Bluffton resident Erin Koons slept in Shelter Cove Community Park a couple of weekends ago.
She wasn't camping under the stars; she was sleeping under the roof of her own 220-square-foot tiny home that normally sits on a rented lot in Bluffton.
Koons's Sweetgrass model by Driftwood Homes was one of 12 homes on wheels on display at the Lowcountry Tiny House Show Nov. 4-5, the first exhibition of its kind in the area.
"Living tiny makes you think about what you truly want and what you really need," Koons said. "It is easy to maintain. If someone is coming over, I only need five minutes to clean up. It's bigger and a lot more functional than it seems."
Koons' home was one of the smallest in the park.
Ben Kennedy, co-founder of New South Living, LLC, a Bluffton building and land development company that presented the show, is the president and founder of Brighton Builders, also a Bluffton-based company. He began building tiny houses following a fishing trip.
"I was out in Montana with a friend. He needed a place to live," said Kennedy, "and the people out there building tiny houses were on a six-month backlog. I decided if they're that backed up and need that much help I'd come back home to the East Coast where I live, build tiny homes and give them to people that need them."
Kennedy said the show was planned to promote tiny houses as alternative housing and a solution to the area's housing shortage.
"We can provide sustainable housing for people who can't afford apartments that cost $1,500 to $2,000 a month," he said. "We think this is a great option for the service industry: your construction workers, teachers, policemen, firemen - there's not a lot of attainable housing when you're new to an area and just starting out."
Several of the tiny houses at the show have been featured on the HGTV and DIY TV channels, including those built by Tom Ryals's company, Hummingbird Tiny Housing out of Danville, Ga.
"What we're seeing is you have the younger group - the Millennials - coming up. They want to live small, they don't want to leave a footprint," said Ryals. "The next group is the 40- to 65-year-olds and they are tired of paying the mortgage and keeping up a big house. They've decided to get rid of all this extra stuff they don't need and live tiny. And then we have some people who just want to travel, and they go from campground to campground."
The tiny houses on display ranged in size and options from the 20-foot Traveler model with a full-sized bathroom, galley kitchen, closet, living area and a queen-sized bed in the loft to the Luxury 40 that comes with full-sized everything.
Ryals doesn't just build them - he and his wife live in the first one he built when he started eight years ago.
"We've lived in that full time for almost two years. Simple living, we're as happy as we can be and I'm doing something I love," he said. "It's not work for me. This is art."
The tiny houses range in cost according to the options included. The most popular sizes are the 26- and 32-foot houses that go for $54,000 to $65,000. Smaller ones can cost $45,000, whereas the ultimate in luxury tiny houses on display cost $103,000, reinforcing the philosophy of Ryals, Kennedy and the other builders at the show.
"You shouldn't have to give up the luxuries of home to go tiny," said Ryals.
Other tiny home builders at the show included Bear's Inc., Alabama Tiny Homes, Mustard Seed, Sprout Tiny Homes, and Migration Tiny Homes.
Kennedy said the 2018 International Residential Building Code, an annually updated code that sets standard minimum requirements for building, plumbing, electrical and other elements in family dwellings, might include adoption of a new code that will recognize tiny houses. "We're hoping the state of South Carolina adopts that, and if they do, that will allow us more opportunity in this area to bring more tiny houses into our community," Kennedy said.
Kennedy said he believes tiny homes can play a significant role in the community, "because there is a workforce issue and there is a problem with affordable housing and this is a way to solve some of those problems."
For more information about the tiny house builders at the show, visit www.facebook.com/lowcountrytiny houseshow.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.