How Koleliba Started

Koleliba is our miracle as it gave us the chance to create what we had always dreamt of.

Hristina & Ivelin's Tiny Journey

Back in 2015 I was studying architecture at the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy in Sofia, Bulgaria. After graduating from my Bachelor’s degree, there was a scholarship opportunity abroad. I grabbed it and within a few weeks I was in London working for a small architectural studio based in Putney, just next to the Thames River.

This studio, which I found online, turned out to be very well-known in London and the quality of the jobs we were working on was amazing. It was so rewarding for me to be a part of it that what was planned to be a few months of internship ended up being a 3-year full-time job. During this time I was learning a lot while doing typical London houses’ retrofits, basements and extensions.

These ware all small scale architectural jobs where it is not about the volume or space you create but more about the quality of it. Carefully designed details, bespoke staircases and mind-blowing glazing systems just made me so in love with tiny spaces that I soon started to dream of designing something for myself.

At that time I had plenty of free time after work and started to sketch some ideas when I was at home or on the bus to work. It took about a month to come to something presentable enough to share it with my boyfriend /now husband/, Ivelin. At first he was really not into my idea.

What I had designed was a tiny house on wheels that we could use for ourselves and spend some nice time at the Bulgarian seaside. And in the winter, we were to park it in a nearby village. Basically, what he said was: “But why don’t we just buy a caravan and sort it out this way with far less stress and uncertainty”. And for sure this was going to be the easy way but we never took that route. After a few weeks of conversations and persuasion he seemed to be eager to dive into this crazy adventure with me.

As we were operating on a very limited budget /my salary savings from London/ and there weren’t many options available - we needed to build it ourselves and save the expenses on labor. My return to Bulgaria was already planned and the tickets were bought. We had a few months until I needed to return to the university and start my Masters degree.

We had already bought a second-hand trailer and while I was waiting to come home I had all the drawings ready and Ivelin had bought some timber and other materials in preparation to start building.

With no previous building experience /not counting the fact that my father used to build residential buildings when I was little/ we started a project without having any idea how it will end up. We bought a couple of necessary tools and realized we need a big enough sheltered space to continue. A friend of ours with some farmland and a few outbuildings lent us a portion of his wheat warehouse until the year’s crop arrives.

It is fair to say that the building process was one of the happiest times of my life. Both me and Ivelin were between two jobs and this 5-6 months gap felt like the time had stopped just to let us do something amazing. For someone who could typically be found behind a computer screen and only visiting building sites once a week, this was a very tiring physical job but at the same time so exciting. We were laughing while screwing things up just to start all over again. It was a steep learning curve.

After a few weeks, our tiny started to take shape and it wasn’t long when it was ready. We did a test tour with our friend’s tractor to make sure it will not fall apart while on the road and to our surprise – it didn’t. One very early morning we prepared everything and went on our first tiny journey that was to change the direction of our lives forever.

We stared at dusk, but with the sun rising and while we were driving slowly to the seaside, we just couldn’t believe what was going on – the drivers that overtook us smiled or gave us thumbs up. In a few hours we were in one of the biggest cities on the shore, crossing it with the tiny house behind our car. There were people pointing at us and we definitely attracted a lot of attention. At that time no one had ever heard about tiny houses in Bulgaria and we were the first.

The interest in our tiny kept growing and on the beach, placed between all the caravans we were the biggest attraction. There were people coming to visit us, to have a chat or a guided tour in our mini home. We spent about 3 months at Gradina beach and, maybe somewhere at the end of our stay it was clear that people just loved what we did - it was different, it was made with natural materials and stood out from the crowd. A reporter came and wrote the first article in a local magazine on Koleliba/ we already had invented this name for our house/. Then after two weeks Dezeen and Archdaily featured our endeavor on their websites. It was unbelievable. I was only 22 back then and having such a major architectural recognition for such a small budget-tight project was a great honor.

Sadly, the sunny days were over and with the autumn approaching we parked our Koleliba and went to the capital city to start work and uni. In the months to follow we made a small DIY website where we presented our project. It wasn’t long when we had our first order for another tiny house.

Initially, we took time off to build one or two houses a year, but after a couple of years we decided that we will just devote our full attention to tiny house building. First, I left my 9 to 5 job and Ivelin followed soon after.

Koleliba is our miracle as it gave us the chance to create what we had always dreamt of. The road since 2015 was bumpy and there were hurdles on the way, but from just a silly dream it turned out to be a small family-run business that we are now proud of.

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