Interiorssneak peeks

A Tiny House on Maui Surrounded by Pasture Land

by Kelli Kehler

Zeena and Shane Fontanilla both grew up on the island of Maui in Hawaii, but they didn’t meet one another until after college when they went on a blind date together. Now the couple are living the dream — their 360-square-foot tiny house is parked on a wide stretch of land on their native island, along with their young son, Maverick. The picture looks pretty perfect now, but it wasn’t an easy (or quick) road to this dream realized.

The couple, who works for a family residential construction company — Shane works in the field and Zeena works in the office — kickstarted the process in April 2015. This was after they were engaged and just eight months before their wedding date. “Binge-watching Tiny House Nation on HGTV helped us hone in our ideal design,” Zeena shares. “It took us two years to complete with only nights and weekends to work on the house.” This project was completed by Zeena, Shane, and Shane’s father. “My husband grew up in a family of builders so he always had the dream to build his own home,” Zeena begins. “I don’t think he imagined it to be this small, but I think this was the perfect size for our first build together. This project was the best premarital counseling we could’ve asked for. Prior to starting our project I knew many joint decisions would need to be made. ‘Many’ was an understatement, try one billion decisions needed to be made. Let’s just say our communication skills are top notch. One exercise that is extremely helpful in any miscommunication is choosing a number between 1-10 displaying how much this matter means to you. You quickly realize which person this matter means the most to, which diffuses the argument quite fast.”

Once the hard work was behind them and the couple moved in (now with 19-month-old son, Maverick), a whole new set of challenges presented themselves to the family. “Unlearning what ‘normal home life’ means was a challenge we faced in our first six months in the tiny house,” Zeena reveals. “My husband and I became off-grid dwellers in our mid- to late-twenties with no prior experience. We went from never questioning electricity use at night to thinking twice about turning on a switch. Even though we had our battery storage customized to our electrical output plus some, it felt scary to trust a system we didn’t quite understand.”

Setbacks and learning curves aside, they have gained a wealth of knowledge, and have much to be thankful for, including, “The financial freedom it’s given us in such an expensive state,” Zeena notes. “We spent $45,000 to build our home when ‘normal’ homes on Maui cost around $400,000+.” The home was built and then driven to and parked on less than .25 acres of pasture land, which the Fontanillas rent from a family friend.

What quickly connected the couple over that first blind date — their “mutual love for exploring the many ecosystems Maui has to offer” (“and the fact that we both LOVE Mexican food,” Zeena adds) — ended up becoming a full-circle theme for Zeena and Shane as they find themselves navigating life truly off the grid. Their shared devotion for their home, their family, and the beauty that surrounds them is so evident, it’s definitely not lost on others who set foot in their home.

“Many people have confirmed this when they’ve visited our home but I feel a wave of peace each time I walk through the door,” Zeena shares. “We are surrounded by pasture land with grazing animals and a cool breeze that comes off the mountains. The 13-foot ceilings you experience as you first walk into the house add to that peaceful, light, airy feeling.” Scroll down to see what it’s like to live tiny on the island of Maui. —Kelli

Photography by Stephanie Betsill 

Image above: Zeena shares a favorite memory from her home, “Our first night sleeping in our home [was] Christmas Eve. This was before we had running water and electricity — three weeks prior to us actually moving in. We filled up our car with pillows and blankets to sleep on the only piece of furniture in the house, our pull-out couch. It was so exciting to camp out in our soon-to-be home that we worked so hard for.” And another story: “Our little 360-square-foot oasis [is] built on a 26-foot goose-neck trailer. The morning we planned to move the house [by driving it to this spot], we woke up before light out with the intention of getting the house on the road right at sunrise (because less cars on the road meant an easier move, right?!). Well it started raining at sunrise and didn’t let up till the late afternoon.”


Inside the tiny house. Zeena says, “I love this shot because you can see how wide our house is. This is the view if you were standing in our kitchen. That mini loft behind the partition is Maverick’s bedroom.”


