Home sweet tiny home
Tulsans have adopted the newest trend in American living.
April 21-23This weekend only! Tulsa’s Spring Home and Outdoor Living Expo offers tiny home tours, prize drawings, home renovation ideas and much more at River Spirit Expo.
It had to happen. Just as hemlines inch higher and higher until the only way to go is down, houses in America are finally trending tiny.
Between 1978 and 2013, the average U.S. home grew from 1,780 to 2,662 square feet as family sizes shrank. Builders invented game rooms, media rooms, man caves. Kitchens took on commercial proportions. Closets grew as big as rooms. Rooms became the size of small houses.
Cue the backlash.
For reasons that are cultural, financial and environmental, the concept of tiny homes has stolen the cache of the McMansion and is quickly becoming the latest, most fashionable way to keep up with the Joneses.
The tiny house phenomenon is appealing to a number of locals.
“I spend 99 percent of my time in the 200-square-foot room at the back of my house,” says Amy Smith, a web developer who works out of her traditional Florence Park home. “But I’m paying for an extra 1,400 square feet I never use.”
Cherae Stone, a holistic health care professional and massage therapist, moved into a 10-by-24-foot home 20 miles north of Tahlequah on the Illinois River, and finally made peace with letting go of the items she had to give up to downsize.
“They afforded a false sense of security,” Stone says. “It really was just more that I had to clean and insure.
“I feel more secure on my little porch in my little chair breathing the clean, fresh air and watching the river roll by.”
They’re not alone. Meet three other Tulsans who are designing, building and selling tiny homes.
Fiber artist meets tiny home.
Taylor Painter-Wolfe is building her tiny home in her parents’ driveway. Mom and Dad are pitching in, too, each bringing their unique skills to build the 175-square-foot structure.
Artist Taylor Painter-Wolfe discovered tiny houses 10 years ago when she was living in Washington state.
“I liked the idea of not being able to collect a lot of stuff, of not being surrounded by stuff,” she says.
She also liked the idea of mobility and making a smaller imprint on the environment. So, she began designing her own tiny home and studio, which is currently under construction in her parents’ Tulsa driveway.
Although the average DIY tiny home is estimated at $20,000-$30,000, she’s hoping to build her 175-square foot structure for less — around $10,000-$15,000. The bulk of her budget went to the trailer it sits on.
“It’s new and worth it,” she says. “It’s the foundation of your house.”
She also invested in new windows and a composting toilet. Nearly everything else for the project, including building materials, was inexpensive, second-hand from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore or free.
The house has become a family project. Her mother, Penny Painter, went to carpentry school in the 1970s before going into social work for many years. In retirement she has picked up carpentry again. Painter-Wolfe’s father, Brent Wolfe, studied architecture for a year in college. Taylor took wood shop in college and hated it. These three are learning as they go along.
“Everyone brought their unique skills to the project,” Painter says.
Because Painter-Wolfe prefers baths to showers, one of the more unusual features of the home will be a metal horse trough that will serve as a soaker tub. She will include a shower, too, with a dual showerhead she found for $15. Corrugated metal will surround the bathroom area.
Stairs with storage below will lead to her bedroom loft. That way, her 50-pound black lab, Goblin, can make the climb.
“I can’t possibly sleep without him,” she says.
The focal point of the studio area will be her sewing machine — where she creates her fiber art.
Painter-Wolfe started construction in July. The siding and outside caulking are almost finished. After much deliberation, she decided to paint the siding in rainbow hues.
She’s in no hurry to finish the project, but hopes that it will be livable by early April. Until then, she has a place to live and found a studio at Urban Art Lab Studios, a working artist studio in the Kendall Whittier area where she is an artist in residence. She teaches part time at Emerson Elementary and is preparing for an art show in September at AHHA.
She’s currently navigating the City permitting process and hopes to lease a lot while eventually looking for some land to purchase. If the City won’t issue a permit, she plans to look for land outside city limits.
According to Painter-Wolfe, the house itself has been a great art project. She experiences the same feeling of creativity and accomplishment when she works on the house that she does when she works on her art.
She posts her progress on Instagram and Facebook.
“It’s fun to get feedback from people,” Painter-Wolfe says. She learns from comments online and in person and has accepted offers for help.
Perfection is never the goal.
“Aw, caulk it,” has become the family mantra for when “good enough” is better than redoing.
“It’ll be a unique house with lots of character,” says Painter-Wolfe, who will share the home with her canine roommate. “That’s the fun of building your own.”
