I had never been to a “Home Show” before. Although I was a homeowner for many years (in what seems like a lifetime ago), I never saw myself as someone who would stroll down aisles of vinyl-clad windows or gutter systems, even if I do enjoy perusing gardening stuff. But hardware stores and junkyards were about as esoteric as my home-improvement travels got. Still, when Victoria Salvador told me there would be a tiny-home village at the Denver Home Show, I jumped at the chance to go.
Since I've worked for both the Denver County Fair and the Modernism Show, the cavernous National Western Complex is familiar stomping grounds, but each time it changes a little. This round, with plush carpet spread through the hall (carpeting that in square footage translated to roughly the area of Denver currently under cranes), it was transformed even more, but the smell is always familiar: old funnel-cake oil mixed with the faint soupçon of llama turds. But this time, a new smell intermingled: off-gassing from the carpet. I had a headache within five minutes.
The experience of the home show was jarring, to say the least. Greeted at the door by a sample of BBQ sauce and an array of speaker and flashing light-outfitted party hot tubs almost as large as my tiny house, I instantly wondered whose homes we were talking about. And it only got stranger: Though I expected vinyl-clad windows and gutter systems, I didn’t expect on-site teeth whitening and hair straightening or gel packs you heat in the microwave. I also didn’t expect the hard sell: people grabbing at you, yelling at you, calling out to entice you with their crap with a faux-excited pitch that made me feel the emptiness in the pit of their stomach from five feet away. It reminded me of walking the gauntlet of barkers for sex palaces in Times Square when I was fifteen, back when New York was still the filthy cesspool that we all knew and loved from Scorcese films, before Disney and hordes of tourists made it a place to avoid.
By the time we reached the back corner where the tiny-house village was located, I was exhausted and we were weighed down by samples of lightbulbs and “healthier” Wonder-style bread, all of which I jammed in my purse after I got sick of shifting them from hand to hand. It felt like we had reached Valhalla, and the wonderment of an indoor tiny-house village, complete with landscaping, instantly replaced the anxious frustration of the desperation-scented home show.
It was interesting to see the various homes – about twelve total – and the different approaches to design. Surprisingly, the larger, better-known companies didn’t seem to take nearly as much care with the build; in one I saw nail-gun holes in the interior wall that hadn’t been filled and a ceiling light that sat one inch above a built-in dresser. The styles of stairs we saw ranged from a double loft stair that met in the middle to a set of stairs with one inexplicable half-sized stair that everyone stumbled on.
There were a lot of Colorado builders there, too. I was impressed with the interior touches from Custom Tiny Houses by Darla, a female builder after my own heart. I fell in love with the antique enameled Pullman sink she'd found for the bathroom, which folded up and hid away against the wall like a turtle in a shell — just as it had once in a vintage train car. Also impressive was Outlier Tiny Homes, whose exterior boasted glimpses of van Gogh’s "Starry Night" and whose interior was by far the most creative, with a steampunk lighting system snaking across the ceiling, a shower of collaged National Geographic covers, and a hinge system for the TV that creatively solved a problem I had been puzzling over for some time. (Jensen Bigelow, one of the builders, was completely gracious when I told him I intended to steal the design, even posing while I took pics of it.)
Victoria, ever the practical one, went straight for electrical panels and venting, two things I hadn’t yet considered. We walked around the homes' exteriors (where we didn’t compete for gawking space, unlike in the packed interiors) and peeked in storage closets, looked at trailer-mounted air conditioners, and asked questions about insulation and square footage while I ogled under-platform storage drawers and visually measured stair treads.
Most of the homes there were finished and for sale, but a couple were not. One of them, roughed in with electrical and clad in insulation, belonged to Isabelle Nagel-Brice, who had framed hers with metal beams during work parties that she writes about on her blog. She had teamed up with her friend Cody Farmer to show off a green insulation and ventilation system from Germany that they were selling as a kit. While Victoria grilled Cody on specs, I chatted with Isabella about the hard parts of building and what we hadn’t expected, as well as the misleading nature of most web stories about tiny homes. By the end, I felt I had a new friend who gets the struggle.
Though running the commercial gauntlet to the tiny-house village was trying, it was worth the trek. The show has given me new things to consider for insulation, design and even siding — options I didn’t know I had. Being inside that many tiny homes with that many people made it clear what worked and what didn’t, and what kind of space to pass through felt right. It was an afternoon well spent, despite my headache and hair that still smelled of old funnel-cake grease when I got home with my mashed bread and purse-full of lightbulbs.
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging out her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell. If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here or here. See more of her work at lynnxe.com.
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