FLORENCE — Two young entrepreneurs who believe their generation should be able to have attainable housing have opened the Industrial Hotel in Florence, where shipping containers turned into hotel rooms offer a glimpse of what tiny home living is all about.
Wyatt Reed, owner of Fire Age Designs, first pitched the idea of teaching others to create tiny, mobile housing to Fremont Economic Development Corp. officials during a "Shark Tank” like competition in 2019. His third-place prize helped him launch the idea but meeting his like-minded friend Barna Kasa, owner of KDevelopers, helped take the idea to reality.
Now, as partners in the Industrial Hotel, 360 E. Industrial Blvd. in Florence, the two are “super excited and tired – it's been a lot of work. We have two units finished and two planned,” Reed said.
The entire theme of the hotel, which is booked via Airbnb, is “wherever possible recyclable materials, second hand materials or reclaimed materials are used. It’s generational – we are not trying to torch the planet anymore and we believe in sustainability of the planet,” Reed explained.
The idea has a huge draw for those who prefer to participate in sustainable tourism. They are the travelers who will stay at places like the Industrial Hotel because they want to patronize environmentally friendly establishments.
“One way to think of it is there are no small bottles of shampoo that are thrown away. It is just these little things that you can do that help the planet,” Reed said.
Kasa, whose business motto is “Save the past, build the future,” is owner of Salvage, Antiques, Vintage etc. at 208 W. Main St. in downtown Florence. His whole life centers around tearing down old structures and finding uses for all the materials from every piece of wood to every door knob.
Because building materials are especially hard to obtain and expensive these days, he finds uses for reclaimed steel which can become a countertop, ceiling paneling, or even a shower stall. Wood from “all over Fremont County from old garages to barn wood,” is used for wall paneling and fences.
Take Unit 1 at the hotel as an example — it has second-hand cabinets and old lockers from Canon City Middle School and Washington Elementary in Canon City that are great compact storage units. The doors came from the upstairs floor at Florence Brewing Company, which is undergoing a remodel.
It has a living room, coffee bar area, bathroom and a bedroom big enough for a king-sized bed.
The tile is made by Reed and Kasa themselves, manufactured out of old plastic plant containers from a nursery. They get them from Swink Clean Valley Recycling in trade for other recyclable plastic.
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Reed is proud, “we are taking plastic from the trash and turning it into a finished product that looks damn cool.”
The shipping containers usually take less than 30 days to convert and even the simplest of design changes can save as much as $1,000 on lumber costs. For those who need a bit more space, the two-story tiny home features a shipping container on the bottom that doubles as a storage garage, gym or ETSY business space with the living quarters on top.
Unit 2 will be fully Americans with Disabilities Act compliant with a larger bathroom designed to accommodate a wheelchair.
The Industrial Hotel features the bubbling Coal Creek winding its way past the back of the tiny home units. It’s a peaceful setting for outdoor barbecues.
Even the old sandstone blocks from Industrial Hotel site, which once was home to a boarding house 50 years ago, will be incorporated into the Permaculture landscape garden that will reuse the site’s leach field water. Local permaculture designer Kaila Kobow of Vitalscape Design will create plans for an on-site native pollinator garden to regenerate the landscape and riverbank and it will even feature edible plants.
The old shipping containers turn out to be an ideal start for the tiny homes because they are extremely durable, help speed up construction and can also be mobile. Reed said the business is like a smaller “grassroots” version of indieDwell in Pueblo where shipping containers are being turned into housing.
“They are like somewhere in between a super-sized RV and an extremely durable mobile home,” Reed said.
The idea of the Industrial Hotel is simple. It’s a place to stay for those considering the tiny home lifestyle.
“This is our try-before-you-buy option. You can rent a unit and make sure it is something you want to do and can do,” Reed said.
Reed is adamant that shipping container homes will be a strong option for his generation to have an equitable share in Colorado's crazy housing market where prices are soaring out of the reach of new college graduates struggling with student loan debt.
"If you can’t have equity, you can’t have wealth,” he said. “Housing needs to be attainable, cost effective and fiscally responsible.”
He believes many people don’t need more than 320 square feet of living space if they are always outside taking advantage of the Colorado outdoors, hitting the trails, riding bikes or skiing.
Since both Florence and Canon City have accessory dwelling unit ordinances in place, the containers also can serve as guest houses, gyms or an office. Reed currently is transforming one shipping container into a coffee shop that is headed for Minnesota.
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The future of cost-effective housing in Colorado could lie within convincing city officials to see that square-footage minimums for dwellings can be amended.
“This is proof of the concept. This is what we had to do without zoning changes so they can see we are not ruining the neighborhood,” Kasa said.
If all goes as planned, Kasa has 10 acres just down the road on Industrial that he hopes he and Reed can turn into a 20- to 30-unit tiny home community. It is the former site where prison cells were fabricated for the Supermax federal prison in Florence.
And just as he pitched to the economic development officials a couple years ago, Reed offers an opportunity for others to learn from him, build alongside him and based on what they learn, make their own tiny home, “that way it blesses more people,” he said.
"We are pretty proud. We learned a lot along the way and we can do more better and faster," Reed said.
To find out more go to theindustrialflorence.com.
Chieftain reporter Tracy Harmon covers business news. She can be reached by email at email@example.com or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.