@story MARLA CANTRELL
@images DEBRA JORDAN
Not far from Linda’s Curl Up and Dye and Prissy’s Flower Shop in Mountain View is Slabtown Customs, a small company that builds even smaller houses. They range in size from eight feet to twelve feet wide. Some are less than 300 square feet.
Scott Stewart, who’s thirty-seven, started Slabtown a few years ago, on the same spot of land where his grandfather once ran a sawmill that produced staves for whiskey barrels. He points to a wooded spot behind him. “My dad was actually born in a house on this property,” he says. “I grew up here. He called me one day in 2005 and said, ‘I’m ready to quit. Gonna sell this place. You can buy it if you want, or I’ll auction it, but either way, I’m selling.’”
So Scott bit, taking over the land, and eventually developing the business model for Slabtown. “I’d been building a few storage buildings. It wasn’t long before I built one of these little houses, put it on wheels, and sold it. ..Two years ago, I starting basically only building these houses. Last year I sold thirty.”
The average house in America today is 2,900 square feet. In the 1950s, it was around 1,000. Cut that number roughly in half, and you have the size of the houses your ancestors lived in way back in the early 1800s. Only in the 1800s, houses didn’t have wheels. “We build these two ways: on a trailer so you can move it from place to place, and without the wheels, for those people who have land where they know they’re going to stay.”
Standing inside the French Cube, one of his most popular designs, Scott measures the bathroom. It’s three feet long, or about the size of a two-year-old if the two-year-old stretched out and remained uncharacteristically still. “This one’s a little smaller than most,” he says, “but there’s a full shower in here and everything.”
The French Cube is twelve feet wide, twelve feet long, and twelve feet tall. It’s 144 square feet, but the size almost doubles when you count the loft that floats above the combination living/dining/kitchen/bathroom area.
Finding space is key. There is typically a full size refrigerator, a convection and microwave oven (both installed underneath the upper cabinets) and a double sink. Upstairs in the loft, there is room for a washer and dryer. “We do our best. I’ve worked from architect’s plans and drawings on grocery sacks. There’s really nothing we won’t try.”
The niche market, with prices ranging from $12,000 to $30,000, is finding momentum in several arenas. “We build quality, we really insulate them. Guy in Oklahoma didn’t want any electricity, didn’t want water. Just a rugged cabin that was twelve by twenty-four. He called me on Thanksgiving. He was with four buddies, they’d bagged two deer and it was thirty degrees outside. He said, ‘Sat in there with a Coleman lamp hanging from the ceiling, played poker, and we had all the light and heat we needed.’ Can’t ask for more than that,” Scott says.
“I have a lot of calls from California, and Seattle. A guy from England was looking to buy but the shipping’ll kill you. I deliver, but not that far.
“Some folks buy so one of their parents can live near them on the same piece of land. People are buying them as rental property. Parents can use them for their kids in college and then own something when they’re finished. And some people just want to downsize.”
A couple in Fayetteville just bought one. An insurance agent in Huntsville has another. And then there’s Debra Jordan, who lives in the 320-square-foot Slabtown “Annemarie” house in Siloam Springs. The 320 square feet doesn’t take into consideration the ten-by-ten loft that serves as her son’s bedroom.
In 2008, when the Great Recession hit, Debra’s husband lost his job. “We were trying to save money, and we were spending so much time trying to keep our house, we felt like we were losing our family, and it wasn’t worth it.
“We saw Scott’s ad on Craigslist. I was so excited I almost hyperventilated. We got the cute little house in 2009, moved it to a mobile home park, and we love it. ..I once had twenty-two people over for dinner. Friends kept inviting friends. We fit, but if we got up, we had to do it one at a time.”
It’s a postage stamp of a house, complete with a tiny porch. Inside, it looks as if a decorator’s been hard at work. Debra says she mostly just copied what she loved, and threw in a lot of turquoise. And then she threw out the things she no longer needed.
“When I sorted through everything, I had enough stuff to equip three kitchens. ..There’s so much freedom in letting go of things. Life isn’t about possessions. I’ve had people say they couldn’t do this, that living like we do would be giving up the American Dream. But the American Dream isn’t about owning a big house, it’s about freedom.
“It’s really not that hard to live in a tiny house. It makes life simple, and so pleasant. And it forces you to stay organized.”
She even runs her business, Minkee Baby Gifts, from home. “I make handmade baby gifts. My husband works part time and then helps me here. We sell wholesale to boutiques, and then we also sell retail.” Debra also has a shop at Etsy.com.
She likes the house so much, she’s thinking of buying another one. “We may move soon. If we do, we’ll sell this one and get another one. My son’s thirteen now; he’d probably like to have a bigger bedroom,” she says and then laughs.
Scott is thrilled by the news. “When people come back, it’s a nice feeling. It’s like a compliment. We’re a small place in a small town. It’s been kind of incredible how this has taken off. I’d like one myself someday,” he says and then describes the building, eight feet by thirty-two, that he’d pull to a ranch somewhere, or to a hot spot like Branson. “That’d be the life,” he says, and then his phone rings and he comes back around, wipes the sweat from his brow and answers the call as if he’s sitting in the corner office of a tall building. “Slabtown Customs,” he says. “How can I help you?”
To see more of Slabtown’s creations, log on to http://tinyhouseblog.com/ and search “Scott Stewart”, or you can email Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.