If you’ve spent any amount of time perusing Instagram, you’ve likely come across the Tiny Home/ Adventure Camping Van craze. Tiny homes have been all the rage for years now, popping up as a way to simplify your life, live off the grid and get back to nature without having to spend too much money. The tiny home movement (yes, it qualifies as a movement) evolved as a response to the economic collapse of 2007 when millions of people lost their homes to foreclosure and many more were forced to downsize due to financial problems. While it’s estimated that less than 1% of real estate transactions fall into the Tiny Home realm (homes under 500 square feet), Instagram has really launched the tiny home to the echelons of common parlance. This year two examples showed up at the New York Auto Show. Meet the Petite Retreat homes, Clara and Henry.
Petite Retreats started as the brainchild of a real estate company based in Chicago. Equity Lifestyle Properties specializes in manufactured homes, RVs, and campgrounds. They own the Thousand Trails and Encore camp grounds across the country as well as a number of communities that mostly populate the retirement-band of southern states here in the U.S.(think Florida, Arizona, and California). They paired up with Ford Motor Company to do a PR stunt and drive a pair of tiny homes built on RV chassis around the country behind a couple of F150s. In early April the homes, purposefully named Henry and Clara (as in Henry Ford and his wife) were picked up in Colorado and began their week-long road trip to make their debut at the New York Auto Show this year.
The two homes both fall below the threshold for tiny homes. The Henry, the log cabin style home, that was on display is 20-feet long and 8.5 feet wide. Living space inside is just 181 square feet that was laid out as a VERY cozy one bedroom. The Clara is a larger tiny home getting 6 more feet in length than her husband and offering a two bedroom layout. Clara has 252 sq. ft. of living space. Each trailer weigh between 9,200 and 11,460 lbs. and is being towed by an F-150 and an F-250 respectively.
Inside the two home share a lot of the same aesthetic–you know the type–bright, bold patterns, mixed with neutral pieces and pops of warm metals here and there. It’s the stuff that Instagram’s well and looks cozy enough to be on the cover of a magazine. Henry’s layout isn’t as well thought out (at least in the way that the home was decorated) as the Clara’s layout. When you enter the home there’s a large seemingly useless front entry way, that at the time I stepped into it during the press days at the show, was empty. Move more to the middle of the home past a set of stairs that loft a bedroom of sort, and you get the kitchen, dining and living room and bathroom complete with your own shower.
The Clara is set up as a two bedroom and upon entering you step immediately into the kitchen. To the right are a set of stairs that take you to the upstairs bedroom. Straight ahead on the right is the bathroom with a shower, tiny sink, and toilet and vanity and directly at the back of the home is the “master bedroom.”
Both the trailers hook up to standard RV power and water, and both are road legal. Plus you don’t need a commercial drivers license to tow them. According to Jennifer Ludovice who was at the booth when we stopped by last week, the two models cost anywhere from $65,000 to $75,000 to purchase and many people who buy them use them for studios, offices, or pool homes. While the idea of living in a tiny home is romantic in theory there are plenty of discussions about the kinds of problems that arise when you live in a tiny space. There are also plenty of issues that arise when using these as primary residences on land which is why they are generally used as secondary spaces.
To help give people a taste of what it’s like to live in a tiny home, Petite Retreats has turned some of it’s campground sites into Tiny Home Hotels. In locations like Yosemite you can rent a yurt for around $52 a night, or, in a place like the soon-to-open Tuxbury location (just outside of Boston) you can get rent a tiny home like the Clara starting around $135 per night.
So far, the Henry and Clara’s plans following the New York Auto Show are unclear. The schedule is full of TBAs as the Ford/Petite Retreats folks figure out where they’ll show off the tiny homes in Boston and Philadelphia in the coming weeks. The homes are definitely worth checking out if they come to your neck of the woods. They’re a neat exercise in design and function and fascinating to think about as engineering marvels too. Plus, who hasn’t imagined what it would be like to live in one of those awesome Instagram images if just for a few nights?
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