At Home in the Bay - May 2015
334 Terrace Avenue, Waveland
This month's home is located in the Bay's sister city of Waveland. It may be tiny, but it dazzles with star-power in "Tiny House Nation!"
- photos and story by Ellis Anderson
It all started with Pye Parson, a landscape designer who lived in Waveland pre-Katrina. She owned the popular Sol Gardens on Main Street in Old Town Bay St. Louis. Like thousands of coast residents, Pye and her family evacuated from their Waveland home in 2005, believing they’d be returning in a few days.
After the storm, nothing but a set of brick steps remained. The family relocated to Birmingham for son Quen’s schooling. He was five at the time. Although, they struggled together through the abrupt adjustment, the couple’s marriage ended eventually, along with Pye’s hopes of living on the Mississippi coast. Yet, she found herself unable to completely relinquish the Waveland dream even though she remarried in recent years and built a busy career as a real estate broker.
Realizing the costs of rebuilding on the coast had risen because of fortification techniques and elevation requirements, she began to research tiny house living. The trend to build smaller has been blossoming on the international scene for decades and has recently caught fire in the U.S. The environmental impact of living small appealed to Pye, as did the lower rebuilding costs.
One evening, while doing more tiny house research on computer, Pye ran across a call for people wanting to build a small house as part of a major network TV show. Pye wrote a letter explaining her situation and two days later, heard back from New York. Thus began a six-week series of interviews during the screening process. Finally, the producers selected Pye, her husband Roald and son Quen, to be featured in a first-season episode.
Although Pye had found a Waveland builder she wanted to work with, she didn’t have plans. Her sister’s husband, Birmingham architect Bruce Lanier (Standard Creative http://www.standardcreative.com/home.html worked overtime at his office and gifted Pye with a set of plans, managing to tick off everything on her “must-have” list: lots of light, a large bathroom area, a space for Quen and his computer set up. The entire structure would be built to satisfy fortified coastal building codes.
During the following weeks, Pye and her family became used to being interviewed and having camera crews filming every reaction and casual comment – both in their Birmingham home and at the site of the Waveland build.
Pye and the producers spent the next year wrestling with roadblocks like zoning, variances and builders who were reluctant to vary from the norm. The house was smaller than regulations – ones put in place in a different era when size equated with quality - allowed. Because of the delays, the house ended up being featured in season three instead of season one.
But finally, in January, Pye and her family were introduced to their new Waveland home. The cameras were running the first time they entered the finished house and captured the family’s excitement and awe.
“When we walked into the house, we hadn’t seen the interior before,” Pye says. “ We were totally surprised. The show really blew it out of the water with the efficient use of space. Plus, I love the way the elements of tile, wood, and metal all work together. “
The show’s producers modified the original plan somewhat to meet their own criteria, but Lanier’s sophisticated beach-style comes through loud and clear. Fourteen-foot ceilings in the main living and bedroom area make the 576 square foot house sing with spaciousness and light.
Pye says that her favorite part of the new house is the master bedroom.
“I’m up in the tree with the birds,” she says. “And at sunset, when the light comes in from the West, it’s amazing.”
The bathroom runs a close second. Pye had wanted a spa-like feel and clever use of the square footage gave her just that.
“You give up a lot of space and privacy in a tiny house,” she says. “So you need to splurge elsewhere. Once you close the door to the bathroom, you’re in your own world, with a big tiled shower. It’s amazing.”
The kitchen, according to Pye, is a model of efficiency and a cinch to clean – from top to bottom, she can have it sparkling in just twenty minutes. The loft area includes a small office space for Pye and Quen’s living area with a custom –built computer desk.
The custom feature that’s a design and efficiency hit are the “barn doors,” that separate the living area from the master bedroom. The massive doors are hung from the top and slide easily into place on tracks. One of the doors contains a fold-down table, while the other serves as storage for two bench-style seats. When the family’s hosting a dinner party, the living area transforms instantly into a dining room.
Two distinct outdoor living areas lay claim to space beneath the house and add hundreds of square feet to the home.
“In the beginning, one of our hardest decisions was where to eat our meals,” Pye says. “We have several outdoor spaces that are really unique. The balcony right off the kitchen has become our favorite place for breakfast, while we tend to have most of our dinners in the living room beneath the house. Then we’ll enjoy a drink around the fire pit in the evening."
Although the family hasn’t been able to leave Birmingham as quickly as they’d planned due to jobs and school for Quen, they’re hoping to move down to the coast full time as soon as practical. In the meantime, they're spending as much time in the house as possible.
Has the family found disadvantages in living small? Turns out the main one is acoustical. Since the house is so small, Pye and Roald can sometimes hear night-owl Quen when he’s up late working on his computer. They’ve solved the problem by creating sound panels that Quen can easily take up and put down.
How about the news that the city of Waveland is considering welcoming developers who want to build more tiny houses?
“Why use an old model? The real opportunity is often in being different,” says Pye. “There’s a huge body of people who miss the “old Florida” and Waveland can offer that experience.”
“I’m excited to be back. The people are wonderful, the landscape is beautiful and Waveland is in the position of being a really cool, eco-friendly place. Our asset is this incredible natural world. You don’t have to invest any money. The beauty’s already here. You just have to promote it.”
Al Lawson - On Design
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