Living in small, efficient dwellings is nothing new for us human beings. We’ve been cramming entire families into caves, tipis, yurts, covered wagons and small cabins for centuries. Within the last decade or so, however, a renaissance of shrinking the domestic abode has gone mobile with the advent of tiny homes built on trailers – a phenomenon not befitting the masses but cultishly revered by the eco- and economically-minded lovers of efficiency.
Mainstreamers may wonder what the use is in ditching their sprawling, hoarder lifestyles for these miniature domiciles, but for Rocky Mountain Tiny House owner Greg Parham – a tiny house dweller himself – simplification has become a way of life and an opportunity to exercise his creativity as an architect in increasingly unique ways. His elusive shop sits above the Animas River in Durango, guarded by Rocco, a handsome chocolate Lab more friendly than ferocious. Under a giant canopy, a new home is being meticulously fleshed out with custom-built compartments that maximize storage and deftly incorporate all the trappings of a comfortable, normal-sized house. The first thing you notice upon entrance is the clean aesthetic – modern lines melding with a rustic assemblage of reclaimed barn wood, Colorado beetle kill pine and smooth mahogany. In one of two airy lofts, changing rainbows of LED rope lights are artistically framed by cutout mountain silhouettes – whimsical flourishes dreamed up by the expectant owner.
As an architect and designer of tiny houses, creativity for Parham comes in the form of making choices about how to utilize space and maximize aesthetics, which doesn’t always jive with budget.
“People want to do things that haven’t been done before and they want to get whimsical with crazy, elaborate shapes. There’s a lot of collaboration, which for me is the best way to get creative,” Parham said. “The idea with the mountains– that was Wade Christensen, the owner’s idea. I like it when the creativity comes from the customer. A lot of times my craftsmen – the guys that work for me – will get an idea and they’ll be like, ‘Let’s try that.’”
Storage in a tiny house bolsters the saying that necessity is the mother of invention. Living in less than 1,000 square feet forces you to forgo the luxury of scattering your crap to the four winds. A need for order and systems requires creative design and innovation.
“Storage is one of the biggest challenges in a tiny house,” Parham said. “Anywhere you have a free spot, such as under the bed or under stairs, you have to reclaim that space to make it useful.”
To Parham, innovation is where there’s room to grow within the tiny house movement, “doing things that no one’s done before with new materials, new ideas, new shapes, new forms, new lighting. We’re always pushing innovation.”
He believes the continued expansion of the tiny house phenomenon is inevitable and has seen the demand for his services shift from building tiny homes to designing plans for DIYers.
“In Durango, most people are building their own tiny houses,” he said. “I offer consultation services, but right now I’m drawing five different sets of custom plans for people across the country. I figure out what they’re looking for, give them a set of drawings and they go build their own house.”
As a kid, Parham’s parents built their own house and he and his siblings were pulled into the mix, the jobsite transforming into a playground. When he was 14, his mom bought a 1920s Craftsman Bungalow with a tall attic that she let him turn into a bedroom, his first major design and construction project. Self-taught in carpentry, he took on odd building and finishing jobs throughout high school and into college, where he studied architects who introduced him to what would become a guiding principle in his own architectural style – less is more.
“I was exposed to so many different designers that it’s hard to just pick one,” he said. “My interests often leaned in the direction of Green and Green, California Craftsman, Bungalow and Mission styles – you’ll see a lot of that in my work.”
With winter setting in, Parham plans to shut down the shop until the spring thaw, focusing efforts on designing plans for customers he’s got stacked up in the queue. Through the snowy months he’ll hunker down with Rocco in his tiny house paradise above the river, rivulets of smoke stretching into the cold from his wood burner stove, a cup of coffee in hand, enjoying the simple life. Indeed, for Parham and Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses, less is more.