Bellingham builder makes tiny houses with homey touches

By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal

One of the biggest trends in housing is actually very small.

And a recent Bellingham transplant is hopping on.

Shannon Black works out of a warehouse space in the Irongate neighborhood. His latest tiny house sits inside. From the outside, it almost looks finished, from the wood siding to the red door. The inside looks like any house nearing the end stages of construction, but in miniature.

He kind of stumbled into building tiny houses about a year and a half ago. He used to own two radio stations and a concert venue in New Mexico. Then he sold his half of the business and was looking to move to the West Coast. He picked Seattle, and eventually ended up living on a houseboat on Lake Union.

He started seeing tiny houses everywhere, and they appealed to him.

“I just really missed the creative part of building,” he said.

He wanted to try to build one of his own. He has some construction experience — back in New Mexico he built and sold two full-sized houses.

Black designed the tiny house with himself in mind — he planned to live in it. But he put his progress photos online, just to see what would happen, and it caught someone’s eye.

“I had a guy within the first week after I finished it offer to write me a check for it,” he said. That guy bought and it towed it all the way to California.

“I just immediately started another one,” Black said.

He has built and sold three more since then, and each one has sold before he’s even done building it. Overtime, he has refined his design in little ways — wider stairs, more compact plumbing, the addition of an exhaust fan above the stove.

He decided to make it official and start a business, called Big Freedom Tiny Homes.

He had a building site in Seattle, but it was outside, so he couldn’t work during the rainy season.

He set about looking for a new site indoors, but couldn’t find anything in Seattle.

That’s when he found Bellingham, and his ideal working space in Irongate. Once again he picked up and moved. He’s been busy ever since, finishing up his latest tiny house.

“I’ve been here six weeks and I’ve barely left this warehouse,” he said.

He tries to make his tiny homes feel as much like a traditional home as possible, with hardwood floors, granite or quartz counter tops, and a brightly colored front door.

The kitchen is roomy. It has a large refrigerator, and the counter is an 11-foot slab of stone, with room for two people to sit at it on bar stools.

“I wanted what felt like a full-size bathroom,” he said. He lines the wall in unfinished cedar, to give it a sauna-like feel (and smell).

It has a full-size shower and standard household toilet and miniature washer and dryer.

A tankless water heater tucked under the stairs ensures there’s plenty of hot water.

At the front of the house is the living area. A couch from Ikea turned out to fit the space perfectly — plus it has a slide-out spare bed and storage under the cushions.

There’s more storage tucked away in the vertical rise of each step on the staircase leading up to the bedroom.

There’s also a second upstairs loft space opposite the bedroom that’s accessed by a ladder.

Each house has a shed roof — a single slanted plank — to optimize space.

“I avoided all the cutesy roof lines,” he said. That means that one side of the upstairs loft bedroom is tall enough to sit up comfortably.

It’s as tall and as wide as it can be (13.5 feet by 8.5 feet) for it to still be towed normally.

“I wanted your average person to walk in and go ‘oh, I could live here,’” Black said.

In total, it’s about 300 square feet — about the same size as the houseboat Black lived on in Seattle.

So for him, the space is normal, and he’s already gotten rid of most of his possessions.

“It’s one of those things that becomes kind of addicting, once you start getting rid of stuff,” he said.

This downsizing has become trendy lately.

“There’s a lot of people embracing the minimalist lifestyle,” he said. A lot of those same people would rather take the money they spend on a mortgage and use it to travel, Black said.

“There’s a sense of freedom to being able to pick up and move,” he said.

Shannon Black, of Big Freedom Tiny Homes, tries to make each 300-square-foot house he builds feel like a full-sized home. (Contributed photo)
Shannon Black, of Big Freedom Tiny Homes, tries to make each 300-square-foot house he builds feel like a full-sized home. (Contributed photo)

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