WeeCasa is an inn, but also lets people try tiny-house living before they buy
People line up in front of one of the tiny hotels for their turn to see the inside of the building. WeeCasa Tiny Home Hotel hosts a tiny home tour in Lyons on Saturday, August 27, 2016.
A Lyons mobile home park that washed out in the 2013 floods is gaining new life, one 135- to 238-square-foot structure at a time.
Nestled near a crook of St. Vrain Creek, the 10-acre property — just steps from downtown Lyons — is home to 17 tiny houses and counting, all of them on wheels, licensed as recreational vehicles and able to be pulled away in 30 minutes or less.
It’s one part hotel and one part showroom for Colorado’s burgeoning tiny house industry.
“We couldn’t put mobile homes back here,” said “Wee-EO” Kenyon Waugh, a Lyons resident who joined forces with the property owners to openWeeCasa in 2015. “Reading through the things that you can do in a flood plain, in (Federal Emergency Management Agency) regulations, it actually says an RV park is a good thing to have.”
Guests can spend a night or two in one of WeeCasa’s tiny houses, whether they’re there to try before they buy or to just check off a bucket-list item. The tiny house hotel also offers regularly scheduled tours for anyone interested in checking out their units, most of which were built by Colorado-based manufacturers.
The decision to operate both as a hotel and de facto tiny house showroom, Waugh said, was a matter of economics, as well as wanting to help support the larger tiny-living movement.
“It’s such a new industry,” he said. “The more people know about tiny houses, the more people will want to say, ‘I’ve stayed in a tiny house.’ ”
And people are staying. In its short life, WeeCasa has been featured multiple times on HGTV, and earlier this year, Outside magazine named WeeCasa one of its 28 best trips of 2016 anywhere in the world.
The support of and interest in tiny houses are growing in Colorado and nationwide, said Coles Whalen, event coordinator for theNational Tiny House Jamboree. Hosted in Colorado Springs, the annual jamboree was founded in 2015 and has already announced dates for its third year, Aug. 4-6.
“We held the first jamboree two years ago, and we thought we’d have 4,000-5,000 people attend. We had 40,000,” said Whalen, who also works for EcoCabins, a founding sponsor of the jamboree. “The movement has national support that is larger and more public than anybody ever imagined.”
With its creative, outdoors-oriented population and supportive state government, Colorado is also home to a growing number of tiny house manufacturers, she said. Among them is arguably the biggest name in tiny houses, Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., which has its production factory in Colorado Springs.
“It’s come from something that was completely underground to something that’s extremely public,” Whalen said. “It’s large enough that it can actually support many different types of professionals in something that’s really become an industry.”
At WeeCasa, five more tiny houses — already on order — are set to be delivered this spring. That will bring Colorado’s first tiny house hotel up to 22 units. There were 10 when it opened in May 2015.
Clustered in two rows, the tiny houses share their riverfront property withRiver Bend, a wedding venue operated by the property’s owners, Betsy Burton and Mike Whipp. Burton and Whipp also own the Lyons Farmette, on the east side of town.
The weddings bring a good business, but 60 percent of guests are people who just want to stay in a tiny house, Waugh said.
Overnight guests generally fall into two categories: people who have heard about tiny houses or seen them on TV and want the experience of staying in one; and those who are considering making the switch to tiny living full-time and who want to do a test drive before they invest in their own small home.
“Especially when we first opened, we had a lot of people who were thinking about doing it,” Waugh said. “They bring things as though they were going to live in them. One woman brought a cat bed — she wasn’t allowed to have the cat here, but she wanted to see where it would fit and how it would be.”
Guests have even specifically requested a unit with an oven, because they wanted to see what it would be like to make a quiche in a tiny kitchen. (Some WeeCasa units have fully equipped kitchens, while others have more spartan setups, including mini-fridges and single-burner cook tops.)
For many prospective tiny house owners, being able to climb around inside a unit — or even stay overnight — is an important part of the decisionmaking process, said Daniel Patterson, supervisor at Durango-based Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses.
“People are a little skeptical. They think they’re cute, but is it really going to work for them?” Patterson said. “You can’t get a feel for a space from just looking at it. It’s an aesthetics judgment that comes to you when you actually get in the space — oh, you can stand up and stretch out and not touch both walls.”
Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses has one unit at WeeCasa: The 135-square-foot unit, which is the tiniest of the hotel’s homes, is owned by a woman who splits her time between Colorado and Alaska and lets WeeCasa rent out her home for the part of the year she’s not living in it.
Founder Greg Parham said he would “certainly be interested” in showcasing more of his houses that way, but for now, the small company doesn’t have the capital to build a bunch of showroom models.
“The benefit to me is that people get to see our work and our design and our craftsmanship,” Parham said. “Most people have done their homework. We’re one of the few builders that can build to the custom level they’re looking for.”
Right now, WeeCasa owns about half of its units. The rest either are leased from their owners or are showroom models from builders, Waugh said. Eleven are from Sprout Tiny Homes in La Junta, including two that were custom-built specifically with hotel guests in mind.
One change that was made to all of the units: Any composting toilets have been replaced with dual flush toilets connected to city water and sewer.
“A lot of people ask about compost toilets,” Waugh said. “Ninety-five percent of the world does not want to use a compost toilet and 99.99 percent don’t want want to use somebody else’s compost toilet.”
For his part, Waugh was first drawn to the idea of tiny living after he and his wife thru-hiked the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail as ultra-light backpackers.
“I just started being fascinated with the idea,” he said. “Living in a tiny house is basically permanently living as a backpacker. Everything has to have three uses or it shouldn’t be in the house.”
Waugh bought his first tiny house on Craigslist and probably put 1,000 miles on his car looking at different styles and models. He still lives in a full-size house — he and his wife have two young kids — but he hasn’t ruled it out of his future.
“I tell my kids that when they have a house, I’m going to put one in the backyard, in each of theirs,” Waugh said. “They can rent it out except for the eight weeks I get. I don’t want to stay in your house — I see how you keep your rooms now. Mom and I will be in the back.”