You can’t spend much time involved with the tiny house industry without hearing two names – Tumbleweed Tiny Homes and Four Lights. What do these two seemingly different companies have in common, and which one is the better choice for homeowners looking to go small with their home? The story behind both companies is interesting, and provides insight into two of the leading firms in the industry.
Tumbleweed Tiny Homes Background
We’ll start with Tumbleweed, as it’s the older of the two companies. It was founded by Jay Shafer (who now owns Four Lights, after leaving Tumbleweed to his business partner in order to pursue other options). The company was founded back in 1999, and has since grown to include two national locations. The company’s original home (and primary location today) is in Sonoma, California, but they’ve also extended their operations to Colorado.
Tumbleweed offers nine different home plans, including four mobile tiny homes and numerous cottages designed to be installed on a permanent foundation (not a trailer). While the company sells plans for all of its homes for customer construction, it only builds the four mobile tiny houses – the Elm, Cypress, Linden and Mica. All four were designed by employees and are available in a number of lengths and widths, with a wide range of potential customization options (dormers, door positons, skylights, appliances included, etc.).
The company’s motto is, “Dream Big. Live Tiny,” and their creations certainly help owners do exactly that. You’ll find Tumbleweed homes all around the country, many of which have been profiled online, as well as through several cable networks, helping bring awareness to the tiny house movement.
Steve Weissmann is currently president of Tumbleweed. I have interacted with him over the Web a couple times and found him to be friendly and genuine. Here is an interesting video from when Jay Shafer still represented Tumbleweed:
Four Lights is Jay Shafer’s new company and you’ll find a lot of similarities between it and Tumbleweed. However, where Tumbleweed offers four mobile tiny homes, Four Lights offers only two that are really designed for ongoing mobility. The remaining four models are designed for installation on a permanent foundation. There are some remarkable similarities between Four Lights’ homes and those offered by Tumbleweed.
While that’s partially due to Shafer’s design work, it’s also due to the choice of materials, and adherence to classic architectural designs (for instance, the Gifford is built with an American Craftsman style). One difference here is the fact that some of Four Lights’ homes offer bigger tiny living options than Tumbleweed. For example, the Marie Colvin comes with 288 square feet standard, and can be configured to have much more. The Marmara can be designed with over 880 square feet, making these two options good choices for families with children, more than other models on the market.
Four Lights has grown to employ four people, although Jay still does all the design work and furnishes those homes customers order with appliances and other furnishings.
Understanding Jay Shafer
If you’re living in a tiny house or considering a move, then you can most likely thank one man – Jay Shafer. While he’s not the only pioneer in the industry, he does get credit for a significant amount of the movement’s traction, with at least one interviewer crediting him with, “practically inventing what is now known as the tiny house.”
So, who is this guy, this father of the modern tiny home?
Actually, Jay’s relationship with smaller living goes back to the 1990s when he built his own tiny house. Until that point, he’d been living in an Airstream trailer, but finding that it wasn’t really that great for year-round occupancy, he set out to create something that was. Thus, he built his first tiny house and moved himself in. The home won the “Most Innovative Design” award from Natural Home Magazine for 1999, and that spurred him to decide to make a career shift – to designing tiny homes.
Jay didn’t let his lack of an architectural degree hold him back, either. Part of that was his natural bent toward design, and another was his inner artist (he holds an art degree, actually). Another element was his outlook on what a home can and should be – he says that when he analyzed the normal house and removed all the unnecessary elements, the result was a very small home indeed.
Tumbleweed Tiny Homes was born shortly after Jay’s realization that he could make such a dramatic career change. However, his tenure with Tumbleweed wouldn’t last more than a few years. He decided to leave the company to his business partner in 2012 to found a different tiny house company – Four Lights.
Perhaps the most telling thing about both Four Lights and Tumbleweed is Jay’s personal philosophy. In his book The Small House Book, he say, “When everything in our immediate environment is essential to our contented survival, home and the life within will take on a truly essential quality.” It’s about efficiency, but also about essentials and eliminating needless, unnecessary things that do little more than tie you down with responsibilities (building on the theory that everything you own, owns you in return).
Which Is Right for You?
Between Four Lights and Tumbleweed Tiny Homes, you have an incredible range of options whether you want to build your own tiny home based on professional designs or buy one pre-constructed. So, which company is right for your needs? Really, you can’t go wrong with either one. Both companies take considerable pride in creating designs that are at once aesthetically pleasing and efficient. Both companies have deep roots in the tiny house community thanks to Jay Shafer. Both companies have reputations for quality, innovation and customization. You’ll even find that both of them can offer furnishings and appliances that fit (and work) perfectly within a tiny house.