OCCUPATION: Designer, Maker, Tiny House Coach
NEIGHBORHOOD: Lemon Grove
Mariah Hoffman sees in blueprint. The self-taught designer, builder, and DIY pro has ever since she was a kid, when she sketched out the plans of her home on a whim after discovering a crack in the wall that let her see through to another room. It got her thinking small, about how every square inch of a structure matters, how the “big reveal” is actually thousands of tiny, crucial details.
It also explains where she’s living now: a house in Lemon Grove that she put the finishing touches on in late 2020. The average one-car garage is 200 square feet. Her home is 156.
“Without any actual blueprints,” Hoffman laughs. “Which I don’t recommend.”
She started back in 2016 after becoming fascinated with a tiny home she’d come across in Northern California. The owner had built it herself, and allowed Hoffman a look inside. Architecture had piqued Hoffman’s interest at that point, but she was stuck in a creative rut and unsure of her next steps. “That’s when it all clicked,” she says. “I wanted that tangible, hands-on experience to see how it all came together.”
Building her home—a grueling, emotional, five-year effort that landed her in Dwell—inspired her current work, coaching others interested in building their own tiny homes or small ADUs (accessory dwelling units). She teaches one-hour mini-sessions and six-week courses, walking aspiring microtects through the whys and hows of shaping inches until they become a functional place to live. She refers to it as a journey back to one’s self.
“It’s a really liberating, transformative process, uncovering the significance of ‘home’ and a person’s relationship to their space,” she says.
Safety, agency, intentional minimalism—they’re the grounding forces behind Hoffman’s approach to design. Within the tiny house movement, these principles speak to a bigger conversation about representation and accessibility that Hoffman hopes to expand on in her own work, through other builders of color, and makers in general.
“Creatively, I want to continue to push the boundaries of how we think about housing and sustainability and accessibility,” she says. “It starts with understanding those worlds and these materials and how they come together.”
Hoffman extends that perspective to the rest of her creative work—making mod-inspired jewelry from acrylic waste, dabbling in watercolor, and building functional furniture. In February, she relaunched her Cubica table, a modular wooden piece that can be used as a portable coffee table at home, for picnics, or on a weekend camping trip.
Back home, the work is never truly finished. She has mental blueprints for a rooftop deck, and wants to build out the front porch beyond the nuts-and-bolts foundation she currently has in place. For now, she’s content to explore the unique nooks that have naturally formed in her space, like the multipurpose desk beside her bed where she can read, work, and soak up the mindful solitude in a home made by hand.