On Easter morning I had the pleasure of speaking with Kerry Lindsey, an innovator and developer in Flat Rock, North Carolina who has begun a project to bring tiny houses to his existing retreat centered community. I was excited to hear about his plans and what he has going on in this gem of a town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was so inspiring to speak with Lindsey about his experiences living the tiny life, what he’s accomplished and his continued plans involving tiny houses, community and the importance of mindfulness in our current world. Check it out!
How did you discover the tiny house movement and what drew your interest?
My interest in tiny houses began when we were kids. My folks built their first home from the rock and logs off the land of their mini farm, and as kids we copied them; building 2 fairly sophisticated tree houses (for kids) and a tiny log cabin. That interest continued and a couple of years out of high school I bought a junked school bus for $150 and converted it into a camper/house , traveling for several months (Kesey style) around the southeast in it with a handful of hippie friends . I continued building small outbuildings at my own first mini farm and after buying this property, restored all the old summer camp cabins here as we started the first conference center. By the time Jay Schafer came to town the first time, 4-5 years ago, I had the bug bad and was dredging and creating waterfront sites in the early stages of this project.
This place is the intersection of three strong paths in my life: creating artistic buildings, a 5 business entrepreneurial streak and the understanding gleaned from my own spiritual community about the essence of community. So many of the outcomes we’ve looked for in the so called “American Dream” can’t be found in a media driven consumerist approach to life. It takes slowing down. Living a simpler lifestyle (like Tiny House living) as well as creating a more intentional approach to community can be a great support for the peace and happiness we all aspire towards. While I think many folks want to build these to garner more independence, I think its the fact that one can both have that, and create truly supportive communities (by “rounding up the wagons” so to speak) that is so interesting. We all need privacy but there is also a certain magic in coming together more collaboratively to create things together.
What influences stylistically are you basing your designs off of?
I lean towards the Appalachian cabin vernacular but with a whimsical twist. Tree houses….hobbit houses…. Creativity is energizing and the more that people are connected to the shelters they build or personalize, the more life it brings into the community. It creates a felt-sense of place. This is not to say we don’t have guidelines….we are in the middle of a retreat center business after all, and the place needs to feel congruent with our reason for being here.
Like we did in our first neighborhood across the street, we strive to appeal to an inter-generational market because diversity adds to the value of communities. I can see our larger models clustered together around a common house to create a pocket neighborhood akin to a senior co-housing community: because we also put an emphasis on creating business opportunities within the projects we’ve done, and have kid friendly areas, I’d also expect to see a younger crowd here, learning both how to build a home and start a business. The third market is “second home” folks like here in the Garden Hamlet People that are simply wanting a quiet place to get away to on weekends or to take a vacation. Like the Hamlet cottages that surround the goat meadow, these cabins can also be placed back in the retreat rental pool so that folks can earn a little off their investment when they’re not using them.
What is your timeline for development? Have you started construction and when do you project to complete this community?
We are 28 years into the overall community and the retreat section is the 4th of the 7 planned phases. We’ve got our primary infrastructure in as well as the new cafe/community building. Four tiny’s are under way (mostly students from Dan Louche’s workshop here last fall) as well as our first double-sized one, a 400 sq ft unit. This is a two module design that can be moved with a normal pick up truck. Because there are many great Tiny House providers on the market today, our focus is primarily on the next size up. While its not something one would haul around day to day like an RV, it would be moveable so that people could have more flexibility about where they live. Here we’ll have lots that can be leased which will make it a very affordable community for young folks starting out or retirees looking for an unencumbered, active, learning, community based life style.
In what ways do permaculture and tiny house ideals coincide for you? How do you feel they compliment each other?
Well the obvious first part is their small footprint and how well they can be integrated into a mini-farm like layout. Here at the Garden Hamlet, even though the cottages are larger, over 60% of the land is held in permanent open space for gardens, greenhouses, fruit trees, farm animals and gardens.
The fundamental learning tracks in it grew out of my experience working with key employees over the course of my 43 years in business….helping them take a more “intra”preneurial approach to running their departments. My approach is more along the lines of the Integral Incubator Series at Integral Institute in Boulder. Beyond the basics, I’m more interested in helping folks with a Four Bottom Line approach. . . People Planet Profit & Personal Transformation. Part of the purpose of the incubator is to help people create meaningful work in their own communities. I deem myself lucky because I always found myself in a business that arose out of personal passions and creativity and always kept me learning and evolving. So many folks work so they can retire. I prefer to help people create work that’s inspiring.
Are you going to have workshops this summer geared towards building tiny houses?
Yes our next on is May 24th-25th. It will be taught by Teal Brown of Wishbone Tiny Homes here in Asheville along with some of our students and staff for certain elements. It will also include an introduction to building with cob for folks thinking about creating more fixed structures.
To find out more about workshops, retreats and the community visit www.highlandlakecove.com!
Thanks again Kerry for talking to me and for growing tiny house love and community in the Carolinas!