The family kept to a muted color palette with pops of color through blues and the greenery of plants, creating an airy and organic aesthetic. “Our cozy little love seat couch,” Zeena notes. “This was actually a hand-me-down with an old school Hawaiian print that we covered with this blue Amazon couch cover.”


“As you enter through our front doors, this is what you see. We used the 13-foot ceiling height in combination with natural light to burst any kind of expectation that this space is tiny and dark.”


The kitchen, located opposite the living room’s love seat couch. “Every morning around 6 am you’ll find me right here pouring our french press coffee (always brewing up Northbound coffee roaster-Mainline blend). This is part of our galley-style kitchen built below our lofted bedroom.” (Photo by Talia DeCoite / @taliapashey)


The home’s bathroom. Zeena shares, “We have a combo washer and dryer which we wouldn’t recommend because the dry cycle doesn’t work very well. Now we just use the wash cycle and hang dry. Save yourself the extra money and just buy a washer.”


The bathroom’s streamlined but earthy decor nods to the beautiful land on which the tiny home sits.

Living tiny teaches you to get rid of all the extras – plus, spending hours cleaning is no fun.


The home features two lofted bedrooms — Zeena and Shane’s, seen here, and Maverick’s, located opposite the floor plan from this bedroom loft.


“One of our newest additions to our house: Mama’s office, reading spot, hiding place, creative space, etc. This little spot is in our bedroom loft with [a] 4-foot ceiling — aka a sitting room only,” Zeena says.


“When Maverick finds me in my hiding spot! Seeing a human in this space gives you perspective to how small it really is. It’s the perfect spot to create.”


“We have a 1-year-and-7-month-old son named Maverick,” Zeena says. “He loves climbing, tractors, his papa (grandfather), and cuddles. He melts hearts on the daily.”


A view looking towards Maverick’s lofted bedroom. Zeena explains, “His partition wall was our solution to closing in this loft (to become Maverick’s bedroom) without completely closing it off.”


This view shows the partition wall looking out from within Maverick’s room. “I thought he’d think it was his own personal climbing wall but I hasn’t dawned on him yet,” Zeena says.


The wooden partition wall mingles seamlessly with the plants and other organic textures found throughout the home. “I absolutely love getting lost in nature so I wanted to add elements of the outdoors in,” Zeena says. “We installed lots of windows for natural light, wrapped the window sills with wood to add warmth to our white interior, and have many plants!”


“A galley-style kitchen was Shane and [my] solution to our goal of having a functional and spacious kitchen. We dreamt up this design together and built it.”


“The other side of the galley kitchen. The refrigerator and bar sink are side by side,” Zeena says. She continues with tips for others looking to live in a tiny home, or just more minimally in general: “Take your time adding pieces to your space. I love starting with the minimal amount of things and building upon the collection as you live in your space. The majority of the things that fill our house are functional pieces/dual purpose. Rugs, pillows and plants are my favorite elements that add so much life to a space.”


Zeena explains the tiny living setup: “These are our onsite utilities, since we are completely off-grid. Our water catchment is the big round tank holding 3,200 gallons and those blue beauties are our PV panels mounted on a custom adjustable rack to move as the sun pattern changes with the seasons.”


Zeena and Maverick outside the family’s home. She says, “The exterior of our house was recently painted, we went from a stained cedar siding look to this dark color combo (see the transformation here). Our house stands 13’6 tall and 8’6 wide.”


The tiny home’s floor plan. A free download of this floor plan is available at the Fontanilla Family’s website.



Seagrass basket – Amazon
Washable bag – Uashmama

Living Room

Couch – Hand-me-down with Amazon couch cover
Pillows and area rug – Target
Ottoman – TJMaxx


3-burner propane range – Dickinson marine


Banana leaf artwork – Carla Gangini
Waterless composting toilet – Separett

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  • I love this so much. Everything you need and nothing you don’t. And absolutely beautiful inside and out. Nice job.

  • This is just beautiful. Good for you figuring out an affordable way to live in Paradise! I lived on Oahu many, many years ago and would move back in a heartbeat if I could afford it!

  • Well thought out but just curious where you sit to eat your meals? Do you have a table/highchair outside?