Editor's note: The following is the fifth installment of Construction Dive's "Tiny house trends" series, which features interviews with tiny home builders. Read previous installments here, here, here and here.
With all the attention surrounding tiny homes, homebuilder Jason Francis and his brother Zach detected what they considered a missing piece of the movement: luxury small houses. And, after starting their Tiny Heirloom company in 2014 with a focus on luxury and customizable tiny homes, the idea has "spread like wildfire," Jason Francis said. The homebuilders’ concept gained so much traction that the company is now featured on HGTV’s new "Tiny Luxury" TV show.
Francis, 23, said he and his brother Jason, 21, "have basically grown up in construction," as their father — a 35-year-old veteran of the industry — encouraged them to help build their family home. When Francis was about 18, he and his brother started their homebuilding company.
Last year, however, Francis and his brother-in-law, Tyson Spiess, decided to venture away from traditional building and test out construction of their first tiny house after seeing the idea online. Mid-way through that first project, Jason’s brother Zack joined the building team.
After completing the structure, they posted photos online, which quickly drew a huge response. "A lot of people showed interest in it, so we started building more," Francis said. "Mid-way through our second build we decided to create a company out of it. And now we’re here."
The company, Tiny Heirloom, is currently working on its 10th tiny home on wheels and has grown to now employ about 15 people. Francis said the huge interest in their projects caught him by surprise. "We weren’t expecting it, especially when we started that first one," he said.
After the wave of buyer interest in Tiny Heirloom products, Francis said his traditional homebuilding company is still active, but is now "on hold," as "all of our attention and resources are going towards this company."
A focus on luxury
Although more tiny house builders have entered the market due to the influx of buyer demand, Francis said he believes Tiny Heirloom stands out with its focus on luxury homes and custom options. "We basically saw the lack of it in the tiny home market at the time," he said. The majority of the options he saw in 2014, when first venturing into the new market, had a "very cabiny kind of feel and were very simplistic," Francis said.
To fill that untapped segment of the market, Tiny Heirloom touts its luxury and customization focus. "You can downsize and not necessarily downgrade," Francis said. "People like fine quality things."
That high-end custom focus comes with a higher price tag, as the base price for a Tiny Heirloom home starts at $79,000 — which includes transport. And the more custom additions a buyer wants, the more complicated and expensive the structure becomes. Francis said Tiny Heirloom’s most-expensive home is currently in the planning stages and will cost around $220,000 due to the complexity and number of automated features in the 400-square-foot house.
Another of the most notable projects Tiny Heirloom has built includes a 300-square-foot home for a family of five, which ended up with a price tag around $140,000, according to Francis. Typically, traditional tiny homes cost around $25,000-$30,000 to build, according to Tiny House Talk.
Francis said the Tiny Heirloom builders and designers work to meet any client request, no matter the complexity. "Nearly every aspect of each tiny home is customizable," he said. "All that kind of stuff adds up quick."
Some of those customizable additions and innovations the company has created include:
- Sliding/room-transferring chandeliers
- Dining tables and beds that can pull out of walls and platforms
- High-end skylights that are solar-operated and remote-controlled
- Moving walls
- Custom hide-away bunkbeds
- Off-grid capable A/C
- Linear-actuated dining table and chairs that are hidden away when not in use
- Radiant heating in floors
- Fold-up front porch
- Rooftop decks
- Beer keg and tap incorporated into kitchen
- Dishwashers hidden/incorporated into kitchen
- Slide-up flat-screen TVs (can be hidden under dining table when not in use)
- In-house speakers
Learning through building
Francis said the first house he and his brother-in-law built was a "learning process," as they figured out how to downsize the traditional homebuilding process into such a small space. He cited plumbing as one of the main obstacles in the first build, as they were not professional plumbers and needed to find space in the walls and flooring to run plumbing and water tanks without compromising on function.
Since then, Tiny Heirloom has continued to "create something out of nothing," as it often builds features that aren’t on the market, like the off-grid A/C system and linear actuators used in the tiny homes, according to Francis.
Despite these additional challenges, Francis said he prefers building tiny, as it provides the opportunity to customize and create new things that have never been built. "It’s at a smaller scale, and it’s a great process. Each day you’re doing something different," he said.
The unique nature of Tiny Heirloom drew the attention of more than just homebuyers, as TV network HGTV, which already airs the "Tiny House Hunters" and "Tiny House, Big Living" programs, contacted the company to feature them on a new show, "Tiny Luxury."
After reading about the company in an article, HGTV producers reached out to Tiny Heirloom to work on a show together. At first, the company passed on the show for more than a month, but then they decided to try it out. Two months later, filming began.
The show follows homebuyers through the tiny home design process and through construction. The end features a grand reveal of the Tiny Heirloom property built for the buyers. A few episodes of "Tiny Luxury" have already aired, and more will air at the beginning of 2016, according to Francis.
Tiny Heirloom plans to build another 11 tiny homes in the next six months, and demand is only picking up. "Things have continued to go up faster than we’ve been able to handle," Francis said. "If it continues like this, it looks like it will continue to grow and reach more people and hopefully get a lot more clients."
Francis said he sees the small living movement as a lasting trend, rather than just a fad. "It’s kind of just scratching the surface," he said. "I don’t know if tiny homes on wheels are necessarily going to last generations from now, but at least smaller living and smaller homes, and just simplifying life in that way, I think definitely is on the up and up."
He attributed the growing popularity of downsized living to rising rents and home prices, as well as the difficulty in saving for a down payment. Francis said the demand for his company’s homes has been largely driven by younger people, as the majority of buyers so far have been younger than 35.
"That’s why we’re seeing a lot of young people doing this option," Francis said. "They can have a compromise, and it’s a great one, where they can own their own space, customize it like they would a multi-million dollar home, then also have the freedom to be able to go anywhere with it."
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