We learned how to build the same way we learned how to garden: just get in there and start doing it. Start small and you’ll learn as you go.
We started off with a piece of land that was great for growing plants but lacked any buildings. We developed our carpentry skills by first building a shed (year 1), then a greenhouse (year 2), then a tiny house (year 3). Finally we constructed the main part of our house (year 4), which is joined to the tiny house. By doing most of the work ourselves we ended up with an affordable mortgage as a result, and gained invaluable skills along the way.
After finishing the house we took a long hiatus from construction. But a few years ago I decided that I really wanted to have a tiny house on wheels so that we can do more long-term traveling in winters. Several years ago we built a vardo, which is a style of traditional travel caravan used by the Romany people in the British Isles.
The vardo is built on a trailer, so ultimately our dream is to tow it out to southern California to visit our grandchildren in November and December, the grey and dreary months in upstate NY. We enjoy winter sports like cross-country skiing and ice skating, so the plan is to return home in January for the snowy months and in time to fill our greenhouse with spring seedlings.
Here are a few photos of the vardo interior. You may notice a floral theme here! (I do love flowers.) I hand-stenciled the cabinet doors, but the wood trim carved with a leaf patterns was right off the shelf from our local big box store.
We currently have the vardo available for short stays via Airbnb, so if you want to see more photos of the interior, the custom outhouse and outdoor shower we built to go with it AND photos of our flower and veggie gardens, check out our Airbnb listing.
The first time we stayed in a traveler’s wagon was in 2005 in County Cork, Ireland. We spent a year wwoofing in Ireland (working on farms in exchange for room and board) and at one of the farms we stayed in a traditional Irish bow-top wagon, once used by the traveling ‘tinkers’ of Ireland, shown above. The cozy feel of the little bow-top really spoke to my soul and I have wanted one ever since. Perhaps some of my Irish ancestors lived in a wagon like this.
This is the vardo that inspired us to build our own! If you are thinking of building one of your own, or you are just interested in the history of the Irish/English caravan, Tim’s blog is a must-read. He details the construction steps to build his vardo strong while still being light in weight. We followed his steps pretty closely. The main difference is that we wired ours with LED lights and outlets, and installed a small electric heater rather than a wood stove. It’s cozy, warm and bright inside, even on the coldest winter night.