Don’t mistake them for Hurricane Katrina cottages. Those are way too spartan. Or, despite the season, for one of Santa’s toy huts.
Instead, the structures on display this weekend at the Louisiana Tiny House Festival at Heritage Park in Slidell represent the hot trend of compact living — buildings, or sometimes recycled trucks or buses, about one-eighth the size of average houses. They are suitable as either permanent or portable residences.
If that size sounds too confining, consider that the typical tiny house — 300 square feet — is larger (and certainly more affordable) than many New York City apartments. And the exteriors of apartments can’t be decorated, as can the Tiny Firehouse that John Kernohan and his wife, Fin, will be bringing to the show. They head the United Tiny House Association, and this is the 10th show they’ve put on in the past three years.
Local event coordinator Aimee Smallwood said she’s expecting the festival to draw some 10,000 people over its three-day run, which begins Friday.
“We love our tiny houses in all of their shapes and sizes,” said Kernohan, who lives in a tiny house near Eatonton, Georgia. “And we love spreading the word about them while we’re having a good time.
“That’s why we’re excited about coming to Slidell.”
The feeling is reciprocated.
Along with the rest of St. Tammany Parish, the city would like to attract more events drawing people from around the region.
Enter Smallwood, a Slidell resident and director of the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to aid development of small businesses in the state, especially clubs and restaurants.
Smallwood had been searching for a fundraising event when she discovered the tiny-house phenomenon. It took hold to create living space during the 2008 financial crisis and has since added the recreational travel component because the houses cost much less than RVs.
She also discovered that tiny-house devotees like spreading the word. The gatherings become part trade show, part classic car show and part festival, complete with music, food and activities for kids. Festgoers can scope out the latest industry innovations and see tiny house celebrities such as blogger Jenna Spesard and reuse specialist Alex Eaves, who have gained a measure of fame by appearing on HGTV and other such outlets. Both will speak at the Slidell event.
After contacting Kernohan about the possibility of bringing one of his festivals to the area, Smallwood scouted locations, coming up with the Shrine on Airline baseball field in Metairie and a spot in St. Bernard Parish as well as Heritage Park.
When the Kernohans were returning from a show in Colorado this summer, pulling their tiny camper, Smallwood got them to stop in Slidell, where she and new Mayor Greg Cromer were waiting.
“Aimee had filled me in on tiny houses,” Cromer said. “And I learned that basically if you can dream it within 200 to 600 square feet, they can do it, which is pretty neat.
“We spent a couple of hours showing them the park and the rest of Olde Towne. They really liked everything about it, especially the setting on the bayou (Bonafouca) and how Slidell sits on both north-south and east-west interstates."
Sure enough, on the spot the Kernohans told Cromer and Smallwood they weren’t going to bother to look anywhere else.
“The interest of the mayor is what sold us,” Kernohan said. “It was really a no-brainer.”
Kernohan said at least 30 tiny houses will be on display for the festival. That’s a smaller number than most of his previous fests, like the one last month in St. Augustine, Florida. But that's because transporting a tiny house yields no more than 10 miles per gallon for the truck pulling it and that this the farthest west he’s put on a show.
Along with individual owners, there will be several manufacturers’ representatives on hand.
One of the tiny houses opens up into a mini-theater, which will be scene of the guest appearances and panel discussion. The Tiny House Band will play throughout the weekend, but the Bucktown All-Stars will close the show Sunday night.
A special feature of the festival will be a demonstration on emergency preparedness. Kernohan said when hurricanes threaten in Florida, it’s usually wheels-up time for tiny-house owners, although they’ve proven better able to handle storms than mobile homes.
Smallwood said she expects the festival to attract those curious about what it’s like to live in a tiny house.
“Maybe they’re thinking about downsizing or getting an RV and travelling around,” she said. “This will allow them to actually explore several and talk to the commercial builders about what’s best for them.
“I’ve been to a few of these, and this isn’t a hard sell though. If anything, you learn how tiny-house people seem to love to live close to each other and form communities.”
“I think Louisiana in general has been slow to catch up on tiny houses,” Cromer said. “But we’ve heard about a village popping up over in Acadiana Parish (Lafayette)."