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The (Not So) Tiny House

By Melanie Moffett
In Featured Slider
Apr 27th, 2016
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How a designer and builder teamed up to revolutionize the concept of the new home

article by Michael DeVault | photos by Graham Meyers

Affordable, site-built homes are hardly a new idea in construction, but as material costs skyrocketed over the years and consumer demands climbed with them, the deck became stacked against the idea of a new home with a plethora of amenities selling for such a low price. The only thing is, designer Larry James and builder Hud Braud are beating the odds. By June, they expect to sign the first contract on a newly constructed home on a lot in Sterlington. And it will sell for less than $150,000.

“There’s no place in the entire parish where you can get a brand new home for less than $150,000,” James said. “That’s the price point–less than $150,000.”

The secret to their plan? Build an entirely new development on inexpensive land in a growth community. For this project, the team secured a series of lots in the heart of the original village of Sterlington. They razed several buildings, taking the property down to the dirt, and then they began building. As the houses went up, people in the area started calling them “Tiny Homes,” but that’s a label James dismisses. “As far as I know, the only person around here that built any tiny houses was a fellah named Richard Newcomer,” James said, and he added he’s not sure if Newcomer sold any of those tiny homes. Tiny homes are single-family dwellings that range from 175 to 500 sq. feet. While James said he sees the attraction, building and selling such homes in this area would mean problems at the bank. “With financing nowadays, we think that tiny houses around here would be difficult to finance,” James said. But the concept of a smaller, affordable, livable home still stuck with him, and his partner did have a tiny house that he rented out. They put their heads together and, in spite of the challenges of designing a small home for a big market, they succeeded.

Clocking in at just over 1,150 sq. feet, these new homes are designed around an open floor plan. A spacious kitchen and dining area flows into the living area. Two comfortable bedrooms allow for a single person to live comfortably and host their parents from out of town. The homes are ideal for young couples or soon-to-be retirees, the empty nesters who’re either about to start a family or those who have sent their family out into the world. The houses are even a good match for a young family with a small child. Best of all, they’re affordable and in a growth area, which should make the houses a great investment for the long haul. That’s good news for buyers seeking to purchase a new home.

Braud points to the dance new homebuyers do, the careful balancing act between amenities and price. Especially challenging is new construction, where the homeowner expects to have a certain level of customization. But those features cost money, and often times the tradeoffs are significant. That’s not so with the houses Braud and James are building.

“People are usually willing to give up the frills and the kinds of things people would expect in a custom home,” Braud said. “We’ve tried to be economical but, at the same time, we’ve done a lot of research. We’ve found the kinds of elements that allow us to keep an eye on the bottom line while still producing that same, custom effect.”

Consider the fixtures in the bathroom. Custom homes frequently include “wow” features, those elements that cause an individual to pause as they’re washing their hands at a well-designed sink and artisan faucet. In most spec houses, fixtures are one of the areas where the builder can save costs by utilizing off-the-shelf faucets and toilets. Not so in the homes they’re building in Sterlington.

Braud demonstrates the workings of one of the faucets, which incorporates a bit of technology. LED lights activate when the faucet is turned on, illuminating both the sink and the stream of water. What’s more, there’s a bit of a show. “If the water is cold, it turns blue. If it’s hot, it turns red,” Braud said. The bathrooms are just one element of the home that will surprise potential buyers. These kinds of elements are scattered throughout the homes. “They look very appealing, but they’ve also got some wow factor in there with them.”

Braud talks a lot about that unique factor, the finish on a cabinet or the way indirect lighting plays with a well-placed piece of molding. It’s clear that Braud and James have spent a considerable amount of time on this project, laboring thoughtfully over every choice, every ingredient they add. Keeping the costs down for the buyer doesn’t stop at the materials and fixtures, either. The pair are acutely aware that, eventually, people have to live here, too.

In light of that, they’ve undertaken a series of improvements to the designs that will improve overall efficiency. Insulated windows and a well-insulated attic will save money on the electric bill. So, too, will the ample lighting throughout the home. Again, Braud points to technology. “We’ve incorporated LED lights, but standard can lights and indirect lighting,” he said. “This helps make the homes more energy efficient.”

Upkeep is easy, too. The homes sport glazed porcelain tile floors throughout, with some home designs featuring a quality carpet in the bedrooms. Outside, each of the homes are built on a zero-lotline plan, meaning one wall of the home touches the property line. This allows for a wide, spacious lawn on the opposite side of the home, and sequestered from prying eyes on the street, a private porch and courtyard open off the living room, with the kind of lawn the kids can play on.

