The Shiny Tiny
11/10/2015 09:33AM ● Published by Aimee Cormier
Gallery: The Shiny Tiny [3 Images] Click any image to expand.
By Shanna Perkins | Photos by Francine Kennedy
Not far from the bayou, in front of a sprawling bucolic field, sits a profoundly petite pied-à-terre. The carved front door displays an attentive owl sitting atop entwined vines. The front porch and its collection of potted plants beckon visitors to come sit for a spell. The exterior glistens in sunlight. Though it may sound like a fairy tale, this is the Shiny Tiny. A tiny home created with purpose and hard work by an eclectic and determined team.
Visual artist and Shiny Tiny “benefactress” Winifred Reilly has a passion for tiny living. She often urges people to “think big about tiny.”
“The tiny house movement is about simplifying ones life,” Reilly explains. “It’s also a wonderful way to create an affordable and flexible living situation.”
When Reilly decided to sponsor a project that would continue to teach alternative and green living after its completion, there was only one place to turn – Nunu Arts and Culture Collective in Arnaudville.
“I came into the project on Christmas Eve 2014,” laughs project director Francine Kennedy. “George Marks the President of Nunu, called me and I was thinking, ‘do you know what day it is?’ And he explained that he thought I had the right background, technical knowledge and management skills for the job. It’s been an interesting ride.”
It was an equally as interesting ride that led Kennedy to be a tiny house project director. She and Marks had been roommates at LSU 20 years prior. When Kennedy heard that Marks was back in Arnaudville, she quickly became involved at Nunu. Formerly, Kennedy worked as a chemist and a regional manager for Safety Health and Environmental Control. In 2010, chasing a desire to combine the artistic side of her personality with the technical side, she walked away from a successful career path and went back to school at UL Lafayette to study architecture.
The Shiny Tiny is based on the home of Art Cormier, tiny house educator and owner of the Rok Haus climbing gym in Lafayette. Reilly and Marks believed that with Cormier’s expertise they could create an integrated, hands-on learning experience. And so, the tiny house workshop came to be. Once the workshop was open to the public, it sold out in two days. The 10 students who registered seemed to vary in every aspect of their lives except for begin s by tiny house living.
“I got feedback from each of the students before the workshop, because I wanted to know they’re skill level,” Kennedy says tucking her Kelly green highlighted hair behind her ears. “It ranged from, ‘I’ve never picked up a hammer before’ to ‘I have 20 years of carpentry experience.’ We had the gamut. We ended up having some natural leaders, which was great.”
The Shiny Tiny began as most tiny homes do, with a trailer. The 18X17 ½ foot trailer arrived in February and the students began their first week working on the structure. The trailer, common to tiny homes, is where the conventional building methods end. “This home has a structure that isn’t common,” states Kennedy frankly. “The walls, roof and floor are made of SIP panels – structural insulated panels.”
She explains that a traditional stick-and-frame building has stud walls. Everywhere there is a stud, there’s a thermal break and that’s where energy is lost. The model was designed in 3D and sent to a SIP manufacturer in Arkansas.
“The floor is one pieces,” Kennedy says. “There’s no seal around the ends. There’s no subfloor. It makes it super rigid and strong. You don’t lose your conditioned air and it is much more energy efficient.”
While some “workshoppers” finished the exterior, others moved to the interior. The floor, which was torn out of a local cafeteria, was one of the many reclaimed or donated items. In it’s original state, it was coated in a dark high-gloss varnish. Kennedy was determined to achieve two things with the floors makeover. She wanted it to take on the silvery sheen of aged cypress and, congruent with the tiny house mantra, she wanted to use low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds). She found a plant-based product created in Belgium that perfectly achieved both of her goals.
“We always say that people are going say ‘What tiny house? But did you see that front door?’” Kennedy laughs, and this is just barely a joke. The front door was carved from a solid one-inch piece of cypress that was donated by a volunteer from Quebec. From there, it fell into the hands of Larry Borque who carved the ornate owl design into the front door. “Larry came walking in with the door and he was all smiles. I saw it and I just started crying,” she continues as she steps outside to admire it again. “I couldn’t believe that he had taken that much time and put that much detail into it. He just gave it to us – I still can’t get over it.”
