The Making of Ohana House: a Hawaiian Tiny Home

hawaii tiny home
Sunset View From Ohana House

With the ArtisTree Team, you get more than just a home, you get the whole package from consultation, site visit, design, and budget to the execution of a custom turn-key home. This tiny home project, Ohana House, started in April 2017 when the clients, Sam and Erica, went to the Big Island on vacation and decided that the Kalapana Lava flow would be the site of their future retirement home. With that revelation, they contacted ArtisTree to make their dreams come to fruition.

We started with multiple back-and-forth phone calls, regarding what they wanted in a home and for what their budget would allow. Through several revisions, the ArtisTree team came up with The Ohana House. This was to be a modular, Japanese-inspired design that was two units connected by an open-air lanai.

By the first of October, the crew was out on the Lava and ready to build. All of the foundation materials were delivered to the site by a local Hawaiian Lumber Company for the crew to organize and prepare for utilization.

ohana foundation
Joist Installation

As we would with any other project, we started with the foundation. Building on an old lava flow is a pretty epic feat, particularly because you have to adjust to the topography of the site. There are huge cracks in the earth and large divots that sink in five to ten feet. We took time to find the best, most consistent area of the 1/6th acre lot. After doing so, we and laid out cement footers in the same orientation of the house, which faced Mauna Loa and the consistently active lava flow.

hawaii tiny home foundation
Poured footer with Rebar

After drilling twelve inches into the lava and hammering in a two-foot piece of rebar, the result was twelve inches of rebar below the surface and the other twelve inches projecting up for posts to be placed over it. Then, the footers were leveled out with smaller broken-up lava that we called backfill. Once they were all level and properly placed, we drilled holes into the posts to place over the rebar. This tiny home now sits upon sixteen footers.

In one week’s time, we had the foundation complete: footers poured, joists installed, subfloor painted and screwed into place. It feels easy to make noticeable changes out on the vast lava fields. Within just the nine months since we built the Phoenix House, so many other homes, and tiny homes, have popped-up in that area.  Even so, there’s still so much wide open….lava.


Beginning Framing

Once week two started, we jumped into the framing phase. The tiny home was to be two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a storage shed. Housed inside of the shed were to be the water pumps, tankless hot water heater, and all the components for the solar power, minus the panels which go on the south-facing roof. To give the Ohana House the feeling of opening up, we gave the outer edge of the walls a 5% slanting angle, which also resulted in the structure resembling a shell. Out there on the lava field, because of the intense winds, it was best to just build the walls on the foundation and, as a team, hoist them into place. Once the walls were secure and in place, we settled in the rafters for roof support.

Inside Master Bedroom with Framing and Siding

To cover the framing, we used recycled OSB (oriented strand board). Then, wrapping it like a giant present to protect it from the rain, we applied waterproof tar paper to the exterior of the house. Truly acting as a wick, the tar paper causes intruding water to bead-off of the structure. Two different sidings were chosen for Ohana House. For the north and south facing walls, we used 4ply corrugated grey metal, to partner with the roof. For the front, back, and center of the house, we used . When installing the T-111, we realized that there would be visable seams that would really distract from the flow. After much brainstorming, we decided to equally divide the T-111 and hide all seams by adding a band around the house. After becoming such a defining part of the home, it’s now hard to imagine Ohana House without it. Along that same line of design flexibility, we had originally stained the T-111 red but decided that it didn’t flow properly with the surroundings. Covering the rejected red stain, we applied a dark brown to achieve yet another Ohana House-defining design alteration. Fittingly, the effect of red beneath brown is that of lava in the earth.

OSB Siding with Tar Paper


Once all the siding was in place and the roof and flashing were installed, we made our way inward. In this design, much like the Phoenix house, we left the interior framing and rafters exposed which really provides a beach house appeal. To give it a very bright and clean look, we painted all of the walls white. Air naturally flows in and cools each room, thanks to big, inward-swinging windows that were resourcefully salvaged from a local man who was getting rid of bulk tempered glass. The windows were framed in pine and installed with a top-swinging hinge.

Bunk Room

For the bunk room, we built a twin-sized loft bed with another twin bed underneath it to accommodate two guests. From the shelves, beds, and closet to the ladder leading to the top bunk, this room has a comfortable function of flow and movement. The room contains so much without feeling overwhelming, truly taking on the nature of spatial utilization in a tiny home.


Very much inspired by the bunk room, the master bedroom features the same style of seamless flow. Every element appears to becomes one, from the low-profile nightstands, level with the modern shadow-box bed, to the bench, flowing into the closet from both sides. It’s all quite streamline with each piece a part of every other. Aiming, again, for that bright, clean feel, we painted the walls white.  For some friendly opposition and balance, we chose a natural stain for the ceiling, giving it softness and warmth.

Master Bedroom



The kitchen is a true example of symmetry and style. By tying-in in the playful blues from the bunkhouse and the natural wood scheme from the bathroom and master bedroom, this room really unfies the entire house. In our resourceful way, we were able to use leftover sugi pine from the bathroom to frame the cabinets and to give some farmhouse flare to the kitchen sink. We used pine and salvaged mesh wire to craft the cylindrical hanging lights over the sink, adding a very rustic touch to the scene.  In this room, families and guests will gather to create countless memories and share an abundance of meals…therefore, it was essential that we make it an inviting space.


After the many last-minute design changes and adaptations, we not only advanced leaps-and-bounds as a team, but we also (and more importantly) created a lasting dream-come-true for a family to enjoy.



Hawaii Tiny Home
The Crew from Left to Right: Ben Newman, Jacob Barnes, Caitlin Rowe, Aaron Goldberg, Jeff Buss



To Reserve your stay at Ohana House, click here: AirBnB


For Full High resolution Images of the finished Ohana House: Ohana House Gallery

Ohana House Time Lapse

Ohana House Time LapseShot and Edited by: Jacob Barnraiser

Posted by ArtisTree on Sunday, December 17, 2017

Time Lapse by : Jacob Barnes

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