Sandwiched between the side yard of a Creole cottage and a warehouse sits New Orleans’ newest mini-house, an irregularly shaped building squeezed onto a 900-square-foot lot in an industrial section of the Irish Channel along the Mississippi River.
Although it’s bigger than many so-called “tiny houses” — and, with an asking price of nearly $400 a square foot, a lot more expensive — many consider the 950-square-foot design at 3106 St. Thomas St. to be an offshoot of an architectural fad that’s been sweeping the nation for the past decade.
The tiny home movement, which has become especially popular in areas of northern California and North Carolina, has actually been around in New Orleans for at least a century. Last year, for example, the oldest “tiny house” to go on the market was built about 1914 in Algiers; it is only 580 square feet, according to Curbed New Orleans.
In all, at least 10 tiny houses went on the market last year in New Orleans, all between 580 and 768 square feet and selling for as low as $29,555.
Perhaps the city’s tiniest house was built in 2012 out of tumbleweed cypress. Carpenter Derek Ybarra put the 126-square-foot mobile home on the market this winter for $29,900.
Centered on a custom-designed bench and reading nook located in the same room as the kitchen, the house’s two main pieces of furniture can also transform into a dining room setup, a guest bed and a storage space. Above the single room (plus bathroom) is a sleeping loft.
“It’s something I’ve seen on sailboats before,” Ybarra explained on the TV show “Tiny House Giant Journey.” “It’s tight, but you could have two people sleep on (the guest bed) for a day or two.”
The nonprofit Make It Right organization, founded by Brad Pitt, marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina over the summer by building a tiny home in the Lower 9th Ward.
The 430-square-foot house at 1732 Forstall St. was built for Lurelia Freeman, who teaches seventh-grade English at Arise Academy in the Upper 9th Ward. It was appraised for $92,000.
Conceived by Make It Right development manager Jordan Pollard, the two-story home has solar panels, energy-conserving appliances and insulation made out of reused materials.
The home unveiled Thursday on St. Thomas Street, between Eighth and Ninth streets, is a little different, said developers Jonathan Tate and Charles Rutledge.
The house went on the market for $375,000 about three weeks ago. It is the beginning of a venture called the “starter home project,” a strategy that focuses on inventive land use and site-specific design solutions.
In laymen’s terms, Tate and Rutledge aim to build structures similar to tiny houses, except making them a little bit bigger, thanks to creative spacing and design.
“It’s not a tiny house,” Tate said Thursday at an open house for the Irish Channel building, which drew hundreds of people interested in seeing how the home could fit into such a pint-sized space. “It’s a normal-sized house on a tiny lot.”
While Tate predicted the home would take little energy to heat and cool, environmental concerns were secondary to the issues of space and real estate demands, he said.
With mortgage rates rising and standard-sized lots becoming scarce in New Orleans’ most popular neighborhoods, Tate said houses like the ones he plans to build, all located on miniature lots, offer new opportunities for young investors who want to build equity in a house but may not be able to afford to break into the housing market otherwise.
Critics of Tate’s plan worry that the buildings will further congest already dense areas and bring unwanted modernity to the city’s most historic neighborhoods.
At the tour Thursday, the project drew mixed responses. Spectators squeezed in, at times turning sideways to make room for others, to examine a loft looking over a small bedroom, a narrow kitchen with miniature storage spaces under the stairs and a wraparound deck that extends all the way to the neighbors’ backyard fence.
“I could see a New Orleans in the future with more houses like these,” said Ashleigh Batiste, 29, as she admired a living room area looking out onto the back deck. “With this kind of style, it could be an iconic turning point for us.”
Others questioned the value for the price.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using these small lots around the city,” said Janet Schexnayder, 51. “But the price seems very expensive, especially for the location. You have no outside and no place to park.”
Whether critics like it or not, Tate plans to move his project forward as long as he finds a buyer for the program’s initial house.
So far, he and Rutledge have about 20 small, irregularly shaped empty lots spread across several neighborhoods in New Orleans, where they hope to build customized houses for the speculative market.
However, they could encounter resistance if they move forward with more ventures in the Irish Channel, Central City and sections of Uptown.
Such was the case when developer Logistics Park LLC introduced its design for a two-story home for the lot at 4621 Chestnut St.
The house would be about 1,500 square feet but would be built on a very narrow lot, standing less than 13 feet wide.
During a hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustments over the summer, neighbor Justin Chopin said the lot was just too small to be developed. “It doesn’t fit with the construct of the other houses,” Chopin said.
Regardless, the city approved the construction.
Meantime, Tate said that as of Thursday several people had already expressed interest in the house on St. Thomas. He credited its modernity and handcrafted design, saying that in a city filled with old houses, buyers are looking for something a little different.
“If the city is to progress architecturally, you have to introduce new styles of architecture,” Tate said. “Not everything has to be like it was in 1850.”