Taken for a tiny tour
Marble Trend's 'neolith' tiny home isn't all that tiny, but it does raise questions about how people actually live
As a general rule of thumb, when deciding what to present in these pages I avoid anything that uses marketing phraseology such as "city within a city," "join our caravan," and "a new concept in living," or things that are touring across the country and make an "exclusive stop" here. Even if there is wine and cheese involved.
However, when an invitation to see a "tiny home" at a marble showroom appeared in my inbox a few weeks ago, I must admit I was intrigued.
Often, when I want to turn my overactive brain off, my hand reaches for the TV remote, and often – as my long suffering wife will attest – my digits punch in the digits that correspond to either Food Network or HGTV. I tell her the former is so I can prepare gourmet meals for her, the latter is for "research," and she shoots me a classic Don Rickles' eye-roll in return (may he rest in peace).
And, these days, it seems there are more shows about tiny homes than you can shake a tiny T-square at: Tiny House, Big Living, Tiny House Builders, Tiny House Nation, and Tiny House Luxury. Oh, and there's a spinoff of House Hunters – how this juggernaut became successful using one camera panning across empty beige bedrooms and marble countertops is a mystery for the ages – called Tiny House Hunters as well.
To their credit, many of these shows feature quite innovative ideas about how to economize on space. There are tiny Murphy beds, tables that fold down or swing away when not in use, boat-like millwork and loft bedrooms I'd hate to be in if a nightmare forced me awake.
I can see the appeal, since many of us have a fascination with miniatures. A video entitled Tiny Hamsters Eating Tiny Burritos won a Webby Award in 2015, which led to follow-up videos, of course, of hamsters eating tiny donuts, tiny pizza, tiny sushi and an entire tiny Thanksgiving dinner. I get it, it's cute.
Also, because there is a do-it-yourself element to tiny homes – manufacturers haven't flooded the market with tiny millwork and tiny furniture yet, but give it time – there are great shots of bearded, artsy guys cutting wood and figuring things out. And then there's the payoff as they walk their doubting parents through the finished product to Southern-accented cries of "Oh my, look how big tiny can be!" and "Son, I hate to say it, but I'd live here," and hugs all around.
So, to make a long story short, I took the bait and drove all the way up to Marble Trend near Finch Avenue W. and Highway 400 to see the "Neolith Tiny House on Wheels Tour." I didn't know what "Neolith" was and I was wary of the word "tour," but when I saw the care taken to tape four balloons to the sandwich board pointing me into the correct driveway, I knew I was in for a good time.
Neolith, it turns out, is a line of "sintered stone" surfacing made in Spain that, thanks to advanced printing and polishing techniques, can look strikingly like statuario marble but cost and weigh a fraction as much. I've seen it used in many homes and it always fools my seasoned columnist's eye.
And the tiny home, it turned out, wasn't that tiny: at 500 square feet, it's 100 over every definition I could find on the Internet. Really two custom-built boxes roughly the size of 20-foot long shipping containers – separated by a gap complete with a skylight – the kitchen was large enough to include acres of counter space and a big island. On the tiny home shows, I've seen builders struggle to find enough space to squeeze in a two-burner induction cooktop. The living area sported a large sofa and a fireplace with absolutely no flipping tables or under-sofa storage. There were two bathrooms, which is one more than my seven-member family had when I was little. Oh, and there was also a wine fridge and a roof deck.
"We're not trying to sell tiny houses," said Marble Trend's Moreno Ruaro with a laugh. I knew this, deep down, but it was hard for me to admit that I'd been had. "The sintered, large porcelain slabs are very versatile, they can be used for exteriors, interiors, floors, for walls, for cabinetry, even there are some homes in the warmer climates that they use these as a roof."
The sales pitch continued, with Mr. Ruaro discussing Neolith's content of recycled material and how it's all "achieved by high heat and high pressure," and yes, I listened to all of it because Mr. Ruaro was a nice man who believes in his product. He was also in charge of mixing up the Aperol spritz cocktails on offer that evening.
Kidding aside, besides turning me on to new and exciting ways to cover just about every surface in my future home (tiny or otherwise), this media event got me to thinking: why aren't there TV shows about tiny condo suites? Micro-hotels? Innovative interior designs that save space? Do tiny things have to be on wheels for people to get excited about them?
Maybe it's time for HGTV to ditch the wheels and show us how we really live.
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