- Are you inspired by tiny houses to build community? If so, how?
Vermont has quite the tiny house scene. Only two weeks after moving up here we came across our friend KJ’s tiny house and heard about several more! Back in SC, we were pretty much the only tiny house folks that we knew about but it seems Vermonters have had tiny house fever for some time! Today I want to share this wonderful tiny house that our friend built and currently occupies with her bull mastiff!
The house currently lives on a farm and sits on a 8 1/2 x 16 foot trailer with two bumpouts that serve as storage and sleeping space. She has a hard wired, 20 amp circuit that allows her to hook to a breaker box in the barn next door and although she has a clawfoot tub she recently bought, she does not having running water in the house.
While taking a permaculture course, KJ was exploring a less toxic, less material based lifestyle. She was living in yurt in Vermont and realized that it was not the best living situation through the long winters. It took a lot of wood to heat it and keep it warm for one person so she nixed the idea of buying a yurt. She became especially interested in gypsy wagons and began researching other small living alternatives, such as school bus renovation, back in 2008. Then she moved in to a tree house on a goat farm owned by a couple of architects. She revealed her dream to build a tiny house and she says their eyes lit up! They agreed to help her in exchange for goat sitting on the weekends. Two months of building and she had herself a house.
The house is built with pine that was cut and milled from the forest on the goat farm and it was built specifically to her measurements. She’s thinking up new ideas for the house and planning to remodel the downstairs to have a narrower staircase and a space for a table and two chairs. The best things about living the tiny life? The strong sense of ownership and accomplishment is certainly a strong sentiment for her. “It’s mine, I made it!” is the first thing she tells me when I asked her the above question but also living in a non-toxic space and escaping the materialistic bent of our consumerist culture are among the positives to living this life.
I found this project out of Italy working on small space design and was intrigued by it. The difference between this project, dubbed the Freedom Room, and the slew of others out there: it was designed by prisoners. A training program was created through a collaboration with the research center Cibicworkshop and the research and design cooperative Comodo to provide the necessary tools to the prisoners of Spoleto, Italy’s correctional facility to create functional, beautiful and innovative small space design.
While their motivation is driven by forced small space accommodation the project is a reflection of far-reaching opportunities. The collaborators envision the rise of new social dynamics and innovative solutions to re-shaping communities and neighborhoods. That’s definitely in line with what I heard Jay Shafer speak about at a workshop last summer. It’s what many small space designers and tiny house builders are searching for. A shift in consciousness and the wider societal embrace of less is more.
That such a project is coming out of a correctional facility really struck a cord with me. Prisons are places that are often tucked away and hidden from the daily life of citizens yet it’s impact and reflection on our society is poignant. That these inmates became the designers and project consultants of this prototype reflects innovation in design as well as social involvement and prison reform.
Some of the issues that small space design is addressing includes inflated housing markets, high unemployment, increased underemployment, capitalist consumerism and the overt display of materialism of McMansions among other ills. Many folks interested in tiny houses can attest to this, including myself. The Freedom Room is a project design based on living under restraint but has shown what ingenuity born of necessity can initiate. It can be directed for use in the everyday life of people around the world and the collaborators hope that the project will serve as inspiration not only for other prisons but all manners of needs within society. It is another model expressing the simplicity and beauty that small space design is capable of achieving across the societal board-from inmates, to student dormitories, to hotel rooms to tiny living spaces.
I find this project to be an inspiration in many ways. As a prototype it addresses the major issues of decent living within penitentiaries and educational rehabilitation of inmates within the prison system. It reflects the viability of small space design in ways I’d never even considered. That somehow gives me hope that, eventually, more and more people will come around, give tiny living a try themselves, whether that means 100, 300, 500 or 1000 sq. feet, and perhaps consider reducing their footprint and finding the joy in simpler living.
As of late I have been chatting with several tiny house people about what it would take to actually have a true tiny house community that was legitimate, legal and welcome in a city. It would be very easy to do this in a small rural city location or somewhere in the Midwest where there isn’t anyone for miles, but the fact is most people want to live near a city where they have career opportunities, a social life, things to do and ease of access to stores.
So how might we achieve a tiny house community in a decent size city? I was speaking to another writer who had taken an interesting approach that I think might work here in the US (he is located in Canada). They were able to get their tiny houses designated as a RV, and then they pooled their funds to buy out a mobile home trailer park. From there they waited until all the current leases had lapsed (they notified the residents that they would not be renewing the leases) and they had an entire trailer park to themselves. Now I have mixed feelings on this, but I think you could navigate this step in a way that is ethical and fair, but it is fine line for sure.
The key to this strategy is that you have to buy out an existing park, because there are few big cities that are allowing land to be newly zoned for trailer parks or camp grounds. Many cities are shifting to mixed income housing to handle low-income housing. Once you own it, I think the first step would be to clear the entire lot and do some heavy duty landscaping and design.
- What do you think about the idea of buying out an RV park?
- What ideas have you had to get a tiny house community started?