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N.H. tiny house company has big plans for the future

  • Sue Schoenfeld (left) and Seth Murdough install a kitchen countertop in a tiny home at Tiny Living Spaces in Henniker on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Co-owner and designer Sue Schoenfeld notes the design of the ceiling of a tiny house being built at Tiny Living Spaces in Henniker on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Master carpenter Seth Murdough builds a custom rack for pots and pans for the kitchen of the tiny house seen in the background at Tiny Living Spaces in Henniker on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. Murdough custom builds the structures, interiors, furniture and other features for the company’s tiny houses. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Michael Charron (center) takes a tour of one of the tiny homes at Tiny Living Spaces in Henniker on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • The interior of a tiny house is seen at Tiny Living Spaces in Henniker on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Co-owner and designer Sue Schoenfeld pushes back into place a combination foot rest and storage bin inside one of the tiny houses being built by Tiny Living Spaces in Henniker on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • The loft space, big enough for a queen-size mattress, is seen inside a tiny house at Tiny Living Spaces in Henniker on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Thursday, August 24, 2017

Barely a year old, Tiny Living Spaces, a new home construction business in Henniker, is still getting off the ground, but there’s no shortage of interest in the niche market it aims to serve.

“Oh, cool. You’re building tiny houses,” Michael Charron said as he walked up to a nearly completed 24-by-8½-foot gray and white structure seen through the open bay door of the small business. He had never seen a tiny home in person and wanted to take a closer look.

Charron was just one example of the foot traffic that frequently stumbles upon the workshop, according to co-owner Sue Schoenfeld. The venture’s first project, a slightly smaller 240-square-foot home nicknamed “Lil’ Blue,” lures some visitors from the road with its bold red “For Sale” sign. Customers from the neighboring business also stop by to see what builder Seth Murdough is working on.

Last week, Murdough was using iron pipes to build a rack for pots and pans and preparing to install a concrete kitchen countertop. He started construction on the company’s second home in March and is about a week away from completion. It will feature a full kitchen, bathroom with shower stall, sofa, TV cabinet and loft space large enough to fit a queen-size mattress – all in 275 square feet.

“I’d like to trademark the phrase ‘a tiny house that you can actually live in,’ ” Murdough said as he and Schoenfeld described the type of homes they want to design and build. They use all new materials, and while the homes are meant to be mobile, they are designed as full-time residences.

“It’s not really intended to be ‘campy,’ ” Schoenfeld said.

Schoenfeld said she and her partner, Anne Mellin, hope to cash in on the growing popularity of tiny houses as more and more people want to live simply and economically. Tiny homes appeal both to retirees looking to downsize and to millennials seeking an affordable first home. But even as more people are seeking tiny homes, many communities in New Hampshire are struggling with how to classify these dwellings and tax them.

They aren’t recreational vehicles, which were never designed as year-round residences; they aren’t manufactured homes, which come pre-inspected and certified; and they aren’t typical houses, with their small footprint and low-ceiling loft-bedrooms. There’s also the question of taxes and the overall value of the home.

The two houses currently for sale by Tiny Living Spaces are listed at $54,900 and $85,900, but prices for the custom homes they hope to build in the future would vary for each customer. What the customer does from there will vary greatly, too.

“It’s really entirely up to them where they want to park it – or if they want to park it,” Schoenfeld said.

The homes are built to meet requirements to haul, but keeping up with every local regulation and the changes that are bound to come as tiny homes gain popularity, make it difficult for the company to cater to all. Built to order homes could be approached with specific regulations already in mind.

“We’re trying to work with individuals and their towns,” Anne Mellin said.

The origins for the business came about three years ago. Schoenfeld and Mellin already had a rental property business and Schoenfeld – a self described “home improvement junkie” – needed a new outlet.

“I think at some point Anne turned around and said ‘Okay, stop putting more money into this house. You have to find a different project,’ ” Schoenfeld said. “So here we are.”

The partners already had a long history of working with Murdough when their tiny home idea took root, and together they launched Tiny Living Spaces last fall, moving slowly at first, but ramping up to a full-time construction schedule in March after a month and a half of design work for the second house.

Plans for the homes were created from scratch and the physical structure of the building was continually adjusted to accommodate interior design elements, and vice versa.

“That’s something that I significantly underestimated early on in the business. The amount of planning required to make something come true,” Murdough said. “You can throw all the money you want at it, but it still has to be able to function.”

For example, Lil’ Blue features pullout stairs that double as storage space, a cabinet that includes hookups for a small washer-dryer unit, and a second entrance that can be accessed when the primary glass doors are blocked during transit.

The payoff for that planning is within reach for Tiny Living Spaces. A final sale is expected on Lil’ Blue, and private showings for the second home have been scheduled. The tiny house team may find themselves back at the drawing table sooner rather than later.