Tuesday, July 14, 2020
School Project Materializes into Senior's Very Own Home
“Now, with cabinets, this is starting to look like a house instead of a shed,” said Sierra Stern.
Friday, May 24, 2019


Sierra Stern stood amidst a pile of cabinets that had just been donated to her by a family that had  just pulled them out of their own home.

“It was a surprise,” said the 18-year-old Silver Creek High School senior. “I was planning on buying some from the Building Materials Thrift Store but this donation came along just in time.”

With so much talk about housing being tight across the country, Stern decided to get a jump ahead by building her own house for her senior project.

Sierra Stern named her tiny house “Kintsugi” after the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold, silver or platinum. “It represents one’s past struggles and one’s history, however unpleasant, as something to remember and be proud of overcoming,” she said.

She came up with a house she can take with her wherever she goes, courtesy of the double-axle trailer it sits on. Next week she hopes to drive it to school as part of her senior project presentation.

“We’re in the end game,” she said. “I’m still surprised that it’s here.”

Stern enlisted the help of Jolyon Sawrey of Vital Ink Architecture to design the house, coming up with a lot of things on the fly--like how to deal with wheel wells.

“This isn’t ordinary house,” she said. “We had to figure out how to make it road stable. We had to figure out what would make me comfortable based on how I like to live. And when we started building, suddenly it became real. It wasn’t just an idea, anymore.”

Sierra Stern was an avid fan of “The Boxcar Children” growing up. She sees her tiny house as a symbol of strength.

The two made a 12-hour round trip in a blizzard on the last day of Christmas break to pick up an 8-by-18-foot trailer in Salt Lake City.

Stern pulled bolts and other accessories off trailer, turning it into a flat platform.  And, on the advice of a structural engineer, she drilled in a green plate for reinforcement and to keep mice at bay.

She and another mentor started building in February right in the middle of a record-breaking month of snowfall.

“We couldn’t wait any longer,” she said.

Stern and her assistant framed the house with beams and plywood sheets in a building in Hailey’s light industrial district in Woodside. And, when they moved it onto the trailer, they scurried to get the ceiling on.

The house stands 11 feet on the short end and 13.5 feet on the tall end, the slanted roof designed to accommodate snow load.

“It’s a shed roof. It’s not as glamorous, but it’s strong,” she said. “We worked really quick with the weather breathing down our necks. I had to dig us out when a foot or two of snow piled up. And I did a lot of ice picking when the snow was melting.”

She just finished installing an engineered pine floor donated by Vernon’s Carpets. And Pella Windows and Doors of Ketchum donated some handsome windows and frames when it revamped its showroom.

“I’m truly grateful to them. It would’ve cost a lot for these beautiful windows,” she said.

Sierra Stern will sleep in a loft above her kitchen, accessing it via a special staircase built by one of her mentors.

A narrow bathroom covering the width of the home will include a toilet and medicine cabinet behind a sliding door. Stern will have to shower outside or use showers in campgrounds or community centers.

“Trust me, I would’ve put a shower in if I’d had room,” she said.

The worst part of the project was caulking the cracks, she said, looking down at her work boots splattered with the stuff.

“It’s tedious and very messy. I had to throw a shirt away because the foam sticks, then hardens.”

Stern will have help installing a 120-volt system she can plug into. A 12-volt off-grid emergency system will be fueled by a solar panel.

When that’s done, Stern will have help building a fold-out deck that will sit down in front of the door with a roll-up awning for shade.

She’ll install a mini-refrigerator and a small wood stove that will provide heat and cooking capabilities. And then she’ll go to work making curtains and painting the inside.

“I think beige and pink. I like red, too, and florals,” she said. “The outside I hope to paint dark forest green. That color brings me a sense of calm.”

Stern still needs a few more donations to complete her project. Donations may be made at https://www.gofundme.com/building-kintsugi-tiny-home. She plans to hold an open house complete with refreshments for donors in June.

“I’m surprised at how many people stepped up. They said, ‘I have this.’ ‘Can I come do that?’ And people came up to me at the grocery store to see how it was going.”

Did the process make her consider a career as a builder?

“If anything, it steered me away from that,” she said. “I just want to finish this as soon as possible.”

Stern hopes to move into her tiny home as soon as it’s finished, perhaps setting it on property in the Bellevue area.

Come fall, she will head to Boise State University where she plans to stay in a dorm to cut down on commuting. And, instead of architecture and construction, she’ll be studying film and TV.

“I like how you can watch a movie and feel things. Like ‘The Karate Kid.’ I saw that and it gave me a wonderful feeling of inspiration,” she said. “I want the power to make other people feel like that. I want to learn how to tell a story that will make people feel like that.”

Questions? Contact sternsie000@bcsd61.org.



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