The Irishman with big hopes making tiny houses in Berlin
‘Small spaces force you to declutter and focus on your needs,’ says the Irishman making tiny houses in Berlin
Owen Cann, who makes tiny houses and tiny furniture for his company TinyBerlin with his wife Silvia and their two daughters Luna and Alana
Owen McCann, who is originally from Dublin, has lived in Berlin for more than 10 years with his wife, Silvia, and their daughters, Luna and Alana Mar. He runs TinyBerlin and builds small, sustainable Tiny Houses in Kreuzberg
When did you leave Ireland and why?
I left Ireland in the late 1990s. I had lived in Spain and Argentina for almost 10 years and then returned home in 2008. I had planned on making a go of it in Dublin, but shortly after I returned Ireland entered an economic depression. Finding work in Dublin was practically impossible at the time, so I moved to Berlin in 2009, and have lived here since then.
What have you done in Berlin?
In 2010 I met my wife, Silvia and shortly after we launched the fashion brand potipoti accessories. We ran a small store on RosenthalerStrasse where we produced our hand-made accessories. We also worked in flea markets such as Mauer Park and Nowkoelln Flowmarkt and sometimes even made it back home at Christmas for the Dublin Flea. My wife now manages the business alone as I’m fully focused on building Tiny Houses with TinyBerlin.
What does your company TinyBerlin do?
I started the TinyBerlin initiative in 2017 in Kreuzberg. Over the past three years we have dedicated our energy to the concept of building small, efficiently built Tiny Houses on disused East German agricultural trailers. Using the slogan “reuse and reclaim” we have reconverted old hay-bale trailers and dilapidated circus wagons into beautiful, practical, affordable living spaces. The rents in Berlin have more than doubled over the past 10 years, and the option of buying a flat is a pipe dream for most people, so there is obviously huge potential in this new housing type. Issues concerning planning permission aren’t overly complicated, and for the most part living in a Tiny House in Germany is fairly hassle free.
Tell us about compact living
Living in a compact space can be challenging, but it does allow you the opportunity to radically reduce your consumption habits. Small spaces typically force you to declutter and focus on your basic needs, while reducing your utility costs, rent and levels of bank debt.
Do you use sustainable materials to make your homes?
The concept of “reuse and reclaim” can be time consuming, but it is definitely worth the effort. Our Tiny Houses use a fraction of the energy of a standard house, and we use a combination of new and used materials. We use local websites to reclaim used wood burners, windows and doors where possible.
What do you use to put the homes on?
It depends on the structure, but typically we use Soviet era (East German: GDR) hay-bale trailers. There are plenty of them available in the rural parts of Brandenburg. We build the structure above the chassis to a height of around 3.7m.
Who might buy something from TinyBerlin? Where can they put it?
Some people want to downsize and live in the countryside for a fraction of price of city living, but most people buy our Tiny Houses to complement an existing property, as they can be used as an extra living space and can be easily placed on a plot of land or even in your garden if you have the space. They can also be very good investments. We have customers who rent them out on Airbnb, and it works out very well for them.
How do you fit everything into such a small space?
Storage is essential. We are currently remodelling an old 8-metre Soviet Beekeepers Wagon. It has a 4m by 2.5m storage tank under the chassis. We will connect the storage tank from the inside via a trap door, so there will be plenty of storage space and easy access.
What might we learn from living in the small spaces? Where do you put the bin?
Under the sink! Living in a compact space means you will have less junk in your life. Winston Churchill was right when he said: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
Do you have you average day at the moment?
We’re self-employed, and my workshop is close to where I live, so I can walk to work. The schools are closed right now, so balancing work and homeschooling our daughter can be tricky. Obviously a lockdown at the height of winter is tough, but for the most part we’re managing okay.
Can you see a market for TinyBerlin in Ireland?
Absolutely. Ireland is full to the brim with old silage and hay-bale trailers that could easily be used as the base for a wonderful and inspiring Tiny House. We’d love to hear from anyone who might be interested in reconverting a silage trailer!
You have two daughters, Luna and Alana. Are they Irish or German?
Our daughters were both born in Berlin. My wife is Spanish, so the kids speak German, English and Spanish.
What is it like living in Berlin at the moment?
We’re in the middle of a lockdown, so things are tough here for a lot of people. Berlin largely avoided the first wave of coronavirus, in the spring, but this time round it has had a much harsher effect on the city. As with most of Europe, the streets are completely dead and practically all businesses are closed.
Is there anything you miss about Ireland at the moment?
The sea and a nice pint of Guinness!
If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email email@example.com with a little information about you and what you do