The unusual starts didn’t dissuade these professionals and others from collaborating on a new business channel for Tennessee-based Clayton Homes, an established player in the manufactured housing field. The company last month rolled out its initial lineup of compact houses at a North Carolina building festival, which included showcasing a model called the Lowcountry.
Hollingsworth says the company could “end up selling some (homes) to millennials. They’ve seen parents tied down to a four- to five-bedroom house. They want flexibility,” he says.
The Lowcountry design originated with an earlier attempt by Clayton to craft its own tiny home plan without teaming up with a “name” architect specializing in luxury homes. “We kind of started with our version. Jeff put his touch on it,” Hollingsworth says.
Clayton Homes had shuttered a factory in Addison, Alabama, when executives decided to retrofit the plant machinery to craft tiny houses, Hollingsworth says. The designer series will have its own website. “This is a first step,” he says.
Dungan, a Birmingham-based home design expert, acknowledged that he was skeptical when contacted by Clayton Homes. “I didn’t know about tiny homes myself. Oh yeah, haven’t you seen the show ‘Tiny House Nation’? They threw me a little bit for a curve,” he says.
The architect did know of Clayton. “They build trailers. I spent most of my career doing the opposite.” Dungan set up a meeting with Clayton executives.
“They were really interesting guys,” he says. After chatting and pouring over photos, “It did seem to look more interesting from the perspective of design,” Dungan says. “They made convincing arguments. In the matter of 15-20 minutes, they totally dispelled my misunderstandings,” he says.
“Three things really interested me,” Dungan continues. First, he had “an opportunity to reach a group of people I’ve never been able to (in) 20 years.” He typically designs houses that can cost $1.5 million-$7 million, and the tiny houses would serve a group that could buy them for “$75,000 to under $100,000,” says Dungan, who grew up on a farm in Alabama.
Second, Dungan relished the challenge of designing such a small house. “You’re talking 400 square feet or less,” he says. “You start thinking by the square inch rather than the square foot. Mental discipline makes us better.”
The architect’s third reason for tackling the project was engaging his fellow staff architects and designers. “Everybody, you’ve got to design your own house. We all got our paper and pencils out.” In the end, the firm came up with five designs that were “symbolically different” and showed them to Clayton Homes, he says.
Dungan says the design team incorporated space in the tiny houses via 12-foot ceilings and other styling techniques. He wandered through a design model, and “I never got claustrophobic at all,” he says.
The architect tinkered with the Clayton-mocked up Lowcountry style, calling on expertise in country homes from Texas to Ireland. Noting that the tiny houses can be second-home getaways, Dungan says, “People want a little place (such as where) they can go up to the lake for the weekend.”
Hollingsworth says the company sees “a diverse group” of prospective buyers. One segment would be retirees who traditionally tour the country in recreation vehicles or pull “fifth wheel” trailers. They would gravitate to the tiny houses when they’re ready to put down stakes. Another customer group are vacation-home buyers who secure a piece of land for a small home and later retire there, perhaps building a larger adjacent home.
He says the company is talking to developers “in the Carolinas” to plan a community that includes tiny houses.
Maryville, Tennessee-based Clayton Homes bills itself as the world’s largest builder of manufactured and modular housing. The venture, which has local dealerships in North Charleston and Moncks Corner, is considered a “component company” of billionaire investor Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway.
Hollingsworth says the tiny house line-up complements its staple manufactured housing sales. Still studying steps to market the 400-square-foot and smaller homes, the company expects to ramp up operations at least by early 2017.
“At the end of the day, we are still in the construction business,” he says.