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Spartan Profile - Debra Levantrosser

  • Author:
    Nancy Nilles and Kirk Mason
  • Published:
    Spring 2017

Debra Levantrosser: Living ‘Tiny’ in Sparty’s Cabin


For MSU students, building the tiny house known as Sparty’s Cabin was a lesson in collaboration and green ingenuity.

For Debra Levantrosser, buying that house was a full-circle moment that brought together her work, values and personal life.

Levantrosser has spent more than 23 years focused on minimalism and positive change, through a career implementing “lean manufacturing” principles for major corporations, teaching the subject at the University of Michigan, and running a vegan food truck called Shimmy Shack. She is also the co-founder of the Michigan Lean Consortium and founder of Arbed Solutions, a business consulting company focused on change.

“The very essence of lean is to reduce waste while improving quality, reducing cost and shortening lead time,” she said. “It is time I take these principles even more seriously by living small and, maybe, tiny. I don’t really need all the things I have.”

While she’d already downsized from a 6,000-square-foot home to a 3,000-square-foot place in South Lyon, she had been thinking about going smaller. She realized that she could go tiny after staying in a nook-sized room at a bed-and-breakfast in Kingston, New York. “I have stayed at hundreds of hotels around the world and never had I slept so well as at Church des Artistes.”

Levantrosser visited Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon, to check out some tiny houses for sale and returned to Michigan ready to buy one.

Then she heard about Sparty’s Cabin.

The 177-square-foot, two-story house on wheels was the brainchild of a group of energetic students with a passion for sustainability and an interest in the tiny house movement, the architectural and cultural trend of building homes smaller than 500 square feet to conserve resources.

The cabin was constructed over six weeks last spring with the help of more than 100 people from across campus and the surrounding community.

The project incorporated a variety of recycled, reclaimed and repurposed materials, including lumber salvaged from trees that had lived on campus. Other materials were selected for their sustainable qualities, including double-pane windows, recycled newspaper insulation and a composting toilet.

The structure also has traditional hook-ups for sewer, water and electricity.

Levantrosserinstantly knew she wanted to bid on the cabin. To her, it was the perfect combination of sustainable living, student involvement, determination and Spartan ambition.

“It was the story behind it that made me want to bid on it,” she said at a key-passing ceremony January 6. “I’m a university instructor, so I know that it’s the students who have the best ideas.”

Levantrosser, whohas lived on three continents and worked in more than 50 countries, said she plans to buy property and move into the home with her three big dogs. She’ll probably add a garage for her car and extra storage.

“I’m excited. It’s an adventure! That’s how I’m looking at it,” she said. “Life is not just about stuff, it’s about experiences.”


~ Nancy Nilles and Kirk Mason