners. An upcoming visitor from Tucson is going to be bringing some kind of Southwestern decorative items – Key is hoping for a cow skull. A woman will be building a chicken coop in exchange for a month-long stay. Key is finding that in many cases, people would rather barter goods than time – which doesn't necessarily help complete all the work that needs to be done in the townhouse she shares with her four-year-old daughter, two roommates, and a tenant.

For those who fantasize about living in a tiny house (and we know you’re out there) a stay at The Den could be a good way to live the dream, if only temporarily. Just prepare to do some work.

Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn. All posts »

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