They call themselves “The Unknown Craftsmen.”
Yet with the completion of their first tiny house, they may be renovating more than their next project.
Still, the name has its merits. Penn State graduate Aaron Troisi and his father, Nick, like to speak through their work, preferring the sound of a saw over their own voices. Humility fits the father-son duo like the curved, 24-foot-long by 8.5-foot-wide caravan they’ve recently finished. It’s a snug fit, but a cozy and unique one. From the ellipse of the roof to the theater-inspired windows, idiosyncrasy is writ large in the small, self-sufficient space.
For Tania Myren, the client who contracted the pair to build her tiny house, it’s a conceit conjured into reality.
“If you can imagine it, we can build it,” Nick, 60, said.
Imagination is the Troisi’s raison d’être.
As part of his oeuvre, Nick has whipped together a forest of 30-foot-tall trees, woodland rope swings and a creek that serpentined through the glade. As a set designer for the theater department at Bloomsburg University, he enjoys the challenge of constantly creating something new, he said.
Aaron, 29, credits his father’s theater background for their shared creativity. After graduating from Penn State in 2008, he traveled across the state as a health care union organizer and eventually became a teacher in Philadelphia. But after a move back to Unityville — he now teaches in Lewisburg — he and his father have teamed up once again. Nick, Aaron and Keil, Aaron’s brother, built their own house while the boys were in high school.
“We’re still working on our house,” Aaron said, laughing. “It’s like a perpetual work of art.”
As for the tiny house, it’s now moved from the Troisi’s home in Unityville to upstate New York where Myren plans to retire. She’ll have all the usual amenities, just off-the-grid versions. There’s a water heater and a propane stove. The house’s electricity is powered by battery. A flight of stairs leads to a nest-like loft.
Nick and Aaron, who started their company at the beginning of the year, moved the house last week. And with tiny house No. 1 in the books, the “Unknown Craftsmen” are showing up in the papers — this one included.
Q: What got you into the tiny house movement?
NT: We had a really good friend of ours (Myren) that I’ve done a lot of work for at her house, and last October she emailed me and asked me to build her a tiny house. Actually she introduced me to the whole tiny house thing, I didn’t know too much about it.
AT: We definitely were interested in the tiny house movement, but kind of as spectators at first. On Facebook, you’d stumble across something or a blog. We’re attracted by the principles behind the movement — living off the grid, sustainability, eco-friendly living and being more economic and frugal — so it wasn’t until we had this client contact us that we realized we can be a part of this movement, especially given our artistic and construction backgrounds kind of coming together. It kind of has it all for us, so we’re excited to move forward.
Q: Where did your passion for woodworking and designing your own projects come from?
AT: For me, he got me into construction and design. I took a bit of an alternative path because I was a community organizer for several years in Philly, eventually settled into teaching and then recently relocated back up here. Even though I’ve been building my whole life, I never took an active, maybe personally-driven, role in it. I realized when I was living in Philly that all these skills I’ve been learning by working with him over the years were so valuable.
NT: I was a fine arts major and majored in ceramics and did pottery for about 11 years. I did a lot of woodwork on the side, which soon became my main source of income. Then several years ago I took a job: I was working for the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble as their set builder, which is really exciting for me because you’re always building a different set.
Q: How have you incorporated your experience in the arts with your work on the tiny house?
AT: In theater, you’re working on sets that are stunning and unique, but also on a budget. Using a lot of the tips, tricks and skills that (Nick has) developed working in the theater — those all come to bear when it comes to tiny houses. Especially for people in tiny houses, they do want to live in a work of art. The client, Tania, whenever she visits the word she keeps repeating over and over again is “enchanting.” And there is kind of a fairy tale quality.
Q: What separates your work?
NT: It’s so easy to take shortcuts when you’re building something, and it’s really the little things that matter in the end. For instance, we built these tiny staircases. But when I looked at it, we had edged the fronts of all these little pieces of pine, which was really nice except in my mind it was too perfect. So we took the time to take a razor knife and a rasp and go through and round them over and file them and shape them. Because if you look at the rest of the tiny house, there’s all these curves and bends.
Q: Nick, what’s it like to share this experience with your son?
NT: (laughs) It’s kind of exciting and bizarre in a way. And now he wants to learn all these things that might have been a little bit grating on him at times in high school when he had to help me build the house. What’s really nice is that Aaron’s strengths complement mine.
Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy