When you first meet the grinning, laid-back New Zealand native Bryce Langston, at 6 foot 4, “tiny” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But Bryce has built a virtual content empire being really big on really small, via the YouTube Channel, Living Big In A Tiny House, where he showcases tiny homes from all over the world.
Dressed down in jeans and t-shirt, and talking to me via Skype from his parent’s living room in Auckland, one may be tempted to underestimate Bryce’s business acumen. But, it’s clear that he knows his stuff. I realized quickly that his modest, fun approach from on-screen isn’t a persona: it’s this down-to-earth fellow’s true self. This transparency is clearly making millions of people worldwide pay very, very close attention.
I was curious how it all began, so I asked, “Why tiny houses?”
“I was an actor working on a series here, and my character literally got killed off. They drowned me in a bathtub. So, I was back to being an unemployed, auditioning actor. I basically wanted to build a home that was simple and affordable, and allow me to get out of the rent trap, and not live with a lot of heavy expenses or debt over my head. I was originally looking at building an earth home – I have a background in permaculture. But with earthen homes, there was still that catch, that you needed the land to build on. I then discovered tiny houses, and it was the obvious solution. It was a way for me to own an affordable home, without needing to own the land it sat on.”
Vancouverites are used to a tough housing market, but it turns out, so are New Zealanders. “Vancouver and Auckland have a lot in common. I think Vancouver is the third least affordable city in the world to live in..? Well, Auckland is number 4. I feel your pain.”
Every week, through his well-edited and produced tv-like episodes, Bryce engages over 1.7 million (at time of writing) subscribers on his YouTube channel. Yes, subscribers! That doesn’t include the additional millions who watch and don’t subscribe. It’s not uncommon to have multiple millions of views on each of his episodes. And if it looks like a lot of work to create a 15 to 20 minute video episode a week, you’re right. His partner Rasa travels with him worldwide, and works with him full-time to shoot, edit, and upload the episodes.
“When I first met Rasa, she was a Pilates instructor. She had never picked up a camera before. I had been producing the show already for about 2 years. She decided that she didn’t want me going on adventures by myself. So I taught her everything that I could about cameras, and then she trained herself far beyond that. Very quickly, her knowledge exceeded mine, and now she’s a fantastic shooter (videographer) and editor. Doing it as a team, it means we get to travel together, we share the work of shooting video and editing, but now she’s doing more of that than I am. Her taking on more of the production is what has freed me up to also be able to do things like write our book, Living Big In A Tiny House, which came out last year in New Zealand. It’s been wonderful to be able to do this with my partner, to be on the road, and experience all of this together.”
Yeah, by the way, how can we buy that book over here in North America? “It launched last year only in New Zealand. There’s no distribution in North America yet. I’ve just gotten a literary agent, who’s based in New York, but because we don’t have a publisher there yet, the book is only available in New Zealand. To ship them to the US and Canada is crazy expensive. But once it’s officially launched there, it will be available.”
While Bryce hosts and more or less produces the show, and has solid acting experience, he’s also a singer and musician. But the book and his music – he has a new album in mastering right now, by the way – have all taken a backseat to YouTube. “Creating on YouTube really is all-consuming. I’m rediscovering a bit of balance at the moment.”
Next I asked, how do they find the people and their homes to film? “For us, it’s really about telling authentic stories. When we look for places to film, we’re looking for people who are able to authentically tell the story of tiny house living. It’s not about always showcasing the most expensive, most shiny, architectural examples of things. Sometimes, it’s about hearing from the real heart in the real people who are finding interesting and unique solutions. Not everything has to be the designer magazine tiny house. It’s the stories that are interesting to us.”
What do you say to people who find many obstacles to tiny house living? “There are of course people out there who are not suited for tiny house living. I’ve never been about convincing people to downsize. I’ve never said that this was for everyone. But, there are lots of people who really resonate with the idea, who see this way of life really working for themselves. It’s more about showing those people what’s possible. I like to talk more about the benefits of moving towards minimalism. But, It’s OK to have stuff. It’s not about having no stuff, it’s about having the stuff that is most valuable to you. The stuff that really serves a purpose in your life.”
He goes on, “Another big obstacle is the cost of building. Obviously, it still costs money. If you’re in a city like Vancouver where you’re easily spending $500 a week on rent, to do that and still save up for a tiny house, which can still cost upwards of $100,000, that’s a challenge. Especially with financing models not in place yet. That’s one of the reasons we like to showcase homes that are very DIY. Where people who’ve never had the experience of picking up a hammer can (still) have the experience of building their own home. You save a tremendous amount of money that way! People watch videos, they go to workshops, and they pick up a hammer, and they realize, ‘This is not rocket science, this something that I can actually do!’ Trying to empower people to reclaim the right to build their own home is something that I feel is a very powerful, driving force of the tiny house movement. I try to encourage it as much as possible.”
He reminds me, “One of our earlier videos was with this remarkable young woman, Gabriella Grace, who built her own home when she was 18 years old. She studied at a Steiner (Waldorf) school. For her final year project, she decided to build her own home. She took out a $20,000 loan from her family, and constructed her own beautiful house. I think there are so many stories out there…”
“People consistently surprise themselves.. Before I started building, I was in the same boat. I didn’t think I could do it, either. Until you pick up a hammer and try, you never know what you’re capable of doing.”
— Westcoast Small Home Expo Marketing Manager, Peggy Richardson
Bryce Langston will speak at both days of the Westcoast Small Home Expo, June 1st and 2nd this year, at Tradex in the Lower Mainland, British Columbia, Canada. Tickets are only $10, and are available now at SmallHomeExpo.ca.