before and afterInteriors

Before & After: A 120-Square-Foot Trailer Becomes A Tiny Shop

by Erin Austen Abbott

Cat Call Collective, on Design*Sponge

Bekah Bohlen had always dreamed of owning a shop and producing her own line of stationery, but with her husband finishing up his Ph.D — and a possible move in the not-so-distant future — it seemed impractical to think about putting down roots. That’s when the idea of a tiny, mobile shop came to her. “I loved the idea of having a space to test out new products, get direct customer feedback and support other small brands like my own,” Bekah shares. And with a moveable shop, she didn’t have to worry about where she and her husband ended up.

Tackling the build-out and getting funding for her idea would be another challenge. Bekah took her ideas and applied for the Girlboss grant. “I’d delved into the world of letterpress printing while apprenticing under the immense talent and knowledge of Kristen Ley, owner of Thimblepress® in Jackson, MS, but this grant opened the door and allowed me to dream bigger than what would have been financially possible on my own. My grant application was a total dream pitch complete with sketches of our hypothetical shop, fake advertisements, the whole bit. It was of course exciting, but a bit daunting when we received the grant and realized we were actually going to have to create this imaginary thing from the ground up,” Bekah laughs.

After winning the sought-after grant, she and her husband, Martin, who is a research scientist at Duke University by day and a woodworker by night, got to work on the 120-square-foot shop which is now known as Cat Call Collective. What took about six months to finish did not come with a lot of downtime. “We worked evenings and basically every weekend, and thank goodness for our sweet friends that came by in the dead of summer to lend a hand,” Bekah says. Designed entirely by the Bohlen’s, they started by purchasing an 18 x 8 flatbed trailer, creating a crude pencil sketch of the layout and measurements and got to work. Staying organized and on budget was important, so getting creative was a must when it came to the buildout.

“Since we had a strict budget, we made it a point to make every penny count. I searched online to find our used doors and someone to custom-frame them for 1/4 of the cost of new doors. We found our windows at a store for excess construction materials, we made a spreadsheet for totaling our costs each weekend, and we paid our friends and family in beer and pizza for their contributions. Each weekend was a new task; frame the walls, put down sub flooring, add insulation, wire the shop for electricity, etc. We just kept checking things off the list one at a time, and needless to say, we did have to go back and do some things twice, but it was a total and immersive learning experience. When we got [to] the very end of the project and [tipped] just over our budget, we got extra creative to keep our costs low. We made the flooring out of extra plywood sheets we had, but cut them down into 2″ strips to look like hardwood flooring. We opted for circular cutouts for our cabinets rather than purchasing hardware and I hand painted signage on our windows instead of ordering vinyl. These little characteristics, though they weren’t in the original plan, are some of my favorites because it’s what makes the space feel unique and feel like us.” Catch the Cat Call Collective Tiny Shop around Hillsborough, North Carolina and beyond! —Erin

Photography by Anna Goodson Peeples

Image above: The completed Cat Call Collective, a tiny gift shop, at just 120 square feet, is ready to roll to pop-up shops, farmers markets and the like, throughout North Carolina.

Cat Call Tiny Shop for Design*Sponge
A look at the trailer before construction started and then once the framing had begun on Cat Call Collective.
Cat Call Tiny Shop for Design*Sponge
As the walls begin to transform the space, you see it come to life, with doors and windows now added in.
Cat Call Tiny Shop for Design*Sponge
Built from scratch, the shelving that houses the goods in the mobile shop brings the space to life.
Cat Call Tiny Shop for Design*Sponge
From bare walls to a beautiful interior, this tiny shop is just stunning.
Cat Call Tiny Shop for Design*Sponge
Open for business. Cat Call Collective stocks goods from around the South and the USA. Their main focus is on paper goods and handmade finds.
Cat Call Tiny Shop for Design*Sponge
A peek inside the stocked shelves at Cat Call Collective, designed by Bekah and Martin Bohlen.
A close-up of a few of the items at Cat Call Collective, including a weekly agenda, part of the in-house line of paper goods, Cat Call.
Cat Call Tiny Shop for Design*Sponge
Bekah and Martin Bohlen inside their tiny shop on wheels, Cat Call Collective.

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