Minimal Effort, Big Deal
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Minimal Effort, Big Deal

Tiny living is a big deal for a former city-dweller enjoying life in the North Carolina mountains.

Written by Donna Peak

Photography by Chris Calhoun


Five years ago, if you asked Paul Borchart what he wanted from life, the answer would have been, “I want it all.” As the owner of a luxury driving service in his native New York City, he ensured that high-profile customers, from corporate CEOs to owners of professional sports teams, got where they needed to go. The job sounds simple, but it could be stressful.

“If my clients were in town for a big meeting and something went wrong or they arrived late, guess who was to blame,” he shares. “But I did meet some amazing people, and I learned a lot along the way.”

One of those lessons was realizing the wealth his clients had amassed, and he wanted a piece of it … or so he thought. “I was brought up very poor in the Bronx,” Paul says, “so I was impressed with people who had a lot of money. When I became successful, my wife and I bought our 2,700-square-foot dream home. It had everything you could ever want.” 

Things seemed to be going well for Paul. Business was so good he was contemplating expanding, but he was already working close to 90 hours a week. “I was walking around our big house one day, and I looked at my wife and said, ‘I’m just not happy,’” Paul admits. “I was stressed out all the time. I had achieved my dreams, but I wasn’t enjoying life.”

While surfing YouTube, Paul stumbled onto the minimalism movement — the idea that shedding all the stuff we accumulate (not to mention the frenetic pace required to keep it) can lead to a richer and more fulfilled life. This exploration introduced him to the tiny-home concept. The more he researched the benefits of eliminating physical and mental clutter, the more sense it made. He was hooked.

Armed with hundreds of hours of research and a burning desire for a simpler life, he began searching for land in eight different states so he could build a tiny house of his own. An advertised property auction near North Carolina’s Lake Lure region drew Paul and his wife south for a visit. It didn’t take long for them to know this was the place for them.

Not only did the couple sell the larger house they thought they wanted, Paul sold his business and shed roughly 80 percent of his belongings. “I got rid of all the things I thought I would die with. I promise you — I don’t miss any of it,” he says. “The relief of getting rid of all that stuff was freeing. It’s changed my life.”

Step two was to head down the tiny-home path. Paul chose Clayton Homes to provide the 396-square-foot semi-custom modular structure.

“Our family said, ‘You’re mad, going to a 400-square-foot house,” Paul admits with a laugh. “My mother even said, ‘Your garage is bigger than this.’ But it’s something you have to experience. It doesn’t feel cramped at all. Now all they say is, ‘Wow!’”

Paul explains that there are a variety of ways to create the sensation of spaciousness in a home of this small stature. Thirteen-foot-tall ceilings lend volume to the narrow footprint, while an abundance of windows makes it bright from all sides. “There are a total of 27 windows in here and if I could have had more, I would have,” Paul says. “Everywhere you look inside, you’re also looking outside. It makes the space seem so much bigger.”

That seamless connection to nature is fundamental to the cabin’s decor, too. Live plants are interwoven throughout the spaces. The staircase risers depict the progression of a waterfall into a creek. And one of the home’s few interior walls boasts a mural of the surrounding forest as the morning mist settles into the valley below. Together, they give the tiny home the tranquil quality for which it’s named: The Zen Retreat.

Though Paul made the decision to downsize to the extreme, his commitment to this philosophy grew and grew. So much so that he says he was called to share it — both the house and the lifestyle — with others. He now offers the home to guests through Airbnb.

“I used to be impressed with people who had money,” he confesses. “Now I’m impressed by people who have time. You can’t buy time.

“This really is a special place,” Paul continues appreciatively. “Thanks to this house, I’ve regained my freedom. It’s given me purpose. It’s been the best decision of my life.”


Home Details

Square Footage: 396

Bedrooms: 2

Baths: 1 full

Builder: Clayton Homes


Paul’s Tiny Living Pointers

  • Part of the tiny house experience is getting closer to nature, so you’re going to be outside more. Incorporating porch, patio and deck space is essential
  • Really evaluate your “stuff” and surround yourself with only the most important things in your life. You’ll find that you don’t need most of the things you have. Purge the clutter and you’ll purge the stress.
  • Make sure the house isn’t lacking anything you really want or need. And have comfy seating! If your home isn’t comfortable, no matter its size, you won’t enjoy it.
  • Not all tiny houses are created equal. Some are designed very well; others, not so much. The good ones maximize space with features like pocket doors so they’re out of the way and recessed spaces so items like TVs or books don’t jut into the rooms.
  • Invest in quality, not quantity. This extends to everything from your building materials to your wardrobe. You don’t need more, you just need better.


See Also: This Colorado Cottage is Only 450 Square Feet

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