Incredibly Shrinking Houses Tiny homes on wheels and reclaimed small dwellings lure space-efficient, price conscious buyers and tenants

Wood walls, beams and vaulted ceiling as well as hardwood floors mark the tiny house that custom contractor Shaun Laursen is building west of the Ashley.

A custom builder by trade, Shaun Laursen’s hobby is reconditioning classic Airstream campers, a retro craze among collectors. That got him to thinking: his skills crafting houses and toning metal-body RVs were perfect for a side career in tiny homes.

Having built a few high-end dwellings on wheels for colleagues, the West Ashley entrepreneur formalized the work a year ago to launch Charleston Tiny Houses. Laursen says he’s attracted interest along the Eastern Seaboard to the West Coast.

“It’s been good for us,” he says. On the company web site at www.charlestontinyhouses.com, the venture lists homes for $28,000 to $62,000 that take eight to 14 weeks to complete.

The builder is part of what might be called a “cottage industry,” made up of structures that pale in size to actual cottages. Tiny houses measure 400 square feet or less and are attachable to wheels to be driven away, say for a trip or a move to a new site.

Charleston Tiny Houses builds custom shiplap wooden homes, but tiny house frames can be raised from many materials, such as shipping containers and train cars. Tiny-house competition includes recreational vehicles and sailboats.

Jennifer Burke, broker associate at dunes properties of Charleston, recently took an interest in tiny houses when her husband, James, and son, James M. Burke II, started building one. The framed-up model is “all self-sufficient,” Jennifer Burke says. “The cool thing is tiny homes have a lot of options,” she says. “We are getting calls.”

Affordable-housing backers have considered using small residences for the Charleston area’s homeless population, notes Michelle Pollak, a local businesswoman who’s involved with area homeless shelters. “I know it’s a big movement for tiny houses,” she says.

Pollak, of Mount Pleasant, makes a living in a specialty venture that parallels tiny homes: plush playhouses and smaller structures for celebrities and everyday families across the country priced from $10,000 and up. Her business partner in La Petite Maison is Colorado-based designer Alan Mowrer.

“Alan has been approached to build tiny homes, pool houses (and similar dwellings). He has designed them,” Pollak says, but hasn’t been involved in constructing the structures, which include bathrooms, unlike most playhouses, and are subject to different building regulations.

Laursen, of Charleston Tiny Houses, notes he also refurbishes freedman’s cottages, which date to the late 1800s and early 20th century as houses for emancipated African-Americans in the South, including Charleston, after the Civil War.

In some cases, investors buy the cottages — which aren’t mobile — and renovate them.

Take Sam Cook, who as a 22-year-old College of Charleston business major wanted to own a home downtown.

“With limited funds, the only realistic way to do so — while ensuring he was making a sound investment — was by buying small,” his wife Danna Cook says.

He purchased 157 Line Street in June 2010. He was guided in refurbishing the small house by by his father, retired architect Ed Cook, and the work of friends and contractors. The total renovation cost was close to $50,000.

“In the kitchen, we installed custom, stainless steel ‘tiny’ appliances from a special manufacturer,” she says.

Spray foam insulation was used and a tank-less water heater fitted to save room and improve efficiency.

The 404-square-foot home was owner occupied 2010-14 and is now a popular rental property, Danna Cook says.

Meanwhile, Laursen’s principal clientele are customers who own or buy a plot of land in the country, say on Wadmalaw Island, and want a tiny house for flexibility.

“I think you see younger generations, not (in a hurry) to get a home (or) take out a mortgage.” For $30,000-$40,000, they can buy a 200-square-foot tiny house with solar panels, a bedroom, kitchen with range and oven and bathroom with sink and shower, Laursen says. In the meantime, “they can save,” he says.

Reach Jim Parker at 843-937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.