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Tiny homes stand out in Riley County neighborhood

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Brandon Irwin’s living space is small, but thanks to some innovative designs it has a surprising amount of open space for a 360-square-foot home.

For one thing, Irwin opted out of having a couch and instead installed two hooks on his ceiling from which he hangs a hammock chair when he wants to watch TV or relax. His TV hides under his desk behind wooden panels when he’s not using it and glides up on a platform, like an elevator, at the push of a button. His platinum ceiling fan blades are tall and curved instead of long, to keep him from hitting his head when he goes up and down the stairs to his loft bedroom above his kitchen and bathroom.

Irwin, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Kansas State University, has been living in his tiny home on wheels since November, 20 weeks after he and a group of friends started building it.

Irwin’s friend Brady Atkinson, a master carpenter, offered to help Irwin build his tiny home and quickly took the lead in the building process. Irwin’s initial plan was to build the house himself, using how-to videos that were included in the design plans he bought.

“It dawned on me pretty quickly, basically right after we started working on the trailer just to get it ready to build on top of, that I would be so lost without him, and it would’ve taken me at least twice as long to build this,” Irwin said. “And he didn’t have to help at all.”

Atkinson’s dad, Terry Atkinson, an 80-year-old military veteran, also helped in the building process.

Julia Day, an interior design professor at K-State, helped modify the plans Irwin bought online for the design of the inside of his home. The house has storage space on a second loft above his desk and underneath an area rug in the middle of his living room.

Irwin also got help from a K-State student and from his cousin. Everyone helped on a volunteer basis, with Irwin paying Atkinson whenever he had some extra money, Irwin said.

“Part of the real heartening and important part of this story to me is the idea that it was one of the most powerful experiences of community that I’ve ever had,” he said.

Irwin knew he wanted to live in a tiny home long before he acted on the idea. He used to live in a house in Manhattan with a friend until the house’s owner told them he planned to sell the house. Irwin was comfortable living there so he looked into buying the house, but he couldn’t afford it. After looking for other rentals and not finding any good deals, he decided to finally look into building a tiny home.

In December of 2015, Irwin did some research and bought design plans for a tiny home on wheels. He bought a trailer for $8,000 and took out a personal loan of $35,000. The home cost $40,000, not including the cost of labor.

Irwin’s home was recently featured on HGTV’s “Tiny House, Big Living” series. The episode, titled “Tiny Smart House,” was the fifth one on the show’s fourth season. Aside from the hidden TV, another smart feature of the home is that Irwin’s lights can change colors and change to the beat of music. He also has a video doorbell that lets him use his phone to see who’s at his door. Alexa, his Amazon personal assistant device, turns on his lights or plays and stops music at Irwin’s command.

HGTV paid for the light fixtures and the TV. Irwin was also able to get sponsorship from local businesses, meaning some of the materials cost less because they would be advertised on TV, he said.

Irwin’s home is one of three tiny houses on wheels in the Riverchase Mobile Homes community northeast of Manhattan, just south of Tuttle Creek Lake.

Michelle Hanrahan, a mental health therapist, moved her home into Riverchase two years ago. On the outside, Hanrahan’s home looks like a small wooden cabin with brick red window frames and a red roof.

Hanrahan has an armchair tucked into a nook next to her front door and a small couch against her living room wall.

Separating the living room from the kitchen is a built-in bookshelf where she keeps frames, decor and books. She also has a dual washing and drying machine for her clothes under her kitchen counter.

Her stairs double as storage cubbies as most of the spaces below the steps are covered by a wooden panel that can pop out. While her home looks more crowded than Irwin’s, the couches give it a more cozy, comfortable feeling.

Hanrahan used to live in a two bedroom house but started feeling overwhelmed with too many things.

“You just accumulate lots of stuff, and I was tired of cleaning it all and managing it all,” Hanrahan said. “So this seemed like an affordable way to downsize.”