Tiny House Fest offers big solutions to big problems

By LUCY TOWNEND

LUCY TOWNEND
Andrew Bernard of Ridge Top Carpentry brought his own tiny house to the festival.

WARREN — The solution to the affordable housing crisis may come in small sizes. Hundreds gathered at the Tiny House Fest despite pouring rain on Sunday, Oct. 27 to engage in discussion and celebrate the tiny house movement. The festival, held at Sugarbush Ski Resort in Warren, boasted three stages for speakers, exhibitions, a tiny house village and a food truck roundup. 

Tiny homes form a new trend in the movement for affordable and sustainable living. Most consist of less than 400 square feet of living space yet are functional — stocked with appliances, storage and heating and cooling systems. Some are also made for transport, equipped with wheels or mounted on a trailer. Attendees of the festival learned from others, regardless of their experience in this tiny house world. 

According to the Tiny House Fest website, Erin Maile O’Keefe, Betsy Hall and Lisa Kuneman began the Tiny House Fest in the spring of 2016 in Brattleboro, Vt. The goal was to open up a conversation surrounding attainable housing, focusing on “housing, housing equity, right-sized housing, sustainable housing and the like.”

The event included speakers and panels on three stages, focused on design, community vision and storytelling about tiny houses. Talks ranged from “Don’t Get Sketched-Out over SketchUp” to “The Journey to Going Live on AirBnB with Your Tiny House: Steps from A to Z.” One of the panelists, Mary Beth Simons, created Homes First, an initiative to start a dialogue about tiny homes in Middlebury. Simons was featured on a panel titled “Tiny Houses — Wedging Open the Conversation About Housing and Community” and is hoping to start a tiny house village in Middlebury.

People had various reasons to attend this year’s festival. “I came here to see what other people are doing,” Andrew Bernard said, “and to help build the web of connection in tiny living a little bigger.” Bernard, who works for Ridge Top Carpentry, brought his tiny house to Warren to be displayed in the festival’s tiny house village. His house is made on a stripped-down 76 chaster frame he found and consists partly of materials he was able to scrounge up from his community. His inspiration was drawn from old carriage builders from the late 1900s in New England. 

LUCY TOWNEND
Zora and Evan, children of festival attendee Meredity Merritt, enjoy the Makerspace.

Tyler Pastorak was part of a group of students from Green Mountain College who built a tiny home with the help of a professor. The home, which currently houses one of the students on the property of the professor, was also displayed in the tiny house village. “For me, what I was studying in school was adventurary education,” Pastorak said,  “and it really helped me examine my lifestyle because you have to boil your whole life down into a backpack or fit on a bicycle.” He emphasized that anyone, including inexperienced students, can build a tiny house with the help of YouTube videos. “The tiny house is this nice bridge between full-on backpacking and having a giant house,” Pastorak said. 

“There are always new innovations,” said Casey Hess, a volunteer at the event who studies environmental law at Vermont Law School. “I’m looking to get involved in energy efficiency and sustainability,” she said.

“It’s a punk rock movement,” said Michael Zebrowski, owner and lead designer of Up End This, a nomadic lifestyle brand that custom designs mobile tiny homes. “This is the core of what I’ve wanted to do since I was a teenager — it’s broody, and municipalities don’t like it.”

Zebrowski approached one of his students, Kris Brown, when Brown was a junior in college to begin Up End This. 

“I said hell yeah, let’s do it,” Brown said. “Simplistic is the best way to clean your mind. If you want to refine your peace, simple, small and tiny is the way.” 

Other exhibitionists included designing services, products including toilets, windows and pottery and financial help. Architects also offered 25-minutes “speed design reviews” for attendees hoping to build their own tiny house. 

Rebekah Owens attended the event to do market research for her start-up company, Tiny Homes Helper Inc., which is set up as a benefit company to help people design, build and live a tiny house lifestyle. “I believe very strongly in the tiny house movement,” Owens said. “I want to see everyone who wants to live in a tiny house be successful at it.”

Attendees remained optimistic about the momentum of the movement and the role it will play in the future of housing. “As much as tiny houses offer a solution for those of us who have too much, it is also a solution for people who don’t have enough,” Owens said. 

“I think it’s a great thing we got going on here,” Bernard added. “I’m more than happy to be a part of it.”

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