Why this super-tall TV star has built a tiny house
Bryce Langston is six foot four with shoulders wide enough to play a gladiator on the blockbuster TV series Spartacus. But the Kiwi actor is now world famous as a frontman for the tiny house movement, and is building his own slice of paradise on the top of a trailer.
Langston, 32, is the creator and host of YouTube sensation Living Big In A Tiny House, with 250,000 followers around the world. Viewers join him and other Kiwis on their downsizing journey – featuring tiny homes, their owners and building advice.
Langston came across tiny houses while trying to build financial security into his lifestyle.
"Most of my life, doing creative things – whether it be filmmaking, acting or music – I know feast or famine," Langston says. "So, living in a small space where I don't have debt hanging over my head, and where I don't have huge mortgage payments or rent payments to make, means I can actually do a job that I love."
Langston started out looking at earth houses, but that still meant having to buy land.
"Then one day I just saw a picture of a house on wheels on the internet and it was like a lightbulb went off in my head," he says.
"It's a home that I can own that's not connected to the ground. If I'm travelling, I can easily move my house to its new location."
Tiny houses, mostly constructed on custom-built trailers, are registered as vehicles. With the average New Zealand home price cracking more than 500,000, a number of Kiwis are building comfy tiny houses for as little as $15,000.
Langston began constructing his own sustainable, eco-friendly tiny house and, "because it felt like such a huge weight off my shoulders, I really wanted to share it with other Kiwis, because there's a lot people I know who were in similar situations to me.
"That's why I started the YouTube channel."
Living Big In A Tiny House is especially popular in North America, Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany, he says.
One episode on a Kiwi couple's house truck that transforms into a fantasy castle has been viewed 8 million times.
"The truck folds up for travel. But when it parks up, the turrets roll out of the back, the sides expand, the roof comes up, the whole thing expands and turns into this fantasy-style castle.
"It's off the grid, it catches water, there are cavities in the roof space for solar-dehydrators, the rooftop balcony has a bathtub."
Langston's own tiny house is masterfully engineered for spaciousness and sustainability.
"All of the materials (are) either compostable or recyclable at the end of their life. The home will generate electricity, catch rain water, treat all of its own waste materials and I'm even hoping to grow a substantial amount of food in here as well."
The 6.6m-long, 4.2m-high, 2.5m-wide mobile home is made of high tensile steel with aluminium joinery and double-glazing. He expects its solar panelling to generate three to four times as much electricity as he needs – enough for regular hot showers – and will allow him to be totally off-grid.
"I really was adamant that I wanted to try and build the house of tomorrow, not the house of yesterday, so part of that was not using fossil fuels."
He expects his final build cost will be $70,000-80,000.
"The average for a DIY build is probably around $50,000. For a high-spec home that's built with similar features to what I'm doing here, completed by a professional, you're looking at about $120-150,000."
Tiny houses with maximum dimensions of 12.5m long, 4.25m high, 2.5m wide and less than 3.5 tonnes can be classified as a "light simple trailer", Langston says.
As an environmentalist "on a planet with finite resources, living in a small space forces me to be really conscious of what I consume. I don't just get to go out and buy something new, and I've automatically got a place to put it," Langston says.
Aside from his clothes and "a few kitchen things", his worldly possessions mainly comprise filmmaking equipment, including a drone, and musical instruments.
"I have a small keyboard and a PA system. When I was in between acting jobs I worked as a wedding singer."
He has written and produced a number of singles and is putting out an 11-track pop/rock album, Karma Ocean, later this year.
Growing up – in a spacious four-bedroom home – on Auckland's North Shore, Langston says he was a keen musician with a "driving passion for acting and drama".
After leaving Rangitoto College he did a gap year in Germany, returning to complete a Bachelor of Communications at Auckland University of Technology. He then got a good grounding in sustainability, studying permaculture and consulting for the British Council.
"They did a big project here on how to turn urban spaces back into productive environments for growing. We did a self-sustaining vertical permaculture-based urban garden."
Langston also began making his mark on the small screen. He had a recurring role as a gladiator on Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
"I spent a couple of weeks getting taught how to sword fight – that's just awesome. How many people get to call that their job?"
Langston then played bad-boy character Ashton Fuller on prime-time TV soap opera Shortland Street. Fuller was the stalker lecturer of Sophie McKay, the character played by Kimberley Crossman.
Langston says he really enjoyed working on Shortland Street but he learned that "a lot of Kiwis don't distinguish between what's real and what's not when it's on a soap opera".
He was once surrounded by a large group of schoolgirls at a suburban shopping mall.
"One of them was like, 'You're that creepy guy from Shortland Street aren't you? Why don't you just leave Sophie alone?'
"I was like, 'Whoa, man. I show up, and Kim and I read our lines, that's how this works. I'm not actually stalking anyone.'"
Langston says his time in front of the camera prepared him for hosting Living Big In A Tiny House, which he launched in 2012.
"I also had a small digital media production company where I was doing a lot of corporate videos. So it was really just combining a lot of my skills to create content that I was really excited about and hopefully help some people out and show them that living in a tiny house was possible. And then after a few videos it started gaining more and more momentum."
He and a camera operator spend a week or two at a time travelling New Zealand filming tiny houses and their owners before returning to base to make the fortnightly episodes.
Langston is also active online engaging with people in the tiny house movement.
He says the significance of that was brought home by the reaction of his viewers to the Kaikoura earthquake in November.
"As soon as news went out internationally that New Zealand had been hit by a major earthquake, I had emails and messages pouring in from all over the globe, from people asking if I was OK, if the people who we'd featured were OK. That to me was just so heart-warming and so touching."
He says he regularly receives "really lovely stories from people – young couples starting out, or young families who've said, 'We'd given up on the idea that we could ever own our own home, and then we started watching your videos, and here's a house we've just built and moved into.'
"It's amazing to feel like you're actually making a difference and having a positive impact on people."
Langston is planning to put Living Big In A Tiny House episodes up weekly this year and travel overseas to "feature the tiny homes of the world".
Part of that includes converting a van and filming tiny houses around Australia.
Planning for the road trip reminded him that, "if people actually think of the times when they were happiest in life, it was often when they're camping.
Camping simplifies things so much and it does teach us that we actually need very little to get by."
Journeying around Central America at the age of 21, he saw families of three generations living in spaces as small as tiny houses.
While many in the Western world would have considered that poverty, "I walked away from that experience feeling poor myself. Because, in those cultures they have so many things that we don't.
"The time they have for one another, the levels of interactions with their community and with their family, I feel, are a lot deeper than what we have.
"I never met somebody in Central America who didn't know their neighbour's name.
"It taught me a lot about what I wanted to foster and encourage in my life. And, living simply and minimally, like this is a way that I can live within my values, and hopefully live a bigger life outside of my house."
- Your Weekend