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Let’s Get Small: The Tiny Home phenomenon

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An interior view of the "The Burg," a model home by Tampa Bay Tiny Homes.
Luxury Living Tampa Bay

The growing appeal of  tiny homes

The “FAQ” sign said it all. Placed outside the cottage-on- wheels known as “Tiffany the Tiny Home” during the 2nd Annual Tiny Home Show last fall in Ruskin, the sign addressed a list of common questions, including:

• Square footage: 270
• Electricity cost: $36 a month
• And the all-important “No, we can’t smell each other’s poops.”

These were just a few of the concerns expressed by the crowds who lined up at the Ruskin show and this spring at a similar expo in St. Pete.

Tiny homes, big reactions

Reactions run the gamut, says Brian Zmich of Tampa Bay Tiny Homes, which helped put on both shows.

“People go, ‘Omigod, my shoes wouldn’t fit in here!’ And then there are people who say, ‘This is all the space that I need.’”

Some come ready to mock the whole tiny-home endeavor, he says, with comments like, “I just wanted to make sure it’s as stupid as it looks on TV.”

But TV — and a growing movement toward smaller-scale living— have helped to feed people’s curiosity, and Zmich’s business. His company, although only in operation since 2016, has already built nine such homes for a wide cross-section of customers.

“We just finished up a build for a late 20s, early 30s couple,” he says. A house is in the works for a Tampa schoolteacher in her mid-40s. And an older divorcee in New Port Richey downsized from her 3,500-square-foot manse to a 275-square-foot tiny home “in a beautiful RV park.”

At the moment, because of zoning regulations and minimum size requirements, just about the only place you can plant your tiny home in Florida is an RV park. Debbie Caneen, who spearheaded the Ruskin show, is developing a community of tiny home rental properties in a former mobile home park in South Hillsborough, but such spaces are hard to find in densely built Pinellas. An interesting development was just announced as this issue of dR was going to press, however: the Tampa Bay Times reported that a developer is proposing to build a community of six tiny homes, no more than 700 square feet each, on a half-acre site in Midtown St. Pete where a condemned apartment building now sits.

There is some resistance to tiny homes in residential areas, says Zmich, due to concern about who’ll be living in them. “But these people aren’t transients,” he says. “They just don’t want the expense of a big house. They want a simple lifestyle.” That said, he acknowledges that tiny homes on wheels are “essentially RVs. We wouldn’t want to put them into a luxury [neighborhood] environment.”

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Tim Davidson and Sam Cosner inside Tiffany the Tiny Home. (Photo courtesy tiffanythetinyhome.com)

Tiny homes, big challenges

The challenges of getting settled into a tiny home aren’t limited to location. Financing can be a hurdle, too. Tampa Bay Tiny Homes has set up a mortgage program with Freedom Bank, however, and their website suggests a number of other alternatives. It’s worth noting that you can get into a tiny house, particularly a ready-made model, for relatively cheap; the price of Tampa Bay Tiny Homes’s 28-foot move-in ready model is just $61,000. (Costs go up, of course, for a custom-made job.)

But the biggest challenge — or at least the one that occurs to people worrying about shoe collections and poop aroma and such — is how do people live together in such a small space?

Ask Tiffany. Her attractive young owners, Tim Davidson and Sam Cosner, publish a highly informative blog on this and other tiny-home subjects, tiffanythetinyhome.com. The interior of their home, which was constructed by a builder in Orlando, is as ingeniously designed and beautifully compact as a Japanese bento box. And the couple’s devotion both to each other and to the lifestyle they’ve chosen is palpable.

“Living with your boo in a tiny space inspires you to be more open and honest than living with someone in a big home,” writes Cosner. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

For more on building a tiny home or living in one, go to tampabaytinyhomes.com and tiffanythetinyhome.com

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