Tiny House Trend

Not just for those with tiny budgets

By Robin Jay

“Tiny House Nation” was the first television series of its kind in the tiny living genre, and continues to rank as FYI network’s #1 rated program in the home space. The series follows host John Weisbarth and renovation expert and tiny home innovative designer Zack Giffin as they travel across America showing off ingenious small spaces and the people who live in them.

In the new 2017 spring season of “Tiny House Nation,” John and Zack come up with a serious game plan to build NFL Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders, and television host Tracey Edmonds, a tiny retreat where they can kick-back and relax without interruption. And many more. International Opulence sat down with John and Zak for an inside peek into the production of “Tiny House Nation.”

Left to right: Zack Griffin, John Weisbarth

International Opulence: Zack, what’s your secret to dreaming up the ingenious solutions to meet unique lifestyle needs in a tiny home?
Zack Giffin: I believe that constraint breeds creativity. The variety of solutions is only limited by the variety of problems that need to be solved. In a tiny house, there is no shortage of obstacles and when I’m redesigning a space to maximize utility, all I need to do is look for gaps in the design. That’s why it is so important that I learn as much as I can about the homeowners.

My inspiration comes from necessity and I’ve learned that no matter what I do, there is always a better way to do something. It never helps me to try to do things perfectly. What I do is find a solution that I can visualize working and move forward. My only option is to engage my full effort and trust that it comes out well.

International Opulence: John, how did the idea for “Tiny House Nation” came to fruition?
John Weisbarth: “Tiny House Nation” was a joint collaboration between FYI and the production company, Loud TV. Zack and I were not part of the creation concept. In fact, the first time I even met Zack was one week before we started filming at a meeting in New York.

Zack was a professional skier who built his own tiny home so he didn’t have to sleep in the snow. For me, my build background comes from my father. He owned his own handyman business and I worked for him from the 8th grade until I graduated from college. After that I became a sportscaster in my hometown of San Diego. I hosted the pre and postgame show for the San Diego Padres for 10 years – that’s where my TV background comes from.

I’ve been working with Zack since April 2014, nearly 70 episodes worth of special projects, and he surprises me almost every single time. His ability to problem solve in a creative way under serious time pressure is astounding.

The reason we often refer to a 7-day timeline on the show is because that is how long our team is there. We show up to a house that has been under construction already. At this point, our team spends most of its time working on the special projects and multifunctional furniture that Zack designs, and we leave most of the rough construction up to whichever local contractor has been hired.

International Opulence: What do you think triggered the “tiny house” trend?
John: Tiny houses are not new. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average size of a new single-family American residence in 1950 was less than 1,000 sq. ft. and they were just called homes. That said, most people agree that what we call the “Tiny House Movement” started in the Pacific Northwest in 1990s. It did not however start to gain traction until the mid-late 2000s, and I think the housing crisis of 2007 and 2008 certainly played a role in that.
I think it has continued to gain in popularity because there is a growing number of people who value experiences over things, and going tiny is a great way to pursue that kind of life.  You don’t have room for more stuff in your house, but you’ve got extra cash in your pocket, so why not spend it on an experience?

I also think that the disparity between the rising cost of housing and personal income is a big factor. Our wages are not increasing nearly as fast as housing costs are and that puts a great deal of people in a tough position. Without the option of simply going out and getting a job that pays you $100k more a year, the next best option is to cut costs. For most people, their biggest expense is housing. Downsizing your house, and the cost associated with it, frees you up to start living the life you really want to.

Tiny houses can be a very powerful tool when used for a specific goal, whether that is saving money, spending more time with your family or allowing you to pursue your dream of graduating from clown college.

International Opulence: What’s the difference between the Tiny Home Movement and RV trailer parks?
John: People ask me this all the time, and the simple answer is that a tiny house on a trailer feels like a home. A travel trailer feels like a trailer. The latter works great for a long weekend and frequent travel. The former works great to live in full time. One is transient, the other feels more permanent.

Generally speaking, most people build their tiny home on wheels because that allows them to bypass most building and code parameters associated with new construction. The real issue, however, is where you can park your tiny house.

By far the biggest hurdle is where you can legally build and/or park them. Every county across the nation has its own zoning regulations and most all of them require some sort of minimum square footage to be considered a habitable dwelling. The good news is that as the tiny house movement has grown, more communities have started to change their zoning laws to include tiny houses. Just this past December the International Code Council voted to adopt tiny-house-specific building codes that will become part of the 2018 International Residential Code, which is a big step in making tiny houses legal. Jay Shafer said it best when he said, “I believe people should be able to live as simply as they choose.”

International Opulence: In episode 301, we see you and Zack plan a tiny home for a professional NBA basketball player. What challenges did you face?
John: A good tiny home should be everything you need and nothing that you don’t…that means customization. A big part of what we do on the show is figure out exactly what each homeowner needs for them to thrive in a space that is oftentimes 1/10th the size of their current home. So the process of building for someone that is 6’10” isn’t all that different than building for a family of 5…it’s just the challenges that are different. For episode 301 specifically, that meant taking advantage of as much vertical space as possible by limiting the loft construction to one small zone above the bathroom.

International Opulence: What do you love most about working on the show?
John: You know how everyone hates clichés, but the reason we say them is because they are true? Well, the best part of doing “Tiny House Nation” is the people. Both the people I work with and the people I get to meet all across the country. I spend between 170 and 230 days a year on the road filming the show…that’s a lot of time away from my wife and my son. The only thing that makes that doable is the quality of people that I get to work with…they really have become an extension of my family.

In addition, almost by rule, the homeowners that are making the bold choice to go tiny are almost always cool. These are people who are not afraid to make a tough decision if it means gaining greater control of their lives and how they live them. Those types of people are pretty fun to hang out with.

International Opulence: What’s the process to selecting projects for the show?
John: If you want Zack and me to help build your tiny house, the only way to do that is to be on the TV show. You can apply online to be on “Tiny House Nation” – loudtelevision.com/casting/sample-2. The production company will reach out to talk with you if you are a good fit.

Tiny House Trend