From the “Paris white” walls to the silvering floors, the design aesthetic is indisputably contemporary modern. The seating area features a sleek white love seat that folds out into a bed, two 70s green chairs and a few well-placed end tables. “It’s David Humphreys; he’s an artist,” Marks says pointing to the black and white photograph of a sea urchin hanging over the chairs as he walks in to sit next to Kennedy on the couch. “We’re going to rotate the art from artist within Nunu.”
In a few key areas of the home are modern light instillations created by Kennedy from scrap pieces of material and a few Hobby Lobby scores. The bathroom has a shower, with a covet-worthy showerhead, a cubby in the wall for towels and a self-contained composting toilet. The kitchen is complete with a refrigerator, a sink and a propane marine stove. Kennedy believes the kitchen will also serve as a heat source.
“People always say, ‘What are you going to do about heat?’ and I say, ‘It’s South Louisiana – we’re going to cook a pot of gumbo and it’s going to warm up in here just fine,’” she laughs.
A key component of the traditional tiny house design is the loft. It serves not only as a place to sleep, but its design allows for optimal storage. Larry Bourque also designed the loft’s stairs, with special input from Kennedy to consider people with acrophobia (like herself.) Using a design frequently found on ships, Bourque was able to create a design that left plenty of storage options and made Kennedy feel completely comfortable when climbing into the loft.
“The design of the stairs allowed us to build into them, the drawers on the side and a closet,” she says pulling out a hidden closet housing a lone pair of leather men’s shoes. “You don’t want a lot of storage in a tiny house. The idea is to step back and decide what you really need.”
In the loft, a large cushiony mattress covered in bedding of blues sits on tops of a leather shag rug that hangs playfully over the edge of the loft. The windows of the loft open to a rolling filed that is still rust colored and smoldering from an end of the season burn.
A key component in tiny house living is a sense of community, so inclusion was important when designing the workshop. Each weekend, there were educational classroom style lessons that were opened to the public. Keeping the team together and motivated throughout the build was also very important to the success of the workshop.
“We worked from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and sometimes a little later,” Kennedy explains. “They were full days and I let everyone know that upfront. One of the things that we decided early on was that we wanted to feed them. We cooked meals – like good meals – hearty meals. We all took turns cooking and we had things like homemade chili and homemade bread. We’d all sit down and have a communal meal and talk about what we’d learned that day. It was a great time to stop and check in with everybody.”
It took a mere six months to create the 140-square foot abode. Now that it’s complete, it can begin to be used for the multiple functions it was intended for. Kennedy says that during the workshop process she learned why people wanted to build tiny houses and her eyes were opened to uses she’d never imagined.
She recalls couples who were retiring and looking to downsize. Some workshop attendants wanted to use their tiny house as a camp. “That’s ‘glamping,’” she clarifies with a laugh. Another woman wanted to put the structure in her backyard so that her daughter could rent it out as an additional source of income. One day, a mother pulled up to the Shiny Tiny with her son. She explained that when he was younger he had been in an accident that left him disabled. The mother wanted to build a tiny house for her son so that he could always be near her, but could maintain a level of independence.
The house’s intended purpose for Nunu is that it will serve as a temporary home for the many artists who participate in the artists residency program and the creative in residence. It won’t be limited to just visual artists; it will be open to musicians, writers, linguists and researchers in the area studying the Bayou Teche.
“We have already had artists staying in the house for residencies in Acadiana,” states Reilly. “They live and work here – then they leave something wonderful behind that adds to the rich culture that already exists here. When ‘creatives’ are not staying in the house it can be used as a rental. If you go on airbnb.com and search ‘tiny houses,’ you can quickly see that it’s something people want to experience. For many people, simplifying and living in a smaller space is just a fantasy. Now, they can come to Arnaudville and experience the reality.”
The idea of the house is not just that it benefits those who stay there. Reilly, Kennedy and Marks all hope that the the sustainability within the structure and the mantra associated with a simplified life begins to trickle through the community and have a greater benefit for the Acadiana region.
“It’s going to benefit us as a community at large. Not just Arnaudville, but Acadiana,” Marks reasons. “When artists come through the residency program they can access the space for free, but they have to do something that’s impactful for the community. Yes, it’s a tiny house, but it becomes something that can connect the communities. It’s all about sustainability; we’re trying to create a sustainable social structure. It’s this idea of creating a space for a creative to plug into so they can share their knowledge with the community.”