Furniture craftsman meets tiny home.
About three years ago, Mark Hawley finished construction on a tiny home near the University of Tulsa. Hawley, a furniture craftsman, built the home to “get it out of his system” after seeing examples in New Orleans.
Mark Hawley’s tiny home strategy was not to go cheaper per square foot, but to build quality into fewer square feet.
“The industry pays by the square foot, not by how well you can do it or if you use good materials,” explains Hawley, the owner of Hawley Design Furnishings with business partner Christine Booth. “I’m a furniture guy. I measure closer, cut closer and pay attention to more details.”
Hawley contends that, on any given project, it just takes a few more minutes to make a good product even a little better.
“Like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” he says. “If you take a few more minutes to spread the peanut butter evenly, same with jelly, you have a better sandwich.”
Hawley has known about tiny houses for years. So when he heard that Brad Pitt was building tiny homes in the Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina, he drove to New Orleans to check them out.
Hawley’s completed 620-square-foot tiny house near the University of Tulsa features clean, modern space.
“I built it just to get it out of my system,” he says. He finished the construction about three years ago and currently rents it out to tenants.
Sixteen-foot ceilings make the house feel bigger.
He chose to use 2-by-6s instead of the industry-standard 2-by-4s to create a thicker wall with better insulation. Tile throughout makes the home user-friendly.
Building materials include a 50-year roof, double-pane windows, a stucco exterior and decks front and back that are made from a 35-year decking material.
“This house is built to last with minimal maintenance,” he says.
Amenities include a combination living room/kitchen, as well as a bathroom accessible from the living room or bedroom.
A giant wall of closets provides abundant storage with a nearby stacked washer/dryer combination.
The kitchen features a refrigerator, disposal and dishwasher.
The mechanics of building a tiny house are similar to building a piece of furniture. It’s the same idea: following a process.
“It’s like a giant piece of sculpture,” he says.
Actually, building a house turns out to be much more forgiving.
“With furniture, if you’re off one-eighth of an inch, you see it,” he says. “If you’re off an one-eighth of an inch with a house, you don’t.”
Seller meets tiny home.
Autumn Stokely of Tulsa Custom Buildings has watched demand for tiny homes grow as tastes and priorities shift.
Not a designer or builder? You can buy a tiny home.
Tulsa Custom Buildings offers models in sizes from 400-580 square feet, at prices from $49,000-$67,000. Buyers who don’t make many changes can have their new home in about a month. Completely customizing the home adds another month to the manufacturing time.
The company’s owner, Autumn Stokely, thinks tiny houses are more than a trend — more like a new category of living options. Her company has sold the small structures since early 2015. Customers are people of all ages and backgrounds, like couples starting out and older adults downsizing.
Traffic at Tulsa Custom Buildings has been brisk.
“We’re busy all week long with tiny-house lookers,” she says. “On weekends, especially if the weather is good, we may see 300 or more customers.”
Many of their clients use these small homes as lake houses, ranch cabins, mother-in-law suites or weekend retreats.
Some tiny homes are like RVs.
“Anything 8 feet wide or narrower can go down the highway, pulled by anyone with a driver’s license and a 1-ton or 1.5-ton pickup truck,” says Bryan Ketchum, representative for IronHorse Tiny Homes, a supplier for Tulsa Custom Buildings.
Others are more like mobile homes and can weigh 19,000 pounds. Those require a specially licensed mover to deliver each tiny home to its permanent location.
These homes feature all the amenities of custom-built residences, including granite counters, can lights, ceiling fans, wood or vinyl floors, stackable washers/dryers, full-size or RV-size appliances and tankless water heaters.
Most kitchens are electric, but gas is an option. Windows, transoms and skylights allow natural light to pour in. Small HVAC units keep the houses energy-efficient. The homes come with a one-year warranty, in addition to the manufacturer’s warranty on the appliances.
Buyers get to choose the color of siding, shutters and roof among other details. Most add a good-size porch at the final destination, which increases the usable square footage and makes it easy for residents to enjoy their surroundings. Once they’ve purchased the home, customers are responsible for procuring a hook-up to electric, water and septic.
Feedback from customers is pretty consistent. They want a simple lifestyle, less to clean. Some want to live off the grid, away from neighbors. Others want a homestead, maybe someplace to put in a garden.
“Financing is easy if you own your own land,” Ketchum says. “Most of our customers are looking for land. When they find it, they pull the trigger.”
And if they get tired of being in one place, they can always move.