Trailer Park Living with a Twist
Affordable, eco-friendly homes can be established in the most unlikely of places. Even a trailer park? You betcha. Blueprint Small: Creative Ways to Live With Less, by Michelle Kodis, highlights one such establishment, a trailer park being the only lot the builder could afford in Aspen, Colo.
Resident and architect Scott Lindenau faced an increasingly common dilemma experienced by many who live in resort areas where the only consistent thing about the real estate market is that the prices keep rising.
Although owning a home in Aspen seemed beyond his financial reach, Lindenau, who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and then moved to the ski resort in 1986, didn’t want to pack up and leave. At the same time, however, he understood he might never be able to afford a free-market house there. His innovative and cost-efficient solution? Build a single-family home in a trailer park.
A trailer park? Yes. But what Lindenau accomplished will cause even the most discriminating to retire any preconceived beliefs about trailer parks as places devoid of architectural grace and style. In Aspen, where land is at a premium, a trailer park makes very good sense.
Lindenau and his wife, Beyron, did hold a significant asset: They owned the 60 x 14 foot double-wide mobile home and the land on which it sat in Aspen’s Smuggler Trailer Park. While it was an affordable experience, it wasn’t exactly pleasant.
The couple endured eight drafty, cold, and generally uncomfortable years in the flimsy structure until they decided to sell the trailer and embark on the construction of a comfortable, design-conscious, affordable home that would incorporate inexpensive and readily available materials and be able to accommodate their growing family.
The first challenge was the location itself: The narrow trailer lot is only 70×40 feet, which translates into approximately one-tenth of an acre. At 2,400 square feet, this home, is affectionately know as the “Longhouse.” Its smallness is genuine because it has successfully adapted to the realities of the land beneath it and the other homes around it. The house also provides one solution to Aspen’s tight employee housing market. The Lindenaus and their two children live in 1,900 square feet of the house and rent a lower-level bedroom to one of Lindenau’s employees.
The house, described by the architect as a “transformed trailer hybrid,” was completed in six months at a cost of approximately $135 per square foot. Lindenau was able to save money by doing his own material research and performing some of the general contracting. In many ways, the home is defined by what Lindenau chose not to cover up. For example, exposed fasteners, seams, and edges reveal what the architect calls “honesty in detailing, structure, and materials.” In other words, the materials are not disguised by extraneous and perhaps unnecessary design embellishments and costly finish techniques, which can inflate a budget and at the same time have little direct effect on a home’s livability. Keeping the bottom line firmly in mind, Lindenau chose standard lumberyard fare and then used the materials in “non-familiar” applications.
Lindenau also employed clever architectural techniques to save money; he stopped the walls short of the ceiling, which has the added benefit of encouraging the transmittal of natural light throughout the home and enhancing air circulation. Because the house sits so close to its neighbors, privacy was a key issue, and Lindenau met that particular challenge with strategically placed windows. Another privacy measure: A basic cinder-block wall punctuated with a few tiny windows to serve as the home’s facade; the larger windows and key design elements were saved for the sides and back of the house, where maintaining privacy was not as crucial.
By all accounts, this unusually sited and design-savvy house has been a successful lifestyle transition for this young family. As Lindenau sums it up, “When you’re in the house, you can’t even tell you’re in a trailer park.”
Adapted from Blueprint Small, Creative Ways to Live with Less, by Michelle Kodis (Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2003).