For Heidi Hansing, the last three years felt as if she were moving backward.
"Nothing in my life was what it seemed," Hansing says of her divorce after 22 years of marriage. "Everything had changed."
For 30 years, Hansing had served others, beginning in the Army when she was 17. Later, she raised a family and served as a city council member in League City, Texas.
She was on the verge of becoming an empty nester.
"I didn't want to rattle around my house like the half of a former whole," Hansing says. "I thought, 'What does Heidi want out of life?'"
Traveling was at the top of her list. She looked at where she wanted to be — traveling to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Crater Lake and Key West — and "backwards planned" from there: She sold her four-bedroom dream home, made a commitment to living small, put her memorabilia in storage and bought a Living Vehicle from Santa Barbara-based architect Matthew Hofmann.
Hofmann was a popular vendor at the annual Dwell on Design trade show held in April in downtown Los Angeles. Visitors were transfixed by the idea of sidestepping crippling real estate and rents in Los Angeles and elsewhere in California, others dreamed of opting for a simpler life, or satisfying their wanderlust. We chatted with three of Hofmann's customers about their decisions to do just that, as part of an new series about how the definition of "home" is changing in the increasingly expensive Golden State.
After updating more than 400 vintage Airstreams for clients and living in mobile spaces himself for a decade, Hofmann, 34, knew a lot about small-space living.
And in an age of housing shortages and skyrocketing home prices, Hofmann saw an opportunity to design a 21st century mobile home that was less about recreation and more about function.
"Every time people use an RV for a living space it's a compromise," Hofmann says. "I wanted to create something that resembles a home. The Living Vehicle is built from the ground up for full-time living."
Starting around $149,995, the Living Vehicle is made of steel and aluminum and can be towed with a full-size pickup truck. (The LV travel series, starting at $90,000, will debut in the fall). The custom vehicle can sleep six and comes equipped with modern amenities such as solar panels, Wi-Fi antenna, lithium batteries, an IOS operating system so it works with your iPhone, a spa-style shower and self-supporting deck.
The interiors are intentionally light and bright with white walls, skylights and windows to avoid what Hofmann calls "a tin can vibe." Looking ahead, he hopes to create a net-zero vehicle that requires no fuel or utilities to function.
One big consideration for all three buyers, or anyone else interested in hitching up a home: Where to stash it, especially when you're on the move?
Such vehicles are typically parked in an RV park or on personal property, but some municipalities may not be so welcoming. Such considerations need to be thought out in advance — and doublechecked with local authorities. Hofmann advises customers to consult with the Bureau of Land Management's website, which lists free campsites that can be used for up to 14 days.
Hofmann has sold 15 vehicles in three months and thinks the interest demonstrates a shift in how people want to live.