LULING – Although Brad Kittel runs a construction company, he’s really in the deconstruction business.
As owner of Tiny Texas Houses, located on hilltop that overlooks Interstate 10, he builds homes that are a fraction of the size of the modern McMansion. His basic sales pitch: sometimes a little is more than enough.
Imagine the efficiency apartment re-conceptualized as the Little House on the Prairie. Tables fold out and double as storage. Couches become beds. Dead air near the high ceilings is filled with loft bedrooms. Bathrooms and kitchens are within arm’s reach. Ladders replace stairs.
But everything is hand-made and usually unexpected. Doors and windows are typically antiques, as are fixtures. Prices range from $38,000-$100,000, depending on size and amenities. The smaller houses are 10 x 10; the bigger ones can be 12 x 31.
Kittel designs homes to be oriented correctly to an individual site to take advantage of wind, sun and shade. The only nod to high tech is foam insulation that makes each home energy efficient.
But there’s more at stake, Kittel says, than just tiny houses. It’s about re-shaping the economy, culture and the environment.
“This is about keeping it simple and building a new global consciousness,” says Kittel, a former land developer in Austin. “It’s no longer cool to have ostentatious houses. It’s no longer cool to have the biggest house on the block.”
The numbers agree with him.
The U.S. Census Bureau says the average size of new single-family homes dropped from 2,438 square feet to 2,377 last year. Surveys of builders indicate new homes will shrink 10 percent by 2015.
That trend, says blogger Kent Griswold, is being accelerated by the weakened economy.
“For years, it was a dream for a lot of people who wanted to cut back as they got older,” says Griswold, who writes tinyhouseblog.com. “But in the last year or two, people have been forced to look at their money differently. They want to simplify and they don’t want to be saddled with a huge mortgage.”
Kittel isn’t the only small home builder in the country, but he’s one of the few in Texas. And has a reputation for his different building techniques.
Kittel’s crews use salvaged wood, windows and hardware, gently removed from houses slated for demolition, whenever possible. He prefers century-old, longleaf pine because it’s strong, it’s attractive, and it doesn’t contain the chemicals used in factory-produced timber.
“Everything in my houses is organic,” he says. “We use 99 percent salvaged building material. And since we do that, we actually have a sub-zero carbon footprint.”
Homeowners come to Kittel with a basic idea of what they want. He takes it from there, based on what they want, what he can brainstorm, and what materials he can find.
That explains the pressed tin — removed from the ceiling of a much older home – that ended up as a shower wall in the Kittel-built guesthouse on Edith and Joe Hill’s Wimberley-area ranch.
“It’s a piece of art,” Edith Hill said. “That was so amazing about it. They put together something that is completely unique.”
The home is unique, functional, efficient and comfortable, she says.
Justin Robinson, owner of Homestead Cottages, a Canyon Lake-area inn, agrees. He bought a Kittel house and rents it to guests.
“I was in awe of the craftsmanship and what you can do with the salvaged materials,” he said. “It’s built of material that has history and character that you can’t see in new houses today.”
Kittel hopes to move from building small houses to teaching others to do it themselves. That way, he can spread his gospel of change.
He sees a future with neighborhoods of tiny houses, built with salvaged material and employing thousands in the process. Each cluster of homes would share common areas — large kitchens, dining areas and recreational spaces. The net gain is a cleaner environment, a stronger U.S. economy, less imported building materials and cheaper living.
That’s big talk coming from a tiny house.