There are big plans for tiny houses
Urbaneer is opening a Heritage Hill micro-home model it hopes to take nationwide.
Downtown living is the talk of Grand Rapids, but local firm Urbaneer is banking on another mode of living to have national appeal.
The company has made a name for itself in Michigan with its micro-apartments and other adaptable arrangements for health care, senior and student living. Now, Urbaneer is ready to build its first micro-home at 338 Pleasant St. SE in Heritage Hill.
Urbaneer President Bruce Thompson hopes the micro-home will become the first truly innovative housing type in more than 100 years while providing another solution to the nation’s housing issues. Eventually, Thompson said, he hopes he can provide builders across the country with designs, floor plans and interior features for small, efficient living spaces.
The model home will be built on a plot of land on the south side of Heritage Hill. With an 800-square-foot footprint, Thompson said the home lives like a 1,200-square-foot structure with the potential for four bedrooms and three bathrooms. The unfinished basement is 500 square feet, and there is a 180-square-foot loft area.
Lott3Metz designed the home’s exterior to fit into the historical context of Heritage Hill, while the interior was laid out by Urbaneer. Open floor plans, moveable walls, Murphy beds, adjustable fixtures and smart technology all help the homes live larger, Thompson said.
“We want to perfect it and use it as a little bit of a living laboratory,” he said. “This is a great market to start in, but we have our eyes on several markets across the country that are going through the same housing challenges we are.”
Thompson said the idea is to roll out the micro-home concept across the nation to provide more urban infill and walkable suburban housing options for young professionals and empty nesters.
He noted there are approximately 150,000 residential home builders in the U.S., and if even 100 of them utilize Urbaneer’s concept for compact living, it will be a viable business venture.
The cost for the complete product is yet to be determined, but Thompson is confident it will be a price point comfortable for the demographics he wants to hit.
He said the mini-houses should play the same role Chicago bungalows once did in providing a home that has expandable options.
“By maximizing space, we’re reducing costs, but we don’t have the design fully played out,” he said. “The ability to expand into the attic and the basement is the thing that helps make it affordable. As families and needs expand, they can grow into the space but don’t have to pay for it all up front.”
Just as downtown apartments and condos need more options to be affordable for those who prefer to live downtown, those in search of houses are demanding more options, too, Thompson said.
He said people are beginning to realize most housing is expensive because of the large amount of square footage and that building smaller will mean more affordable homes.
“It’s an emerging opportunity. Larger homes will always exist, but the need is so great that we just need more options and more locations,” he said. “We want to drive innovations to help create new options that might not have been available to people before.”
While compact living has been part of the Michigan summer cottage market and for homes in larger cities such as Chicago and Washington, D.C., as well as in California, he believes there is an opportunity for compact, adaptable houses in the rest of the country, too, especially when the product is readily available and can be constructed with less effort on the contractor’s side.
Thompson said the houses can be branded to showcase the contractor, such as “Urbaneer by Acme Construction.”
With West Michigan being home to an innovative office furniture industry, Thompson feels this is the perfect place to develop and showcase the micro-home concept.
“We have so much design talent in West Michigan and, really, at some point, I’d like to be able to look back and say, ‘Urbaneer happened in West Michigan and could only have happened here because we are leveraging the innovation from the office furniture industry,’” Thompson said.
“There are some factors that converge in West Michigan — variables that make it such a great opportunity for us — that it would be tough to re-create somewhere else.”