James Stoltzfus always loved the idea of treehouses — "there's a whimsical quality to the whole thing," he says.
The same can be said of his new venture, Liberation Tiny Homes. At first glance, the concept might seem like a flight of whimsy: a business that builds homes smaller than many travel trailers and espouses the view that you don't need a massive home to showcase great design.
Stoltzfus has built just one tiny home, a 170-square-foot, lofted, transportable unit. But the overwhelming response in just a few months has prompted him to turn this experiment in design into his new full-time profession.
Without a full-blown website (now, at liberationtinyhomes.com), public relations push or advertising, Liberation Tiny Homes has already been praised by the Tiny House Swoon blog and at HouseBeautiful.com.
At its most basic, the Tiny House movement advocates living simply —when it comes to the size of the home and, by necessity, the number of possessions you store there. Enthusiasts praise the attitude of consuming less; celebrate their lower —or lack of — mortgages; and treasure innovative, clever storage solutions and items that serve multiple purposes.
Stoltzfus had the ideal background to see if his tiny house ideas would fly. From a childhood building "log cabins" out of scrap wood "for the fun of it," to working summers for woodshops since he was 12 or 13, followed by 18 years in residential construction, he became fascinated with trying out his ideas to build his own tiny home.
"The original intent," says Stoltzfus, was to tackle the project on the side. That meant keeping his day job in construction, while figuring out the tiny house details with his wife, Rose Lapp Stoltzfus, on the nights and weekends.
"Plan A was to do it and sell (the tiny home), he says, "and Plan B was to keep it and rent it out if it didn't sell, or have fun with it on the weekends."
But two or three months into the project, he and Rose say, the concept of tiny homes really began to explode into the mainstream.
"All of a sudden, these TV shows like 'Tiny House Nation' started coming up," Stoltzfus says, "and it didn't seem as weird to people anymore — not that I cared that much, but other people do."
Those "other people" include potential clients, who began contacting him as soon as he had named Liberation Tiny Homes and started up a website.
"To me, the most important thing is the financial aspect, especially for younger people," Stoltzfus says. (For example, the shell of Liberation Tiny Homes' design costs $11,500, and comes with the trailer, a metal roof and 2x4 framing. The completed tiny house, with all appliances, cedar siding and more, runs $37,500 — about the same as an SUV with extras).
A tiny home — either buying one or building your own design — "bucks the 'more, more, more' trend in housing, in space, in everything," he says. "(Tiny homes are) innovative, and get you thinking outside the box."
Liberation's first design
- Materials: birch plywood, pine trim, walnut countertops, birch plywood floors installed tongue-and-groove and finished with semitransparent stain.
- Open floor plan; loft has no pitched roof to maximize headroom across the entire width.
- Open-box shelving with measurements that "mesh," allowing them to be reconfigured, used as a room divider or pushed against a wall.
- Wide, shallow drawers underneath kitchen cabinets instead of standard toe kicks.
- Water tanks under the floor so it could be used off-grid. Can also be hooked up to regular garden hose. Battery pump; propane; on-demand hot water heater; shower; toilet).
- L-shaped seating that lifts up for storage and pulls out into a double bed.
- A table in the living area that can be work space, a dining table or extra kitchen counter space.
Here's Stoltzfus' basic checklist for designing a tiny home that fits your lifestyle:
- Close your eyes and imagine your day. You get up, have breakfast, get ready for work … now, imagine doing those tasks in a small space.
- Figure out your basic needs. "You'll have to get rid of things," he promises, and you'll have to be ruthless. "If you don't use it for a month, can you get rid of it?" he asks.
- Keep in mind that items you'll need to keep — a bicycle during the winter, for example, or out-of-season clothes, will have to be stored somewhere. Where will that be?
Tiny homes by the numbers
- 2,600: size in square feet of the typical American home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau
- 100-400: size in square feet of the typical tiny home, according to thetinylife.com
- 68: percentage of tiny house owners who have no mortgage, according to the Los Angeles Times