Small living isn’t that novel of a concept in New Orleans, a dense metropolis where compact shotguns are the norm. But with housing prices rising in New Orleans, both for renters and buyers, developers might need to think even smaller.
Tim Dean, founding partner of the New Orleans-based Preservation Tiny House Company, sees micro-living as a way to help the city’s affordable housing shortage while also honoring local architecture. The company, less than three years old, is currently building a 135 square-foot shotgun-style model home on a lot on St. Claude Avenue near the new streetcar line. Future homes will come in Creole cottage, carriage house, and Greek revival styles.
How you’d get into the tiny home business?
I’m a carpenter; I’ve been living in New Orleans restoring historic properties for the last 10 years. Initially, I came across tiny homes about three-and-a-half years ago. It started with me seeing something about them on social media and becoming fascinated with them. The first thing I remember was reading about [tiny houses] online, and looking around at my tiny shotgun and thinking "wait a minute …we’re already doing this."
I became interested in [tiny homes], and started touring different manufacturers, thinking I would love to build one of these. I had this idea of applying historic architecture and building techniques I had been using and doing for the last decade to tiny houses. That’s how we got started … we were in research and development for awhile and we have a commercial property on St. Claude Avenue. It was a big push for us to find a location to both build and sell from. And then just securing an investor; a friend of ours came on board this year and really kick-started the build process. That’s where we are now, in the process of building our first model home … we’re hoping to have it finished in the next month or two, definitely the fall for sure.
As you alluded to, New Orleans is already a place where people live small and live close together. How do you see tiny homes fitting into New Orleans architecture and how people live here?
One of the things we’re most excited about, specifically with tiny houses on wheels, is how they apply to New Orleans and the potential they could have on the affordable housing crisis happening all over the country. There are cities and communities that are starting to embrace smaller structures and micro-living as a way to provide more affordable housing options in places where those options are going away. We’re also really excited about applying historic architecture to that. I spent four years working for the Preservation Resource Center … [New Orleans houses] were initially small structures raised up from the ground, and it sort of fits right into building mobile-style homes on trailers. We also envision the potential for tiny homes on wheels being on lots of vacant lots around the city … that’s certainly the first thing that comes up living in New Orleans—where can you put these things? Can they be primary residential structures? That sort of thing. Some of that is still up in the air.
What kind of regulations in New Orleans are you having to navigate related to tiny homes?
It’s something we’re constantly researching, and in the last three years really changed with the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) that went through. As far as I can tell, there’s still some—I’m going to call them unique laws that came into New Orleans around 2008 to facilitate the removal of FEMA trailers, which affected things with mobile structures and RVs … there also was a square footage requirement for a primary residence, but from what I understand that was taken out in the CZO.
The house that we’re building right now is a model, and it’s not a primary residence, and it’s just going to be at our commercial location and act as our showroom. It’s our anticipation to be working with the community on the hurdles we run into, but we honestly haven’t approached those yet. We’re just getting our model home and business plan together and approaching it that way … I think that in some ways, it’s going to come down to individual homeowners expressing interest in buying these and wanting to put them on lots, as opposed to a company approaching the city and saying, we want to build these for people.
Just in the time we’ve been building out here on St. Claude, we’d had people pass by and give us compliments, and talk about how it would be a great option for certain people or certain stages of life. It’s out intention to work with the city on making that an option for people.
How many square feet are these houses?
The first one we’re building is on an 18-foot trailer, about 135 square feet. It’s our smallest option. Trailers range up to 44-feet long, so you can certainly get much bigger.
The first one we’re building is our single shotgun model and we have variation of that design that are elongated shotguns and camelback shotguns, so the square footage will range to close to 300 square feet, although some of that seems a little up in the air—we’re still trying to get through our first 135-foot one. They’ll certainly be under 400 square feet.
We also have models where we’re incorporating shipping containers. We purchased a shipping container that we’re going to be turning into our Creole cottage model. That one’s pretty small; it’s a 20-foot by 8-foot container, about 160 square-feet. But I think that one is going to be more of a creative retail space; I don’t know if we’re going to put a whole bathroom and kitchen in that one at first.
How much do you think these homes will go for?
It’s very much part of our mission is to keep these things affordable … we’re hoping to offer our product in the $40-45,000 range. A lot of this depends on connections, and how off the grid you wanna go. We’re finding they certainly get more expensive pretty quickly the more capable you need it to be for off-the-grid living. Our cheapest design will be designed to hook up to external systems similar to an RV park. You’d be able to hook up to a septic system or city sewer line and an external electrical connection.
Do you live in a small space?
Yes we do. Our property here on St. Claude was previously a used car lot, so it’s a big open green space now. The structure that’s on here is an old carriage house built in 1840, the downstairs of which was a stable that’s now been closed off and is a studio space down there. We live in the apartment upstairs; it’s about 350-400 square feet if you count the balcony. It’s a one-room studio and it’s great. It’s been sort of fun to move in here and be building [a tiny house]; we definitely sort of dove into the construction aspect of tiny houses on wheels, and also the lifestyle and the adjustments that come with moving into a smaller space.
I build furniture as well, so I’ve been able to develop some multi-use, space-saving furniture designs, which has been really fun. I could design a kitchen table that can also be out fold-out desk that can also be a place to store all of our books. That’s been a fun process with the design of the house on wheels, as well.