Florida's tiny house movement embraces some big ideas 

Let's get small

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click to enlarge Tiny houses at Orlando Lakefront - PHOTO BY RICHARD REEP
  • Photo by Richard Reep
  • Tiny houses at Orlando Lakefront

More than 30,000 people attended the first Florida Tiny House Festival at the St. John's County Fairgrounds in November, proving that this is not just a hipster trend – it's a bona fide movement.

The festival was held on a cool, sunny weekend. Strangers struck up conversations in long lines, waiting to step up into tiny houses parked in a field on display.

Ben and Stacy came over from near Port Orange. Ben's a tall, handsome retired police officer with a service disability, and Stacy is a jovial, auburn-haired traveling nurse. "We live in a condo that's 1,400 square feet, and we detest it," Stacy says. "At our income level, there wasn't much to choose from, and the tiny house offers an attractive solution."

"We've always lived weird," she grins. "Once, on a whim, we just up and moved to St. Croix, where I worked as a nurse. It was fun!" Ben sees tiny houses as "more durable than mobile homes, and we can take it with us. It won't tie us down." Stacy sums it up: "We live for experiences, not materialism."

"Tiny houses aren't for tiny budgets," comments a nearby attendee, as we stand in line for a tour of a Cornerstone model. Cornerstone Tiny Homes, based in Longwood, Florida, is probably the Rolls Royce of THOW builders, offering models from 20 to 32 feet long decked out with details like gorgeous glass-tiled showers, granite countertops, ceiling-suspended barn doors and special recessed niches for flatscreen TVs, which rise on command. These go for around $270-$300 per square foot, as listed on their website.

For one thing, the chassis isn't cheap. For another, tiny homes require the same things that bigger homes do: windows, doors, plumbing, wiring and air conditioning. Building costs aren't just about the amount of materials, anyway; much more of the cost is in the labor, and tiny home builders still compete on quality of design and construction features.

The craftsmanship on display at the festival was high. One tiny house boasted a carved oaken bathtub, which sat beautifully in a tiny bathroom resplendent with tiny tiles. All of these little houses are kind of cute, with their miniature gables, dormers, portholes and front porches. Designs range from shipping-container chic to gingerbready Victorian and everything in between.

These structures are in the most exciting evolutionary phase of all – there isn't a "formula" house yet, so inventive builders at the festival were showing off their most creative uses of space. There were different arrangements of rooms, interweaving kitchens with living spaces, microscopic porches and loft bedrooms. Stairs became armoires, dining tables hinged up and down on the wall, and TVs disappeared into slots. What to put over the bathroom – a big bed, or a storage niche? – becomes a micro-design project, one that the owners can participate in.

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