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What’s this teen doing with his summer? Building a tiny house from scratch

Duncan Jurayj, 16, is building a tiny house on top of a trailer in his Brookline driveway after receiving a $5,000 grant from his high school, Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill. Kate Silbaugh

In the driveway of his Brookline home, 16-year-old Duncan Jurayj has spent his summer sawing, drilling, and hammering together a very, very small home.

Inspired by old Volkswagen buses and the tiny house movement, Jurayj hopes to donate the finished structure to someone in need of housing.

“There’s a bit of a deep breath when your child wants to build a house,” said his mother, Kate Silbaugh. “None of us have construction skills. We’re not architects, but he’s very can-do.”

The project is funded by a $5,000 grant the rising junior won earlier this year at his school, Beaver Country Day, in Chestnut Hill. It is Jurayj’s homage to minimalism, a pared-down way of living that the teenager admires. He plans to bring the tiny house to school to help students rethink the idea of “home” and discuss housing design.


“With less things, you have more freedom and you have more time and maybe money to put into experiences,” Jurayj said. “I think the tiny house is just an interesting way to practice that.”

The purpose of the Alex Cohn grant is to help students cultivate their curiosities and pursue their passions in the midst of their studies. Winners have produced works of art, traveled to Jordan and Mexico. One built a rowboat. Another started her own fashion line.

“The way he talked about his idea jumped off the page,” said Lisa Trask, chief marketing officer at Beaver Country Day. “It was his commitment to thinking not just about building something but about his lifestyle, what that means, and his future plans for the house.”

Jurayj assumed correctly that everything he needed to learn he would be able to look up online or in books. He spent a few months designing what the 7-foot-by-12-foot structure would look like with an online program that he taught himself. The mini construction site sits on top of a trailer, which means there are no zoning concerns from the city. To save himself a few headaches, Jurayj plans to install a composting toilet, which doesn’t use water.


The tiny house has windows, a loft bed, and room for storage.

“My estimate is that I’ll have a sealed off structure by the time school starts,” Jurayj said. “Realistically, I’ll be doing some interior work into the fall, but hopefully not too much because I’ll still have school and stuff that will get in the way of working every day on it.”

There have been days Jurayj worked until after midnight on the house.

His older brother and his father have pitched in to help, but the bulk of the work is his.

Although his mother is ready to have her driveway back, she admits that watching her son undertake this project assures her he’s going to succeed at whatever he sets his mind to in life.

“He’s pretty innovative,” Silbaugh said. “It’s just the sense that because you don’t know how to do it doesn’t mean you’re not going to be able to do it. He has that. The belief you can do things.”

Cristela Guerra can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.