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Tiny house pioneer Jay Shafer: thinking beyond trailer parks

In 1997, Jay Shafer built a tiny house on wheels that shunned trailer park conventions and attempted to mimic a classic gabled home. This act of design rebellion- coupled with Shafer’s challenge to building codes (first in Iowa City and later in California) and his co-founding of the Small House Society- helped launch a movement.

He named his first tiny house “Tumbleweed” and when he began designing and building small homes for others he named his company Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. Appearing on major TV shows and in most magazines, he became the poster boy for the Small House Movement.

In 2012, he split with his Tumbleweed company and founded Four Lights Tiny House Company to focus more on design and on his plans for a tiny house village. His new homes are what he calls “unitized”; they can be more tailored to an individual’s needs. “It’s kind of like LEGO meets IKEA and they make a porn movie together”. Houses can be ordered with kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms moved about as you choose and with optional loft or bumpouts for an extra bed or office space.

He hopes his tiny house village – still in the planning phase – will offer people a way around building codes. He hopes it will be mostly his designs, but is open to anyone who wants to bring a well-designed tiny house (homes, not RVs) to his planned community based in Sonoma, California. He forgets and refers to it as a trailer park, but he says it’s really a “village of tiny houses”. The working title is “Napoleon Complex” with the byline “cohousing for the antisocial”.