When it comes to choosing living spaces, Natasha Lawyer and husband Brett Bashaw have a knack for making the uncommon seem enviable. First, there was the Volkswagen van, which they drove across the country. Then there was a vintage Airstream trailer, the restoration of which they documented on their popular Instagram account @tincanhomestead, and later, a book by the same name. Most recently, the couple bought up a tract of woods in rural Vermont with nothing on it but a small shed—it didn’t even have running water.
They’ve spent the intervening year turning the property into the ideal homestead for supporting their creative lifestyle, including space for Natasha’s work as an illustrator and the couple’s shared business, Sugarhouse Ceramic Co. Swept up in their woodland lifestyle, enterprising spirit, and smart design sensibility, we reached out to chat with Natasha about life on the farm.
Why did you choose Vermont? Was it more happenstance or was it a plan a long time coming?
"Brett and I had travelled through Vermont together during a six month trip in our Volkswagen Van a few years back. Besides being an adventure, we kind of viewed it as a shopping trip for places we might like to live someday. Then when we outgrew Seattle (or it outgrew us, rather). We started talking about places we'd like to live and Vermont came up. It was such a lovely green place and reminded me a bit of where I grew up in the Rocky Mountains of Canada, and the cost of living here was so much more affordable than in Seattle. Plus we really wanted to buy ourselves a patch of woods and set up our pottery studio."
How many changes have you made to the property and cabin so far?
"When we purchased the property it was just a land sale. We negotiated for the sale to include a shed the former owners had been using as a makeshift office, and we converted it into a cabin so we could live on the property right away. As soon as we closed on our property we immediately purchased a prefabricated building to be converted into our pottery studio. We spent the winter building walls, wiring, insulation, flooring, and finishing the interior. We also added a little potting shed for storage and garden supplies. We moved onto our property in December and it was too late in the year to do any excavation work for water. So we spent our winter without plumbing, using a portable-potty and showering at the gym. We set up an off grid water system in our little cabin kitchen and carried water in from our well all winter. Then when spring finally came, we were able to do some excavation work to add plumbing and build ourselves a little bathhouse, which we've spent our summer working on. We planted ourselves a little garden and a fruit orchard as well and got ourselves a little chicken coop and 6 chickens, too."
With the cabin, pottery studio, bathhouse, and garden shed, the different activities in your life are broken up among all of these different spaces. Is that difficult or does having that separation help in some ways?
"I work from home so the separation has been really nice, actually. The cabin is just used for sleeping, watching TV in bed, and we do all of our cooking in there. I have a drafting table in the studio for my day job as an illustrator and the rest of the space is used for our Sugarhouse Ceramic Co. business. We also have a wood fireplace and a couch and hang out area in the studio as well, which is nice. After work it's nice to be able to go back to the cabin and relax in bed, away from the studio. We do spend the bulk of our time in the studio though, it's a lovely cozy place to be, with an espresso machine and a wood stove."
Do you find it’s a challenge to decorate such a small space?
"I've always been drawn to interior design so I like getting to decorate a bunch of different spaces. Designing small means that you're a lot more intentional about what you put in a space. Quality wins out over quantity."
How would you describe your personal style and decorating sensibility?
"I tend to lean toward a neutral Scandinavian look for the backdrop of a space. A lot of white and layered wood tones, simple furniture, and as many plants as possible. I've been adding a few pops of color into some of our spaces lately, in bedding and pillows, but the bones of a space remain very neutral. Then I tend to layer a lot of one of a kind pieces into the space from our travels, thrifted from the Salvation Army and antique shops."
You used to live in an Airstream trailer, and now you live in a tiny cabin. What draws you to these small-scale, unconventional living spaces?
"I think for us it's about choosing a way of life that allows us to live freely. If you're not rich you have to be creative about the way you get what you want and adapt to a lifestyle that is within your means. For us that has meant living small."
How did you find out about Schoolhouse and what was the first piece you bought?
"Brett and I used to take road trips down to Portland back when we lived in Seattle and we had friend who told us to stop by the Schoolhouse factory. Of course we were in heaven, and it became a regular visit every time we went to Portland (which was every few months). The first thing we ever bought at Schoolhouse was a set of turquoise recycled glass tumblers. We still love them and use them everyday, though we have broken a few throughout the years."
It looks like you were able to tap some maple trees for sap earlier this year. What was that process like?
"Tapping our sugar maples was such an exciting thing for us, it's such a nostalgic winter activity. We bought traditional metal buckets and spouts and did it all the old fashioned way. We drilled our holes and hammered in our metal taps, hanging our aluminum buckets on each hook. Brett and I were giddy when the sap started dripping out of the spouts. We collected the sap and did two separate 15 hour boils to caramelize the sap into maple syrup and it was honestly the most amazing syrup of our lives. When you boil it over wood fire it gets this lovely smoky caramelized flavor and the steam smells like creme brûlée. Watching the clear sap change slowly from a liquid the consistency of water, to a thick golden liquid seemed so magical. We loved it so much we did it twice last season and can't wait for the next one!"
What are your favorite ways to eat maple syrup?
"Maple lattes are absolutely incredible. I also make a mean maple granola and we use it in salad dressing with lemon, dijon mustard, oil and salt and pepper, it's the best."
Finally, what are your long-term plans for the Sugarhouse Homestead?
"Our concentration right now is definitely building up our Sugarhouse Ceramic Co. business to something we can do full time. Someday when we have a little more money we'd like to build ourselves a little modern farmhouse on the top of our hill with a built-in greenhouse. We also have plans to build little micro cabins in our maple woods and perhaps host weekend pottery workshops and guests every so often. Our space is such an oasis and we'd love to be able to share that with others."