Not Everything is Bigger in Texas
A Lone Star State salvager uses recycled materials to build pint-size houses with 10-gallon character
In 2006 Brad Kittel expanded his salvage business, Discovery Architectural Antiques, in Gonzales, Texas, to include diminutive, one-of-a-kind houses built almost exclusively out of the vintage materials he stockpiles; typically only the plumbing, electrical systems, and insulation are new. Each one of his Tiny Texas Houses evokes a period style, whether it's a Queen Anne dripping with gingerbread trim or a gambrel-roofed Dutch Colonial.
Kittel is among a growing group of builders and designers who are challenging the long-standing belief that a bigger house is a better house. But unlike many of his peers in the small-house movement, whose contemporary mod-pod designs seem to be inspired more by the future than the past, Kittel's approach is decidedly Little House on the Prairie. Just like a frontier farmhouse, his Rustic Ranch with a loft bedroom, pullman kitchen, and single bath could be used as a permanent home and then added on to later as needs change.
The Rustic Ranch and Victorian Cottage await buyers at Discovery Architectural Antiques in Texas. At 10 by 16 feet and 10 by 17 feet, respectively, they are the teeniest of the Tiny Texas Houses.
Kittel also draws on historic building practices by integrating into each of his houses the old-growth timbers, cypress windows, paneled doors, brass doorknobs, and cast-iron sinks that he rescues from demolished buildings. "Prior to the 1950s, you tended to tear down an old home and reuse its materials for a new structure. Today, we just crunch it up and put it in a landfill," says the former remodeling contractor.
The welcoming front porch of this Victorian Cottage was designed as a modular component that can be removed during transport. "The idea behind these houses is you can hand them off to your kids. They're portable; perched on pier-and-beam foundations with bolted-on porches that are easily disassembled," says Kittel.
One modern aspect of Kittel's business is that home buyers can roam the aisles of his salvage yard much as they would a home center to choose their own period building materials from among 6,000 doors, 3,000 windows, and thousands of square feet of flooring, beadboard paneling, trim, and siding.
Here, leaded-glass windows like this turn-of-the-century panel
in the bathroom of the Victorian Cottage make a huge style statement in a small space. When customizing their own interiors, prospective Tiny Texas House buyers can choose from more than 200 such accent windows Kittel stocks at his salvage yard.
Once built, the diminutive dwellings or their modular components can be trucked almost anywhere in the country. Most people purchase one to use as a vacation cabin, art studio, pool cabana, kid's playhouse, or in-law suite. They range in price from $27,000 for a 10-by-16-foot model to $60,000 for one 12 by 28 feet with front and back porches.
Here, interior walls are sheathed with horizontal wood paneling above vertical beadboard wainscot that's been stripped of its old paint and then sealed with tung oil.
Barbara and Bill Hudson, a couple from San Antonio who recently toured the cavernous workshop where the Tiny Texas Houses are built, are considering putting one on a 35-acre plot they just purchased outside of Houston."We could live in one of these while we are waiting for the larger house to be built. Then it could become Bill's office," says Barbara. "When people come to see us, it would also be a great place where our guests could have some privacy."
In this photo, a new, energy-efficient ceiling fan hangs in this Rustic Ranch. With the windows open, it provides enough ventilation to cool the space during all but the hottest summer months.
A good cleaning is typically all that's required to get old hardware like this metal doorknob and matching back plate looking and working like new.
Most Tiny Texas Houses have full baths with vintage sinks and modern stall showers.
The options are limitless, but what's guaranteed with a teeny house is less time cleaning, less money spent on heating and cooling, less waste relegated to a landfill, and less land being gobbled up by an outsize mansion.
Here, see Brad Kittel and his crew turn all that less into a whole lot more as they assemble the parts of the very first Tiny Texas Chapel, using Gothic-style windows and a door from an 1890s church that was razed in northern Missouri.
Crew member Jesse Hastings uses a large drum sander to smooth the Tiny Texas Chapel's tongue-and-groove floor. The pine boards were salvaged from a 1900 cottonseed-oil factory in Cuero, Texas. Oil still permeates the boards, highlighting the grain pattern. Beneath the pine boards and plywood subfloor are the beams and sill plates that form the chapel's foundation, which will sit on piers.
With the floor system in place, Brad Kittel and a crew member raise the walls. Next, they'll add the chapel's
only new materials: plumbing, electrical, insulation, and weatherizing house wrap.
Cypress clap-boards will finish the exterior once they've been stripped of any toxic lead paint.
Kittel test-fits an 1890s Gothic Revival-style arched window sash that came out of a demolished church in Missouri.
A pair of double-hungs rescued from the same church rest against a workshop wall. Too large for this particular chapel, they'll be saved for a future project.
Jesse Hastings readies the sides of a door casing for installation by rubbing tung oil into the wood to restore
its original luster. The trim was salvaged from a mansion in Quincy, Illinois.
Among the rows of old doors are solid, paneled interior ones that Kittel plans to
tip on their sides to serve as wainscoting along the chapel's interior walls.
Kittel and crew members hoist the chapel's front door into place. The chapel will be constructed almost entirely inside the 12,000-square-foot Tiny Texas Houses workshop. Then the crew will move it outside to put on the steeply pitched roof that will shelter the tall raised-panel door and the arched transom that crowns it.