James Galletly gets the tiny house movement moving

James Galletly is not a man who is defeatist by any stretch of the imagination.  When faced with an obstacle he doesn’t look at ways to go round it. In fact he conquers it.  Living in Sydney, James who studied Environmental Science at University was appalled at the amount of rubbish discarded in the streets, so decided to do something with it.  Having learnt the trade of building through reading books and stints on building sites, he decided to start upcycling the items he found.  Today, it has become his stock in trade.

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Known as The Upcyclist, James is now based in northern NSW and enjoys the process of finding and transforming old discarded  pieces of timber into all manner of usable items. But he doesn’t stop there.  He has a particular passion for using recycled materials to build tiny houses.

Those little houses hold a special place in my world. I think they represent so may worthy ideals, all packaged into one thoughtfully designed piece of architecture; low impact living, debt free living, owner built housing, minimalism, limited consumerism, craftsmanship and community”.  

It takes some imaginative and smart thinking to build a tiny house.  Every inclusion must be carefully thought out, considered and measured. This task is made all the more challenging when using recycled materials. But James met the challenge head on. It is a process he relishes.  The foundations of his home is a box trailer. And why not? In fact it makes perfect sense. Based on wheels it is elevated from the earth, and can be easily taken anywhere.  A gypsy caravan of sorts, the tiny house is made from fence palings, corrugated iron, reclaimed windows and doors, and discarded timber pallets. Inside, the one bedroom home has fold up furniture, creating a living space during the day, and a perfectly cosy bedroom at night. The whole movement behind tiny houses is to challenge the way we currently live, tied down in consumerism and excess. Is bigger better, or is less more?  Tiny houses enable us to get back to basics, to embrace the outdoors more (and who wouldn’t with that great outdoor paling clad kitchen) and engage with the community.

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James is now in the middle of building his next tiny home, this time from straw bales for him and his fiance.   If it is anything like his other projects, I am sure we will all be enthralled.  Read on to see out interview with James below, and find out why he wants to finish his tiny house build by October! Time is ticking!

How did your upbringing influence your love and appreciation of the environment?  I grew up on 10 acres of land with a farm and bushland that backed on to a creek. My idea of after school fun was running around in the bush, building huts and exploring. When you have so many good times and fond memories set in a certain environment its only natural that you grow to love that place.

You travelled the world gaining eco inspiration –  Was there anywhere or anything in particular that really inspired you to pursue your upcycling passion? When you are traveling or in foreign countries, I found that there is a certain kind of magic that allows you to achieve your dreams a whole lot faster. There just seems to be no one blocking you or saying “you cant do that” so you go for it and surprise yourself by what you can do. I figured these same conditions that propel people towards their dreams must be experienced by travellers in Australia, so I resolved to carry my traveler mindset home. That didn’t make me The Upcyclist but it did give me enough guts to just start doing it.

What was the first thing you ever upcycled? I forgot about this but the other day Alicia, my fiance told me that back when we were dating I made her a coffee table out of pallet wood. I had no workshop then so I pulled it apart and made it all out on the footpath in Inner City Melbourne.

How did you learn the skills required to re-craft old items into something new and useable again? A lot of it is imagination and then you need the basic building skills to put it together.  For those I started reading books and online. I truly believe you can teach yourself anything if you just spend the time to read and research. I have also worked for builders and once I started doing it I would ask anyone and everyone what I needed to know for whatever project I was working on.


You are in the middle of building your own “tiny” house.  What constitutes a “tiny” house?   
Tiny is obviously a subjective word so there is no definition of what constitutes a tiny house. I have heard numbers like under 50 square meters used as a defining point for a tiny house, but others come up with 80m and some folks live in 10sq.m­, so its up to the individual to define their own version of tiny. For me, I am not concerned with numbers or how small they are but how well it takes care of your needs. A tiny house should include all that you need to live comfortably (otherwise it’s not a house just an addition to a house) and it should be drastically smaller than standard housing in order to achieve a financial and environmentally sustainable lifestyle. The smaller the better, as this helps facilitate the sustainable lifestyle, but it’s not a competition.

Tell us more about your “tiny” house build!

Alicia and I are building our tiny house out of straw bales.  So far our foundations are down and we are currently testing the local clay deposits for render on our walls. We hope to finish by October this year as that’s when we are getting married and I would love to carry Alicia over a tiny threshold into our new (sustainable) lives.

What is the most exciting / inspiring upcycling project you have been involved in? Building Earthships, being on a building site and turning car tyres into walls and beer bottles into mosaic feature windows really showed me just how far you can take recycling and that you can do major works with it, not just nic-nacks for around the home.

Thanks to Alicia Fox (james” fiance) for the great pics!

++ The Upcyclist ++

Images: Alicia Fox

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