Think Small


The Custom Tiny Home

The Kula home Kalani Iselin and Kailea Frederick share has features you’d expect to find in a custom-built house: hardwood flooring, open-beam ceiling, granite countertop, and a stone-tiled bathroom. But with a footprint of 160 square feet, plus an 80-square-foot sleeping loft, it’s the same size as the average single-car garage. And it’s entirely off the grid. “We have solar electricity, our stove is powered by propane, and we get our water from a garden hose,” Kalani says.

tiny home maui
The kitchen cabinets are solid, sustainably harvested cherrywood; shelving and backsplash came from a tree Kalani milled himself. Wood paneling inside and out creates a look Kalani calls “Upcountry farm chic.”
tiny house storage
Stairs to the loft provide storage; the tallest serves as an extra closet.

Kalani built the home himself, with help from business partner Adam Anderson. Their company, Island Tiny Homes, has a second house under construction, and a third on order. Kalani hatched the idea at a family gathering. “Adam is my half-sister’s half-sister’s fiancé,” Kalani says with a grin, “and he has a building background like I do.”

Having never been inside a tiny house, I didn’t know what to expect when I visited Kalani and Kailea. Outside, the trailer-mounted home looks like a charming dollhouse on steroids. Indoors, it’s surprisingly spacious, and doesn’t feel at all claustrophobic, even with three of us inside. “We have friends over all the time,” says Kailea. “We just have to be creative about where everyone sits. We’ve entertained as many as six people at once.”

Neither of them is a stranger to tiny living. Kalani attended a social-entrepreneurship program in Sweden. “This house is way bigger than that dorm room,” he says. Kailea grew up off the grid in Huelo. “My family’s home had an outhouse,” she says. “This is really luxurious compared to where I was raised.”

tiny houses hawaii
Extra space in a jiffy: The dining table folds up and latches against the wall, while bench seating does double duty as storage bins.

She notes that living in a tiny house requires a change in mindset and lifestyle. “I don’t think everyone can do it, but I think anyone can and should ask themselves how much stuff they actually need to go through life and still be satisfied,” she says.

The couple’s home is parked on a property belonging to Kalani’s family. The property also houses an abundant garden, a flock of chickens, and even a beehive. “We purchase very little from the store — mostly grains and coffee,” says Kalani. Being able to harvest fresh vegetables, eggs and honey also helps when you have only a mini fridge to stock.

Kalani also uses their tiny house as a model home for his business, sometimes transporting it to the Saturday morning farmers’ market in Pukalani. “You should see the looks we get from people when we drive by,” he laughs.

He and Kailea hope property owners will embrace the tiny-home movement as an affordable way to increase the number of rental houses. “The climate here is perfect for tiny houses,” says Kailea. “Tiny living makes you want to go out and do things more often. It’s a lifestyle shift that’s subtle, but very sweet.”



  1. An affordable tiny house is one thing, but what about purchasing a piece of property to put the tiny house on? This issue alone seems prohibitive. I would do it in a minute, but this property issue has me puzzled.

  2. Mahalo MNKO Magazine for such a great article on this Tiny House Movement!
    Come out and talk tiny with the Simply Tiny Houses creator, Erik Blair, at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center’s “Let’s Get Sustainable Expo” on Saturday, September 24, 2016. For more information contact Toni Rojas at

  3. Aloha and mahalo for the wonderful article. I hope everyone contacts their representatives locally and at the state level and let them know how important it is that they support the tiny house movement and get behind efforts to increase alternative affordable housing in Hawaii.


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