Local builder’s new business no small effort

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PENDLETON — “I love it. I love everything about it,” Ingalls resident Laura Forcum said as she stood in the kitchen of a new home she and her husband, Sam, and 8-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, were touring on a recent Saturday.

While she liked the look and feel of the kitchen, bathroom, sitting area and loft bedrooms inside the 8½-by-20-feet custom built house on wheels, what she talked about more was the lifestyle the home would enable.

“We love to travel, and it’s just the three of us,” she said. It’s just something that would allow us to have the freedom … to live the way we want to live, just living life daily the way we want to do it, now.”

The Forcums are seriously considering giving up their 2,300-square-foot house in the Prairie Hollow subdivision to take up residency in what would be a few hundred feet of living space, in a structure known as a tiny house.

The phenomenon of the tiny house has been described as a fad or a movement by buyers and sellers alike; it’s one that is bigger in some parts of the country than others but is just now reaching the Midwest, according to Dale Geist, owner of Tiny By Design, a manufacturer of tiny houses based in Monroe, Tennessee.

Geist said “the movement has been going on for 15 years or more” but has taken off in recent years after several TV shows — such as HGTV’s “Tiny House Hunters” — brought the concept into people’s living rooms. Geist, for his part, will give people in the central Indiana area a chance to explore diminutive domiciles in person at the Tiny House Roadshow, set for Friday, Nov. 4, through Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Jewish Community Center, 6701 Hoover Road, Indianapolis.

The show will feature more than 15 tiny houses by builders and designers from across the country, including one from the Pendleton area, Burrow Tiny Homes.

Laura Forcum, 30, who runs an in-home daycare and is studying medical coding, said she’s watched the TV shows and heard people talk about the idea of living in a tiny house. But she doesn’t know anyone who’s ever done it. She might be the first to take the leap; she found Burrow Tiny Homes while searching online for a local builder of tiny houses.

It was in the driveway of Burrow Tiny Homes owner Brian DeShong, a couple of miles south of downtown Pendleton, where the Forcums were exploring the model tiny home.

“We had never seen a tiny house in person until now,” Laura Forcum said.

Being inside the model, smaller than the one the Forcums want to buy, solidified their interest.

“I think there’s a good amount of space in here, for it being tiny,” said Sam Forcum, 33, a supervisor at a foundry in New Castle. “I like it … I really do. I think it’d be an amazing way to live.”

DeShong, a member of the Pendleton Heights High School Class of 1998 and married father of four daughters, only recently got into the tiny house-making business.

“I like to do creative, fun things,” DeShong said, explaining why after 17 years in the construction business he decided to start the company.

Plus, he said, “I kind of wanted to get in on the front end,” he said.

DeShong learned the construction trade from his father, who had learned it from his grandfather, but the tiny house gig has been Deshong’s project.

“I’m kind of a one-man show at the moment,” he said.

For months he’s been learning the ins and outs of home-building on a small scale, including laws and regulations, all while continuing to do his traditional construction work.

But now, he said, “I’m ready to go.”

DeShong said he’s had “dozens and dozens” of people tour the model — which was on display at the recent Fall Creek Heritage Fair in Pendleton — but those visitors have been mostly “tire-kickers” who have seen tiny houses on TV and want to see what it’s like to be inside one.

Tiny houses come in a wide variety of styles and can be built on wheels or on foundations. The one the Forcums are looking at is like an RV in some ways but not in others. It is mobile, able to be towed behind a vehicle. But once parked, it looks more like a traditional custom home, albeit resting atop a heavy-duty steel trailer.

DeShong has designed three base models, with the width remaining a constant 8½ feet but lengths ranging from 12 to 28 feet; larger layouts include more or larger rooms. The starting cost ranges from $27,000 to $45,000, and the build times start at about 10 weeks.

DeShong’s website stresses the freedom tiny houses provide.

“What are we willing to sacrifice and brave in order to have a fulfilling life full of love, peace, and adventure?” read large text under a picture of an open road. “As it turns out, smaller spaces can set us free for these very things.”

DeShong also noted it’s not only people looking for an adventurous lifestyle who are interested. He said some people who have bought tiny houses are college students who would rather own something at the end of four years of schooling rather than simply pay rent.

Others are business people who use a tiny home as a mobile office.

“People are using them for a lot of different things,” DeShong said.

Geist said the uses for the tiny house are just beginning to be explored, with the crest of the industry still in the future.

His Tiny House Roadshow — a separate trade show business he started operating this year, with Indianapolis being the sixth one — attracts thousands of visitors per show, he said.

He said growth up to this point has been largely from Baby Boomers who want to spend their time having fun, free of the shackles of traditional home ownership and responsibilities.

“It’s a mild form of rebellion against the establishment,” Geist said. “That’s the mind-set of so many of these people.”

But there are entirely different and potentially much bigger areas for the industry to move. He said some cities, such as Lexington, Kentucky, are considering using tiny houses in large urban renewal projects, where entire sections of dilapidated and abandoned homes are cleared and replaced with the smaller, more affordable structures.

The Forcums, meanwhile, are involved in figuring out how to proceed with their transition to a tiny house on a small scale; how to make it work for their three-person family.

They have big decisions to consider.

They’re not sure if they’ll sell their home or rent it out, or what exactly they’ll do with all their possessions they have accumulated.

They’re not sure how they’ll mesh the mobile life with their work lives and goals.

And they have the smaller yet critical decisions to ponder.

How big a tiny house do they want? What color do they want it to be inside and out?

What vehicle will they buy, because they need one with a larger hauling capacity?

In the end, though, when those choices are settled, life will be good, the Forcums said.

“We’d be going from huge, for us, to tiny,” Sam Forcum said. “We’ll have to talk it over and plan it out.

“I think we just have too much stuff, and a lot of people have too much stuff. That’s kind of what this is all about — just living simple.”

Laura Forcum agreed.

“I want to get started right now,” she said.