For five years, the community building nonprofit Miranda’s Hearth has brought all that tiny house amazement you’ve seen on the tube right here to Mass. With festivals that pack in speakers, art, and music in addition to the handcrafted abodes at the center of it all, the group behind the effort has explored the tiny house phenomenon beyond the fad realm, attracting more than 15,000 attendees in the process.
On the heels of such successful outings in Stoughton, Concord, Marshfield, and Somerville, this year the crew is bringing the spectacle north of the city for the first time, and will be at the North Shore Music Theater on Oct 19 and 20. As a bonus, they’ll have John Reid, holder of the Guinness World Record for the largest balloon sculpture, building a small house… out of balloons.
We asked founder Miranda Aisling about the festival’s evolution.
What has changed in the tiny house world around here since the first fest?
When Miranda’s Hearth started the annual BIG Massachusetts Tiny House Festival in 2014, tiny houses were just starting to break into the national conversation in a serious way. Our attendees were seeking out any information they could find, often because they were interested in building a tiny house for themselves. Since then, TV shows, documentaries, and news articles have shared the concept with a much broader portion of the population.
As housing costs continue to rise, more and more people are looking for alternative, affordable, and economically responsible ways to live. We’ve seen a much wider range of attendees, including people who want to build their own tiny homes, government officials attempting to find out whether tiny houses are right for their community, and lots of people who are just curious to see what tiny houses are like. In the past three years in particular, with the acceptance of Appendix Q into the international building code, the conversation around tiny houses has started to reach people in higher government seats.
How does the tiny house movement in New England compare to what’s happening elsewhere in the country or even the world? Is there some kind of tiny house mecca somewhere?
Tiny houses happen all over the country. New England does face some specific obstacles based on the density in the area and the weather. While, on the surface, the New England tiny house movement seems to be lagging behind our counterparts in the south and the west, we’ve found that there are many tiny houses in Massachusetts.
Where are we in the arc of tiny house hype? The beginning? The end? The pinnacle?
As long as the housing crisis continues, people will continue to look for a reasonable answer and the tiny house hype will continue to grow. The tiny house trend appeals to people from all generations: Millennials suffering from student debt who can’t afford to live in the town they grew up in, baby boomers who can’t afford to retire and live into old age in the towns where they’ve worked for years, Gen Xers who are suffering under the weight of their mortgages while they raise their families. While the tiny house trend in its current form is continuing to rise, we like to highlight the fact that for most of human history, and still in the world, people have always lived in homes much smaller than our current national average. While it may seem like a trend now, we know that tiny houses are here to stay.
Does the hype help or hurt the movement and those who are really trying to learn and live in a more sustainable way?
There are always pros and cons to a movement garnering more attention. Since they have been featured on reality TV, tiny houses have, ironically, grown bigger, literally and figuratively. Five years ago, the standard tiny house was about 8’ x 20’ long. Now, we’re seeing more and more houses going up to 24’, 26’ or even 30’. At the same time, this coverage can encourage more people from different walks of life to see the possibilities of living smaller. We’re always encouraged to see new people coming to the tiny house festival to see whether or not they can jump on the bandwagon.
We did a big feature on tiny houses in Mass, many of which were in Martha’s Vineyard, in 2015. At the time, there was a lot of pushback in certain communities against having zoning for tiny houses, or even permitting them. How is that rift developing, and what are tiny house advocates doing to ensure that they are welcome in the communities people want to build and bring them?
The more conversations we have about what tiny houses are, why people are turning to them, and how it will impact communities, the better. Any sort of change is hard and can have its pushback, but through our years organizing the annual BIG Massachusetts Tiny House Festival we’ve found that when people have a chance to experience the houses firsthand, they’re more open to the idea of them in their own towns. Tiny house advocates are working from the top down and the bottom up. Individuals are reaching out to their local zoning boards and planning boards to talk about solutions in their specific towns, while large groups are working on changing laws. In 2016, the international building code adopted Appendix Q, which provides specific codes for tiny houses on foundations that can be applied in any community.
5TH ANNUAL BIG MASSACHUSETTS TINY HOUSE FESTIVAL. 10.19–10.20. NORTH SHORE MUSIC THEATER, BEVERLY. MORE INFO AT MIRANDASHEARTH.COM AND MASSTINYHOUSEFESTIVAL.COM.