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How this clever couple made their tiny mobile home work for them

Renovating and living in a mobile home for more than a year left this family questioning whether they’d want to live in a regular house ever again


Climbing up through the hills of the Santa Rosa Valley, just south of the coastal city of Ventura, California, it’s easy to miss the turn off for Ashley and Dino Petrone’s building lot. Surrounded by well-kept Spanish-style homes and sprawling California ranches with meticulously landscaped lawns, their 2003 Keystone Cougar trailer parked on a dirt patch is a blip that hardly registers.

After falling in love with their two-acre lot-with-a-view and selling their first home to buy it, the couple purchased a tired-looking 9.4-metre trailer as a short-term housing solution, intending to build on the land later on. Ashley, who has a knack for decorating on a budget, got to work transforming the place to make it liveable for themselves and their three children for the few months they would be there.

She and Dino began by ripping out everything they hated – the dusky blue wall-to-wall carpeting, dated brass light fixtures, built-in chintz-covered furniture, and oppressive, space-sucking upper cabinets. Ashley ordered new door fronts for the kitchen cabinets and began patching and priming the trailer so it would be ready for painting.

With the kitchen’s new white cabinet fronts installed, accented with streamlined black hardware from Amazon, the existing black appliances jumped into focus and looked as if they had been chosen on purpose.

Three bunk beds, stacked on top of each other, were squeezed into a shoebox-sized space beside the bathroom to function as the kids’ room; a separate, light-filled bedroom at the other end of the trailer gave Ashley and Dino their own space. Savvy shopping at online and big-box retailers netted dozens of stylish finds, from black and brass pendant lights to woven storage baskets and space-saving hooks.

Wanting to start fresh, the couple sold the majority of their possessions and moved whatever wouldn’t fit into a storage locker. Each kid was given one small bin to hold all their clothes, and toys were strictly limited.

“They have one stuffed animal each, some books and a shared craft bin – that’s it. At Christmas, we give each other experiences, not things,” says Ashley. “We thought, ‘Oh, it’ll be fun. We’ll live in this trailer for a couple of months and then we’ll move into the house.’ Wrong! We’ve been here for over a year.”

With a newfound comfort in living small, Ashley and Dino delayed starting construction on their new house. “Living this way has shifted how we want to build and even made us question whether we want to build,” says Ashley. “We’ve definitely realised that you don’t need that much, which is very cool. We love how free our life is right now. It’s so amazing. Who knows where we’ll end up?”

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Extracted from Nomad: Designing a home for escape and adventure by Emma Reddington. Published by Artisan, distributed by Bookreps. RRP $69.99.

The Petrones have now moved into a regular house but say living in their trailer was one of the best things they’ve done. Follow their adventures @arrowsandbow

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