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Aloha builder finds new life in tiny house
This weekend, 57-year-old Ray McCue will embark on a tenuous journey, dragging his world's most prized possession from his home in Aloha to the deep green forest in Welches.
McCue's home will come with him, all 208 square feet of it.
Measuring 26 feet long and eight feet wide, the tiny house is bolted to the bed of a steel trailer.
McCue is certainly not the first to jump on the tiny home bandwagon. The idea of building tiny and stick-built mobile houses has sparked a handful of tiny resorts around Oregon, several reality TV shows and a massive online fandom.
But McCue's home is more than a box on a trailer with just the basic needs met. It doesn't look like anything like the other tiny houses he's seen, and it certainly costs more than the typical bare-bones homes the fad includes.
"This is like the Street of Dreams for teeny homes — that's really what it is," said McCue, standing in a kitchen with tile countertops, a large stainless steel farm sink and other appliances and the windowsill trimmed with deep, red cherry. "The first thing I thought (after I built it) was that this could be a 'Street of Dreams' for teeny homes if we had a couple (more) to go with it. We could put that out there and say, 'Ok, you want a teeny home? This is what you can do.'"
Proudly explaining parts of the home, McCue is full of laughter and smiles, but the two-and-a-half years he spent building his crowning achievement were often full of trials. McCue has three daughters, including twins with autism. He had a successful career as a software engineer and a three-bedroom condo with scattered dreams of retirement in a tiny home, yet he felt like he was spinning his wheels and going nowhere.
"It was the day after Christmas. I went to visit my daughters and I had just gotten started [when] I had a heart attack," McCue said. "I drove myself to the hospital, and it was kind of my wake up point. Just before that I had ordered the trailer, but I wasn't really serious about it."
He poured himself into tiny home forums and articles and began downsizing, selling his possessions and buying the pieces he'd need to begin building.
Like many in the Portland area, McCue's rent was rising. Instead of paying the hiked rate, McCue moved in with a friend in Aloha and construction began in earnest.
The interior of McCue's home — which he refers to as "The Rogue" because it breaks tiny house rules — is a mix of cherry, Alaskan cedar and maple. To the right of the front door is a slide-out section holding McCue's entertainment center, which doubles as his work desk when he'll need to telecommute to his job as a software engineer in Tigard.
In a house this size, it's all about saving space, McCue said. A miniature wood stove sits in front of bay windows above an imitation rock wall at the front of the home. A second slide-out section holds a tall couch, which converts to a dinner table or queen-size bed, depending on the need.
Left of the door is a cedar closet — "because why not?" McCue said — and as he enters the kitchen, a deep farm sink. A large rack full of spices, cooking supplies and cans of food sits on the wall to the right of the stove, and the entire rack pulls out like a barn door to close off the bathroom area.
The bathroom has a second door leading outside, where McCue will set up a second small patio flanked with small solar lights.
A quick tour of the outside reveals the heart of McCue's home: the water storage, filtration system and pressure tank, dual propane tanks and hook ups for city water or water from a lake or river. The electrical system can be connected to batteries, solar power or to the grid using RV hookups, then to a box to control all the gadgets McCue has inside.
Near the front door, McCue opens a locked drawer and pulls out a grill, which is hooks to yet another propane source.
"If I'm going to build a house and I'm going to live outside, I'm going to live it up," McCue said over his shoulder.
McCue did much of it himself. When cabinet contractors were too expensive, he learned to be a cabinet maker. Then his first tiling job, his first wood floor. His first time working with a gas system, insulation, plumbing, piping.
McCue said 98 percent of the house was his design, except for a few areas where he needed help.
The electrical component and artistic eye come naturally and McCue took several years of drafting and architecture in high school, but the rest has been piecemeal, training by osmosis, he said.
'My Mona Lisa'
Now, with more than $80,000 invested in the home, McCue is finally ready to move. He said he's been offered more than double what he spent, but the home is much more than sticks and shingles.
"When I walk in here, when I come home, I'm excited again," McCue said. "When I'm here, I feel at ease. Now I can say, 'If I die, I did what I wanted to do.'
"That's what drove me so hard," he said, his smile faltering and hints of tears welling in his eyes. "There were times where I didn't feel like I was going to make it. There were a few times that, the stress ... because I had no help. I was up there putting in beams and it's raining thinking, 'How the hell am I going to do this?'"
But McCue had a dream, a premonition. He had written out plans and ignored those who told him his project couldn't be done, he said.
McCue said his aim is to attract attention and inspire the tiny home community, both for people looking to retire and as an option for younger people — like his oldest daughter, who is 24 — for whom home ownership seems a distant reality.
Some day, he said he'd like to move his home to a tiny house community in Bend, where he hopes to retire. The move to Welches will be the first journey with the home on the trailer, and begins by gingerly inching the trailer away from the eaves of the neighboring building.
The home is insured, he said, but there's reason to keep it in pristine condition.
"This is my artwork, my Mona Lisa, my painting," he said.