West county man strives to get home buyers to think small

A man's home should not be a castle - or even a modest tract house - say advocates of very small houses including Jay Shafer, who builds homes so little they can fit into most master bedrooms.

The college art professor-turned small home designer is building "tiny houses" - some just 100-square-feet - in west Sonoma County.

Four months ago, Shafer moved from Iowa to a region ripe with potential customers and fellow exponents of thinking small.

While radical to some, very small houses could be a solution to soaring home prices. Affordability is one reason more Northern California residents are showing interest in Shafer's homes.

Shafer's one-man Tumbleweed Tiny House Company is gaining national attention. A 100-square-footer priced at $25,000 for a Montana family is nearly complete. He has a 140-square-footer at $30,000 under construction for a Seattle couple, and orders are backing up on the company's Web site.

"Three or four people a week come in to look over my place and the buildings. Hopefully I'll build a subdivision some day," Shafer said.

Some customers seek to minimize how they live. Others want a guest house or vacation cabin.

Jensine Olsen and friend Greta White found Shafer at work on the property he rents near Occidental. Shafer's model is the 60-square-footer he lives in, having towed the house on a trailer behind his pickup across the country.

"I love the wood inside. It has a lot of light," said Olsen, a San Francisco resident who said Shafer's homes are ideal if she can find a small rural lot in Northern California. "By seeing this, that's going to tell me where I want to be. I want a place where nature is my house - and not my house."

Shafer contends his homes have everything to live comfortably, even though they are a fraction of the size of the ever larger million-dollar "McMansions" going up in Sonoma County and across the country.

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