Photos: Set designer Glenn Grassi thinks big about tiny (and livable) homes

Categories: Visual Arts

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Kelsey Whipple
Glenn Grassi goes American Gothic in front of his miniature creation.
The fully functioning home in which Glenn Grassi is standing in isn't much larger than his bedroom was that time he joined the circus. It is significantly smaller than the sets he made and won national awards for during the two decades he spent in theater. It is smaller, even, than the RV he lived in for two-and-a-half years in and around Venice Beach.

There is a reason why he calls his art -- now someone else's home -- "little living."

It took Grassi a year to build the art and architecture project, and when he sits down on the bed, he takes up nearly half of it. Also in the home is a wood-burning stove, a chandelier, a water basin that turns into a sink, a bed that turns into a solar shower and a chair that turns into a compost toilet. Every inch has been created to serve multiple specific functions, with the goal of having the tiny trailer help encourage both a simpler life and a cleaner environment. The home's impact, says Grassi, should be as small as the interior.

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Kelsey Whipple
The interior of Grassi's first tiny home.
"I put thought into every aspect of how this would be used," Grassi says. "I'm more artistic than I am technical, but this thing could withstand both a hurricane and a blizzard. It's a mix of art, function, and impact and how you can improve all three."

Grassi's most recent project is part of a much larger national trend to simplify life and forgo both the impact and pressure of home-owning by living in a trailer-towed home that fits somewhere between an RV and a closet in size. The tiny house, his first, belongs now to a teacher in Wichita, Kansas, who spent $16,500 on the mobile home in the hopes of leaving the grid. In August, she will take it to New Mexico, where she hopes to spend the rest of her life retired and parked on the property of her friends' bed and breakfast.

Grassi's focus on small but sustainable life stems from a series of truly terrible living situations and a career spent as the production manager for more than 10,000 shows. After graduating from the Art Institute of Colorado twenty years ago, Grassi moved to Hollywood with the now cliché goal of, well, making it. He took a job at the Improv and eventually transitioned to the design aspect of both movies and stage productions.

His first large-scale feat was prop-oriented: Grassi is responsible for the original designs of the drums in the first national tour of The Lion King. Although he is credited with set design in several tours, Grassi also held parts in two B-level movies, one of which was a cheesy B-thriller named Monster Man. "One day the monster had to leave early, and even though I was working on props, I was the only person who fit in his costume," Grassi says. "So I had to do this scene where I'm trying to kill a girl in a bathroom. I still see it on the Scy Fy channel sometimes."

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Kelsey Whipple
The bed lifts up to show both storage and the outlet for a five-minute solar camping shower.
It was also in California that he paid $1,200 a month for an apartment located immediately below a twelve-person rock band. When all attempts to make that work ended disastrously, Grassi decided to downsize both his apartment troubles and his rent payment. So he paid $300 a month for an RV he moved around various parts of California.

"The clutter went away, and so did the worries about rent that come with living on the grid," Grassi says. "It was just like, 'Where do I want to live today? What do I want my view to be?' That being said, RVs are designed by people who have clearly never lived in an RV in their lives."

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