Brisbane duo’s tiny houses making a big impact

11 August 2016

Startup social enterprise makes affordable housing easier

For graduate architects Lara Nobel and Andrew Carter, home is wherever their hearts desire.

The West End pair found their calling in sustainable living after they realised the affordability, increasing floor areas and environmental impact of modern Australian houses were heading into dangerous territory.

Their answer? A small idea with huge potential.

They’ve since built themselves a portable, pint-sized pad – a product of their startup, The Tiny House Company.

Since graduating from The University of Queensland, Lara says the couple had been looking at different alternatives to the typical route to home ownership.

“We were interested in the idea of co-housing and buying a block with a group of friends. The idea of building a tiny house on wheels came from some friends who were building one for themselves,” Lara said.

With architecture backgrounds, carpentry apprenticeships and an interest in sustainability, they knew that if anyone was going to commercialise tiny houses in Australia, it was going to be them.

Startup social enterprise makes affordable housing easier

“Last year we started talking, researching and designing, and Greg and I went along to the Tiny House conference in Portland in April,” Lara said.

Not long after, they teamed up with builder Greg Thornton of Greg Thornton Constructions to form The Tiny House Company.

“With land prices being the major hurdle for most people, we wanted to provide a way for people to own a house while renting land, hence building it on wheels,” Lara said.

“This way, people on a tight budget can buy a small house on wheels and negotiate a lease with land owners.

“Being on wheels and classified as a caravan removes some of the hurdles to living off-grid and also gives people the flexibility to move the house within or between properties as the need arises.”

The journey of this new small business and the conception of the prototype design began during their research trip to Portland where the tiny house movement is well established.

“The goal was to build something that’s small but still beautiful – big enough and well equipped enough to make it a legitimate long-term housing option, not just a short-term gimmick,” Lara said.

Startup social enterprise makes affordable housing easier

Chatting to Lara, she said there were many challenges along the way.

“Fitting a fully functioning house within the confines of a 7.5 x 2.4m area is difficult enough. Add to it the mix of the complications and competing interests of weight distribution, transport, off-grid systems, and Australia’s appetite for huge homes, and you start to get an idea of just how challenging it was,” she said.

Despite the many design challenges, the team found the biggest struggles in the business side of their startup.

“The most difficult part is what goes on behind the scenes. For Andrew and I, our passion is in designing and building, so it has been a steep learning curve trying to get our heads around basic pricing, accounting, staffing and generally how to run a small manufacturing business,” Lara said.

“Last year we didn’t even know what a BAS statement was, had no idea about the costs and challenges associated with setting up a workshop. We are learning fast with the much-needed guidance of Greg and other small business owners.”

Lara, Andrew and Greg finished building the prototype design in November last year and have been touring around Queensland, building interest about tiny houses and sustainable living. One of their outings was to Woodford Folk Festival last year, where thousands of people toured the house.

“It was an amazing opportunity as young designers to have so many people walk through our home. We were able to hear many opinions and were given lots of honest feedback and support,” Lara said.

The future of The Tiny House Company is looking prosperous, with a workshop set up at Salisbury and plenty of customer enquiries for everything from permanent residences to holiday homes in the hinterlands.

“We hope to be able to build more of our designs and start a dialogue with councils to see how tiny houses and other options for small-scale development and affordable housing could be integrated into their planning schemes.”

Check out The Tiny House Company designs at http://www.tinyhousecompany.com.au/videos/

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