Project Description

Years ago, Austinites Mark and Jody bought a decommissioned railroad caboose and parked it in their Boudin Creek backyard, with the dream of turning it into a hangout space or a casita of sorts.

decommissioned railroad train caboose in Austin, TX backyard setting

Decommissioned railroad train caboose car exterior view, parked in a backyard in Austin, TX

This was waaaaay before tiny houses were all the rage, so they were pioneers ahead of the tiny house trend. But they’d never gotten around to doing anything with it, and it had became more or less a place to store things that would ordinarily go into a garage.

Then the pandemic hit, and as many families during that time, they were challenged to find a way to carve out both a home office for Mark, and a place for his and Jody’s two young sons to conduct remote schoolwork. Mark found himself working in the caboose out back, but it was a hollow metal enclosure, without insulation or climate control in Austin, Texas, which is inherently unfriendly to humans and their computer equipment. It seemed like a great time to launch their caboose conversion into a tiny house, but they were struggling with how to plan out the space and sought our interior design expertise to flesh out the interior.

Before: The Brief

Mark and Jody’s wish list for their train caboose / tiny house conversion included the following features:

  • Kitchenette, with a small sink, hot plate, microwave, mini-fridge, and maximum storage potential for kitchen supplies
  • Bathroom with a small shower
  • Sleeping accommodations for two, but they specifically wanted to be able to fit a king-sized bed somehow
  • Sofa and large TV, so they could enjoy movie nights as a family out in the caboose
  • Workspace for Mark, that would accommodate a standing desk and two large monitors
  • Broom closet or some sort of storage for cleaning supplies
  • AirBnB-friendly, in case they decided to list the caboose as a vacation rental

A train caboose being a train caboose, this project also had the unique challenge of fitting all of the interior zones around a jillion existing windows and exterior doors, all of which had to stay in their present locations, because it would just be too cost-prohibitive to change the metal exterior. There was also an area near the entry door that featured a higher ceiling level, with upper windows on those higher walls.

They had come up with a plan to create a small bathroom near the entry, which would extend underneath the higher bump-up so that the shower was underneath one of those high windows. Mark imagined a plant ledge above the shower, to take advantage of the natural light coming in from that window, and the steam from the shower. But as far as how to manage the rest of the space and all of the functional zones they needed, they were unsure where to put everything.

Here’s what Mark had put together on Sketch-Up:

clients original proposal for interior spaceplan of train caboose tiny house conversion with bathroom small shower

After

I loved the mental image of Mark’s idea to create a very plant-centric bathroom. But making all of the other functionality fit into the remaining space in the caboose was super challenging until I hit on the idea to move the bathroom to the back of the railroad car. I realized that if I could get Mark and Jody onboard with the idea of letting their back door be part of the bathroom, we could fit a whole-ass tub and shower—which seemed like supreme luxury for any tiny house—and we could create an open concept space in the rest of the caboose, with a living area, kitchenette, and plenty of workspace for Mark. Plus, we could let all of the light from that bump-up area come streaming into the interior.

Here’s the layout I proposed:

proposed interior design spaceplan for train caboose tiny house conversion project in Austin TX

In addition to this layout, I also suggested that they add uplight wall sconces to the upper walls of the bump-up area, to light this feature at night. As with all projects, Mark and Jody made a few tweaks to my spaceplan to make things work better for them, and y’all…

Y’ALL.

When you scroll down and see how this precious space turned out? YOU. WILL. DIE. WITH. CABOOSE. ENVY.

*DISCLAIMER*

Now, before we go any further, I have to gush over Jody’s design sense and styling capabilities. I helped them pick out this sweet paint palette and greenlit some choices they made on finishes, but beyond that, all the credit for the cuteness you’re about to see belongs to Jody. I just wanted to include this project in my portfolio to show how collaborating with a professional interior designer can help even the most creative, visionary folks get un-stuck and expand the potential for their interior spaces.

Okay, now take a look at how this adorable caboose-slash-tiny-house turned out!

Interior living and kitchen open concept retro vintage mid-century train caboose in Austin, TX

This is the view as you step into the railcar. The light just floods into this enviable space, and, um, did you see that purple velvet sofa?? DROOL!!

Here’s a look at the entry side of the caboose, with its cute little beadboard ceiling in pale aqua in the cupola, and Mark’s reimagined plant ledge.

Brightly lit interior of train caboose converted into tiny house in Austin, TX

Wouldn’t you love to make breakfast (or cocktails) in this kitchen? She’s small, but she’s not missing a thang.

White kitchenette in train caboose tiny house with vintage mid-century decor and accessories

How I covet Mark and Jody’s Hawaiian-themed mid-century TV tray! And how about this gorgeous, reclaimed natural wood flooring throughout the combined living/office/kitchen space? It was supplied by Texas/Iowa Reclaimed.

Train caboose tiny house with sweet mid-century white kitchenette with ivy plant and butter yellow exterior door

Mid-century style white kitchenette in train caboose tiny house in Austin, TX

Mark and Jody added a built-in cabinet in the kitchen area, which showcases some of their fun mid-century decor and accessories.

Built-in inside train caboose tiny house kitchen with view of adjoining bathroom's pink white floor tile.

Wall-mounted reclaimed wood shelves in the kitchen hold a few glasses and some rainbow-hued Fiestaware.

Wood wall shelves in train caboose tiny house kitchenette also featuring fiestaware

Black hex tile on the countertop is surrounded by a reclaimed wood edge detail.

Reclaimed natural wood flooring and black hex tile countertop in train caboose tiny house in Austin TX

Mark’s small, yet well-appointed home office workspace inside the caboose/tiny house is still located near the entry, but they opted to rotate it to the adjoining wall.

Workspace home office inside train caboose tiny house with pale aqua exterior door and mini-split a/c above.

Now let’s take a look at the bathroom. It feels like an ice cream dream!

Train caboose tiny house bathroom with butter yellow paint white subway tub surround and pale pink geometric tile floor.

Toilet and white vanity in mid-century inspired bathroom inside train caboose tiny house in Austin, TX

Small white vanity retro mid-century light fixture and medicine cabinet in train caboose tiny house bathroom in Austin, TX

White subway tub surround, butter yellow paint and pale pink mid-century inspired tile floor in train caboose tiny house bathroom in Austin, TX

I’m a sucker for anything pink, but this pale pink geometric floor tile and butter yellow wall paint combo just makes me smile!

The best part of working on the project? This feedback from Mark:

I’ve loved the layout—an open cupola area makes the whole place seem much bigger than it is. And the light is epic.

—Mark H., Client

If you find yourself stymied by how to maximize the functionality of your own upcoming remodeling or redesign project, whether it’s a bathroom or kitchen remodel or reworking your living room furniture arrangement, we’d love to help you resolve your design dilemmas. Just call or text us at 512-797-5821 to get started!

Photos by Lindsay Hagblom, of Texas/Iowa Reclaimed.