While it’s true the development is going up all at once, James’s designs for the homes flow along three divergent architectural styles, or models, as he terms them. There is a country French design, a farm house, and a modern home. And, in the case of each home, the exterior design drives the interior aesthetic.
“You’d be hard pressed to find another spec home development with as much attention to detail as far as design and finish,” Braud said. “There are elements of half-million dollar homes, and we’re incorporating a lot of finishes that just aren’t available locally.”

In the modern home, for example, the cabinetry in the kitchen features top-of-the-line cabinetry from IKEA. Sleek, elegant and cool, these cabinets incorporate a gull-wing door that opens up and out of the way, so you won’t be banging your head on the cabinet when you’re putting the dishes away anymore. In fact, all of the cabinetry and hardware in the homes comes from IKEA, which Braud touts as a great benefit for the homeowner. Soft-close drawers and doors mean no more slamming cabinets and rattled silverware. Inside and out, the quality is there. “It’s better than any quality you find even in high-end, custom cabinetry locally,” Braud said. “The finish on the outside is going to be hard to beat.”

The French country house is finished with 12’ ceilings in the living room — all of the homes feature high ceilings, which lend an open air feeling to the homes. In the kitchen, you’ll be set for entertaining with a comfortable bar. The master bath finds a full-sized shower where the bathtub might have gone, and along the side, a covered porch.

Not willing to dismiss authenticity for the bottom line, the farm house design features a metal roof on the front of the home and over the covered porch. Inside, the same tall ceilings and open floor plan finds a new element. “The farm house even has a loft with a combination storage-stair that will go up to the loft,” James said.

On that storage front, from nooks and crannies to full-sized closets, each of the homes incorporates ample closet and storage spaces. You won’t be left searching for a place to stash that extra-large winter coat or the bulk-buy paper towels from Sam’s.

In fact, due to the efficiency of design and the thoughtfulness of location, James and Braud are delivering a home in which the dwellers won’t have to think about much at all. Convenient to shopping, to 165 and CenturyLink, and just a few minutes’ drive from Pecanland Mall, the development marks the next level of evolution for Sterlington, which for the last ten years has been one of the fastest growing areas of the parish.

In light of the explosive growth–and in anticipation of even more to come–the town of Sterlington has been on a spending spree, upgrading infrastructure elements from road surfaces to street lighting. Sidewalks lead throughout most of the communities, and eventual plans call for all streets to incorporate sidewalks. Retail growth along the 165 corridor has driven a boom in economic development, and there’s even a grocery store–a longtime goal for the town’s government. Later this year, Sterlington will put the finishing touches on a multi-million dollar sewer treatment facility that town leaders expect will allow for decades of growth. And unlike other outlying areas who rely on private water companies, Sterlington purchases its water from the City of Monroe–a top-rated water supply in Louisiana.

There’s more than just the water going for the new neighborhood, too. Zoned for Sterlington Elementary, Middle, and High School, the duo expect interest to be high from parents, too. For the single individual, safety is a chief concern. The development is located near the Sterlington Police Department, and each of the homes feature a single-car enclosed garage. “The single person can arrive home, close the garage and feel secure in their home,” James said. In this day and age, that’s an important selling point. Though James notes the garage is for a single car only, he notes that parking pads have been incorporated into the design as well, meaning residents have a convenient spot for a second car.

Though construction is ongoing, James and Braud can see the finish line. They’re pushing for a June launch for the community, and when it’s finished, James thinks people will be pleasantly surprised. In fact, he’s pretty sure they won’t know what to think. “They’re going to be impressed when they turn in and see these houses, all of them white, and see what we’ve done,” James said.

Though the finish elements and styles of each of the homes varies by type–modern, French, farmhouse–each of the homes will be painted white. Even the French design, which incorporates brick elements on the exterior, will be white. The goal is to fuse the development into a sense of community, with a shared aesthetic and shared goals. “This will be a stunning visual, the modern, the farm house and the French style, all together in white,” James said.

Though the grass still isn’t down and the homes are still under construction, both James and Braud have experienced heavy interest. Right now, though, they’re trying to dodge the calls from prospective buyers. “We’re sort of putting people off until they’re finished,” James said. “But there’s been a lot of interest.”

Enough interest, in fact, that they’re already planning Phase Two. “We have three more lots to do three more houses after these,” James said.

He was mum about what new features he had in store for those houses. Right now, it’s all about what’s going up.