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USF grad has big plans for her tiny home

The exterior of the tiny home built by University of South Florida architecture graduate Stephanie Henschen, a graduate of the architecture program at the University of South Florida in Tampa. she spent 10 months building the 210 square-foot tiny house she lives in for her thesis project. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
Published Apr. 1, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — The first night Stephanie Henschen slept in the 210-square-foot home she spent 10 months building, there was a thunderstorm.

In a tiny home, everything sounds twice as loud.

"My sink, my water heater, my air conditioner are all in the same spot," she said.

Namely, below her bed: "You hear everything."

Her small, one room home survived. The water heater didn't explode. Nothing leaked.

That was last May. Soon, Henschen will mark one year spent living in her compact home at Robert's Mobile Home & RV Resort off Gandy Boulevard. One year since her life changed completely.

One year since the 27-year-old architecture graduate joined a tiny but growing movement.

The tiny house revolution.

Tiny homes are a big deal these days.

[Photo courtesy of Stephanie Henschen]

Stephanie Henschen's tiny home takes up a total of 210 square-feet including the loft where she sleeps. A graduate of the architecture program at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Henschen (above) spent 10 months building the home for her thesis project. Now she lives in it.

[Photo courtesy of Stephanie Henschen]

Stephanie Henschen's tiny home takes up a total of 210 square-feet including the loft where she sleeps. A graduate of the architecture program at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Henschen (above) spent 10 months building the home for her thesis project. Now she lives in it.

There's no standard definition of tiny houses, but they're widely considered to be about 500 square-feet or less. They're seen as a way to live a simpler, less cluttered life. They're more affordable and sustainable, ranging in price from $10,000 to up to $60,000. They can be towed like a trailer.

The 2013 documentary Tiny: A Documentary About Living Small and the HGTV cable show Tiny House Hunters, which featured Henschen in April 2016

Now the movement has reached Tampa Bay.

A tiny home festival will be held Saturday at the St. Petersburg Eco Village at 302 15th St. N. It's a nonprofit founded three months ago that offers social services and runs a community garden. Two tiny houses are being built on the property.

The festival will feature about 20 eco-friendly vendors and there will be sessions where tiny homeowners, homebuilders and experts discuss the movement. Tickets sold out Monday night. The group said proceeds will be used to help develop more tiny houses in a partnership with St. Petersburg.

"The movement is happening," said the group's media manager, Joseph Irwin, 27, "and we want it to happen abundantly and responsibly here."

The festival will feature 10 tiny houses to tour — including Henschen's home.

She became fascinated with the idea while pursuing her master's degree in architecture and community design at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

She was brainstorming ideas for her master's thesis in 2014 when her boyfriend suggested she build her own tiny house.

"What the hell is a tiny house?" she replied.

The idea really took off in her mind while attending an Orlando workshop held by Tumblewood Tiny Houses Company, a California manufacturer.

She walked through a display model. And she fell in love.

"I've never lived in a big place," she said. "I've never had the opportunity to accumulate a lot, so it makes sense that I would feel comfortable in a tiny home."

In June 2015, she set out to build her own tiny house.

[Photo courtesy of Stephanie Henschen]

Stephanie Henschen's tiny home takes up a total of 210 square-feet including the loft where she sleeps. A graduate of the architecture program at the University of South Florida in Tampa, she spent 10 months building the home for her thesis project.

[Photo courtesy of Stephanie Henschen]

Stephanie Henschen's tiny home takes up a total of 210 square-feet including the loft where she sleeps. A graduate of the architecture program at the University of South Florida in Tampa, she spent 10 months building the home for her thesis project.

Henschen bought a building plan at the workshop. She used a chunk of money she had saved for her thesis to buy the trailer she would build it on.

Up to that point in her life, Henschen said she had "rarely used a hammer." But with help from her father and boyfriend, they spent 10 months — mainly weekends — building the house in her grandmother's backyard in St. Petersburg.

Seven months into the project, they had to move it when her grandmother sold the house.

They finished the interior at Robert's Mobile Home & RV Resort. Then they hauled it to USF and parked it in a campus lot so she could present her thesis on April 7, 2016.

The place was packed.

"You have to present multiple times, and at the end they're either going to love it or hate it ... and they loved it," she said. "I ended it the way I dreamed."

She got an A.

At first, Henschen thought she would sell her tiny home to help pay off her student debt.

Then she decided to live in it for a year.

Many tiny-home dwellers are driven by sustainability and minimalism. But not Henschen.

"I don't have a composting toilet," she said. "I drink bottled water. I should be better, but I'm not,"

"I'm a 'normal woman.' I love shopping. I've always had everything I've ever needed. So going into this, I was not expecting to like it."

But sustainability and minimalism are features she has come to enjoy.

"I don't feel cramped at all," she said. Her electric bill ranges from $5 and $15. Her total monthly bills stay under $400.

Henschen built and furnished her home in a way to make it feel larger than it is.

At the entrance, multi-colored wood panes stretch across the small wall with the honeycomb-shaped window in the corner. White curtains hang above a tiny gray couch that's overrun with pillows. A wooden ladder sits in the center of the room that leads her up to her bedroom, a loft filled to the brim with books.

[SAMANTHA PUTTERMAN | Times]

Stephanie Henschen's tiny home takes up a total of 210 square-feet including the loft where she sleeps. A graduate of the architecture program at the University of South Florida in Tampa, she spent 10 months building the home for her thesis project.

[SAMANTHA PUTTERMAN | Times]

Stephanie Henschen's tiny home takes up a total of 210 square-feet including the loft where she sleeps. A graduate of the architecture program at the University of South Florida in Tampa, she spent 10 months building the home for her thesis project.

Living in the tiny home, it was more than just her surroundings that changed — she changed.

"I feel comfortable to sit and read, but I do things now that I didn't normally do," she said. "I ride my bike more. I go for walks. I do things because you don't have the space to do it at home, so you're like, 'Oh I'll just go out.''

Real estate is still real estate, however. After a year living in her tiny house, now she wants to flip it.

Her total cost to build it was $18,000. It's on the market for $30,000.

She doesn't plan to use the money to pay off her student debt. Instead, she wants to take the proceeds from the sale and build two tiny homes: One to live in and one to sell.

Henschen wants to become a tiny home developer. Turns out, she likes building them, especially with her father Joe Henschen.

"It was such a great experience between my dad and I, one I wouldn't want to trade for anything," she said, "because you don't know how many of those experiences you're going to have."

Contact Samantha Putterman @sputterman@tampabay.com. Follow her on Twitter @samputterman.

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