Tiny houses, big idea

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Are tiny houses the next big thing in Houston? In a city famous for sprawl and ever-expanding square footage, perhaps not. But if the attendance and enthusiasm displayed a a recent forum are any indication, the idea may be about to take hold.

The April 22 event at the city’s Green Building Resource Center outside downtown was hosted by the Texas Gulf Coast chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. Dozens of people filled the spacious lobby of the building to hear about various aspects of the growing trend.

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First up was Donna Kacmar, a professor at the University of Houston College of Architecture and author of Big Little House. Kacmar made the case that the idea of building small but stylish has a long history at the highest levels of architecture, citing examples of houses as far back as the 1940s, including the famous Farnsworth House (designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, architect of the 1950s addition to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) and Glass House (designed by Phillip Johnson, known for his numerous contributions to the Houston skyline).

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Kacmar described four design principles that make small, if not necessarily tiny, houses work well:  gracious proportions (that is, using space to its best effect), good use of light; accommodation, and enclosure.

Teresa Lopez, a real estate appraiser and principal with Green Energy Money told the attendees that while “green building” is becoming increasingly popular among buyers, builders and lending institutions, there are still some structural issues in the business that will require anyone wanting to buy a tiny house use some prudence.

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Shannon Bryant, a builder with Tend Building, presented a “Top 10” list of reasons for “tiny living,” including “Getting Rid of Your Stuff” and “Tiny Houses Are Fun.” She described the process she and her partner, architect Shelly Pottort, have gone through designing and building “Tiny Drop,” an Airstream-esque tiny house built on a trailer. Even though it wasn’t quite complete, they showed it at the recent Art Car Parade. (Disclosure:  Shannon and Shelly are friends of mine.)

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David Cruey, co-owner of the family-run  Arched Cabins of Cypress, Texas, next described the firm’s simple, barn-like structures that can be quite handsome inside. “You can live big in a small house,” he said.

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FInally, Sheila Blake, outgoing assistant director of code enforcement for the city of Houston, outlined some of the obstacles people who want to “live tiny” inside Houston’s boundaries face within the city’s code of ordinances. While not insurmountable, Blake advised folks to proceed with caution.

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After all the speaking was done, the attendees got to go outside for the fun part — taking a close look at Bryant’s “Tiny Drop” and one of Cruey’s extra-small Arched Cabins.

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For more on the nascent tiny house movement in Houston, check out this Facebook page.

Copyright © 2015 Ken Fountain. All rights reserved.

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About Ken Fountain

I'm a journalist and writer in Houston, Texas. My areas of specialty include law and courts, local government and industry and environmental issues. You can follow me on Twitter at @twitter.com/kenfountain and email me at kenfountain1 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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