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Mississippi architect opens tiny house factory

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Bill Carpenter has a big need for a tiny product. The Atlanta architect ordered 40 pre-fabricated tiny houses from Hattiesburg architect James Polk.

Carpenter wants to sell the $40,000 houses for use in a community in his home city.

“We have two clients that are interested in doing an arts-residential community in Atlanta — Tiny House Atlanta,” he said. “There’s a real interest in minimalist living and simplifying people’s lives. I think there’s also an interest in sustainability.”

Polk opened a tiny house company in Prentiss in March. Tiny House Life Space also manufactures tiny sheds. Though the company is relatively new, Polk has been in the tiny house business for awhile.

“I began designing tiny houses in 1990, when they weren’t very popular at all,” he said. “I went around to a lot of trailer manufacturers and showed them drawings and they weren’t much interested at all.

“They told me, ‘We’re doing triple-wides right now, and if we could put a triple-wide on top of a triple-wide, we’d do that.'”

But Polk said he has customers who are interested now.

“I think a lot of people because of the economy are downsizing,” he said. “A tiny house might work for a retiree or a college graduate who might not want to get into a big mortgage. If it’s on wheels, you’re not tied into one geographic location. If you’re someone who can live in a smaller space, it’s a very viable option.”

According to, the tiny house movement is a description for the architectural and social trend that advocates living simply in a small home. A residential structure under 500 feet is generally considered a tiny home. Some tiny homes are as small as 80-square-feet. Tiny homes generally sell for between $25,000 and $75,000.

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, architect Marianne Cusato developed Katrina Cottages, that started at 308 square feet. They were an alternative to FEMA trailers. Cusato’s website says, in 2006, Congress appropriated $400 million for an alternative housing pilot project based on the Katrina Cottages. Mississippi has delivered 2,800 cottages inspired by the Katrina Cottages to people who lost their homes in the storm. Louisiana has completed construction of 500 units featuring designs from the Katrina Cottage series. Cusato now sells the building plans for the cottages and has received interest in her designs from other developers.

During the financial crisis of 2007-08, the tiny house movement attracted more attention, though the National Association of Realtors says overall it still represents only 1 percent of real estate transactions. says tiny houses are most popular in California, Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin and Florida. They have received nationwide media play, with shows on several cable networks, including HGTV and FYI.

Polk is hoping to capture local interest by displaying one of his tiny sheds in Hattiesburg outside the craft and gift store Art Cetera on U.S. 98.

The 6-foot by 6-foot shed has a red door, a couple windows and a window box filled with pink flowers. It sells for $3,950.

“This is designed to look great sitting beside your patio,” Polk said. “It could be a playhouse or a writing shed. We have a larger model (6 feet by 8 feet) that could go on your property in the woods that could be a tiny little cabin.”

Polk said he chose Prentiss as the site for his company because it used to support 500 manufacturing jobs that have since disappeared. He’s got a five-year lease on an old automobile parts factory and he expects to eventually employ 120 workers. About 10 people are on staff now.

They’re just manufacturing their first tiny house on wheels. It should be ready in about a week.

Polk hopes to take advantage of the Port of Gulfport to target an international market for his prefabricated tiny homes. He also makes custom-built tiny homes for buyers close by.

Carpenter said his clients in Atlanta should be happy with the tiny homes.

“They’re very nice, well-made and planned out,” he said. “We try to open up the interior. Four hundred square feet will feel more like 1,000 square feet when you introduce glass and large, optical doors.”

Polk thinks the market for tiny homes will only grow.

“People are turning to tiny homes to grab geographic and financial independence,” he said. “This is a choice that you would make if you aspire to live a simple lifestyle.”

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