Simple Living

The big deal about tiny homes

Judy and Mike Tighe’s tiny home is a real-life tree house, literally sitting 17 feet off the ground and amongst the trees.

Robert Clark

Columbia is way ahead of the tiny home craze. With the advent of the Cockabooses back in 1990, Columbia quickly cultivated its own tiny home community right by Williams-Brice Stadium. And while these super-glamorous tailgating sites have been the subject of many ESPN visits, today’s obsession with tiny homes has reached epic levels, thanks to HGTV shows like Tiny House, Big Living and Tiny House Hunters

For some, a tiny house is the solution for those wanting to downsize and declutter — to build a home that will only accommodate the bare minimum. Gone are the tchotchkes, the old toys, the boxes filled with papers. Instead, these homeowners are taking the opportunity to purge the clutter from their lives,s and, in the process of removing so much, they find they are adding so much more.

“From my experience, people want to simplify their lives, and it makes things so much easier if you have only 320 square feet to organize,” says Katharine Fickling with Gable Log Homes. “Once you pare down your belongings, there is so much more free time to enjoy the things you want to do.”

Gable Log Homes has been manufacturing and selling log home packages since 1983. These tiny log home kits enable homeowners to easily and efficiently build a variety of small homes, ranging from 320 to 480 square feet, including quaint porches that line the front of the homes. 

“Many people are just trying to simplify their lives,” says Katharine. “But some are having to downsize out of necessity.” To be sure, some owners are taking it to the extreme and going “off the grid” with their homes, where they are more self-sufficient, provide their own energy and water and are not tied to monthly bills.

Chris Kniermin, a designer at Mojo Tiny Homes, sees the tiny home market divided into three categories — those in the market for a secondary home or weekend getaway, others looking to downsize and live a more minimal lifestyle, and senior individuals looking to live closer to their relatives by literally building a tiny home on their family’s property. “Never before have I seen such a shift toward downsizing,” says Chris. “Layer on top of that all of the tiny home TV shows, and it has really started a movement.”

Building a smaller getaway or vacation home instead of moving into a larger home enables homeowners to save on upkeep and expenses, while taking advantage of the most important aspects of the vacation: enjoying the outdoors and taking in the surrounding scenery. Many homeowners are taking the opportunity to build a tiny home on the lake or on their hunting grounds. Some are even creating their own man, or woman, cave. 

“We’ve had people contact us about downsizing, but most people think it’s more of a fun thing to have for the most part — fun for the lake, hunting or in the mountains,” says Jason London, owner of Peach Festival Gardens. His company started as a nursery and evolved into architectural salvage, which is progressing into new builds. 

Don’t be fooled … these tiny homes aren’t lacking in design, appeal or livability. “While these are called tiny houses, they are all-encompassing and have everything to offer that a larger home does,” says Jason. 

Two people that would indeed agree are Judy and Mike Tighe, who have created what Judy calls her “Happy Dog Hermitage.” Mike has a timber and hunting farm in Fairfield County, where he frequently visits and stays in his bunkhouse. Judy wanted her own place to spend time in solace while out at the farm. Having been a designer at one time in her life, Judy thought she would try her hand at designing a tiny house in the woods. The home is serenely nestled in the forest, surrounded by majestic trees and privacy fences, ensuring it is gloriously secluded from the outside world.

The home is a real-life tree house, literally sitting 17 feet off the ground and amongst the trees. The outside of the home is sheathed in real poplar bark and shingles. The Tighes were inspired during their vacations to Spruce Pine, North Carolina, where this rustic material is a century-old tradition. Judy researched the materials, found a supplier and covered their tiny home in this unique façade, complete with living lichen. The metal roof of the tiny home provides durability and energy efficiency and beautifully complements the bark exterior. 

While the home isn’t designed for full-time living, it is ideal for weekends away. Complete with a lightweight kitchen inside and heavy-duty gas grills on the deck, Judy and Mike enjoy grilling out and sitting on the back deck high in the trees, taking in the peacefulness of the surroundings and watching their dog, Comet, inspect every corner of his vast kingdom.

While the home has less than 400 square feet of enclosed space, it is surprisingly spacious. Tall ceilings with exposed beams provide a rustic yet roomy atmosphere. The quaint kitchen is artsy in look and features a beautifully finished plank of cedar for the counter space with a copper sink atop. Judy refinished a family heirloom table that now separates the living and kitchen areas providing workspace for food preparation as well as indoor dining. Colorful artwork peppers the walls providing a feeling of whimsy — all complemented by a bold red door. Decorative masks hang from the rafters, adding even more personality and interest to the space. 

Beautiful heart pine floors flow throughout lit by the large windows that let ample light into the space. The living area features two daybeds that double as sofas and a comfortable seating area. Additional chairs are interspersed around the space, providing other seating options. 

The Tighes’ home away from home in the woods also includes a loft area that features two beds for extra family or other guests. The bathroom in the home is made entirely of large broken stone slabs and is separated from the rest of the area by a custom sliding barn door.

Glass doors hinged together in a folding fashion stretch the entire length of the wall separating the living room and back porch, and, when folded away, provide an uninterrupted view of the outside from almost anywhere in the home. One thing that isn’t in this home? A television. “No TV here,” says Mike. “That’s why she calls this a hermitage. This is a place to go when you want to be a hermit!”

As the Tighes have done in their home, it’s important to be strategic with the space. “When dealing with a tiny home, it’s not about square feet — it’s about square inches,” says Chris. “If you move something slightly, it can impact the placement of everything else. You must use every square inch to its maximum.” To that end, Chris believes it is very important for homeowners interested in building a small home to research builders and communicate well with them so that the builder fully understands what the buyers are looking for and can be flexible in their design and layout.

It’s also important for homeowners and builders to understand any county regulations before construction begins, as there are size requirements based on different neighborhoods and counties.

Whether it’s downsizing or finding a second home for the farm, the lake or the mountains, working to live within a smaller space is very freeing for some. “It might not be a way of living for everyone or for every stage of life, but it’s an ideal way to make yourself focus on the most important things in life,” says Katharine. “And it doesn’t hurt that there isn’t as much space to heat or cool, which saves money!” And for Katharine, an empty nester, the idea of selling it all and moving into a tiny home is a very attractive one. “We have a beautiful 16-by-20 cabin on site that I keep eyeing,” she says. “I would move in tomorrow if I could!”

The idea of selling it all and holding on to only the most precious items sounds truly liberating to many ... decluttering the home and the mind at the same time. Building a smaller home to encourage a larger life.