“The Art of Living Large in Small Spaces” – Carrington Fox
Writer: Carrington Fox / Publish Date: November 2017
Given how charismatic and engaging David Latimer is when speaking on the topic of micro-housing, it’s no surprise that HGTV based an episode of reality program Tiny House, Big Living on his company, New Frontier Tiny Homes. Nor is it surprising that glossy publications such as Architectural Digest and House Beautiful followed up with glowing articles about Latimer’s stylish signature product, a 240-square-foot mobile structure known as the Alpha.
What is surprising, however, is the fact that the Alpha—painstakingly and gorgeously embellished with subway tile, barnwood, dishwasher drawer, Jacuzzi, farmhouse sink, and glass garage door—was Latimer’s first endeavor of the sort.
Latimer’s rapid rise from tiny-house enthusiast to telegenic champion for the architecture of a pared-down and intentional lifestyle began in 2015, when he was building a couple of micro-houses from plans, as a way to dip his big toe into tiny waters. He stumbled into a dinner party conversation about tiny houses with a guest from Los Angeles. Get Latimer rolling on the writings of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and David Shi, author of The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture, and it becomes immediately clear that he is interested in more than just the bricks and mortar of the twee architectural movement. So, while he had never designed a house from scratch, he was so passionate and confident about his ability to craft beautiful dwellings for intentional living that his dinner companion relayed his story to a producer in California.
Next thing Latimer knew, he was executing his first proprietary tiny house model in front of a camera crew, with help from technically savvy business partner Zac Thomas, who made sure Latimer’s blue-sky designs were grounded in reality. To watch the episode, which first aired in June 2016, you’d have no idea that Latimer was a newcomer to both tiny-house design and reality television.
Since the HGTV debut, New Frontier partners Latimer and Thomas have completed four tiny houses based on Latimer’s custom designs. Aided by ebullient national media—including Huffington Post, New York Post, and Curbed.com, which dubbed Latimer’s flagship Alpha model “the fanciest tiny house around”—nascent New Frontier has quickly staked a huge claim on the tiny-house landscape.
In college, Latimer, now 35, studied philosophy and played football. His disparate athletic and academic credentials merge seamlessly at New Frontier HQ, where heavy machinery and existential literature sit side by side in the workbarn and Latimer quotes Winston Churchill while four-wheeling across a pasture to inspect his handmade structures.
After college, he traveled across Europe and Africa, worked in fashion in New York, and designed restaurant interiors in Chicago before coming to Nashville to open the short-lived Music City Tippler.
Upon returning to his hometown, Latimer also took an unexpected turn toward the family business, so to speak. His father, Eddie Latimer, CEO of Affordable Housing Resources, is an outspoken advocate for increasing the city’s stock of workforce housing and levels of home-ownership. Having seen the tiny-house movement take hold on the West Coast, Eddie wanted to explore micro-housing as a way to deal with ever- escalating real estate costs in It City Nashville. He introduced the subject of tiny houses to David, who wanted to merge his own interests in sustainable design and intentional living. To see if father and son could pursue their interests under the same tiny roof, Latimers elder and younger attended a Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop, then Eddie provided capital for David and some friends to construct two tiny houses from Tumbleweed plans. Those early efforts, finished with clean lines of white-painted tongue-and-groove and dark-stained barnwood accents, now sit on rolling pastureland at a Bells Bend farm, where New Frontier’s office and workshop occupy a grand barn.
With two practice structures under his belt, David partnered with builder Zac Thomas—who is also managing partner at Nashville-based Paragon Group builders—to bring his high-design aesthetic to the positive constraints of moderated consumption. The results include the Alpha, which was profiled on HGTV, and the slightly larger and more embellished Escher, which Curbed.com called “a new embodiment of tiny house as art.”
But while the New Frontier team—including architectural consultant Taylor Mallon, director of operations Stevee Curtis, and sales director Mary Dockery—have demonstrated remarkable passion, ingenuity, and craftsmanship in their creative enterprise, they still wrestle with the economics of the fledgling tiny-house industry. Here’s where the math of tiny living gets tricky: The original Alpha was budgeted to cost $60,000 to build, but actual construction costs came in significantly higher. As Latimer says cheerfully on the HGTV segment, “I envisioned it going a little smoother than this.” Of course, he was talking specifically about the installation of an elegantly ingenious overhead storage system designed to give a compact kitchen outsized functionality, but little luxuries designed to lure homeowners toward a radically edited lifestyle can add up fast. Innovative space-saving furniture that collapses into the floor or slides into the walls costs more to build than off-the-shelf stock, so tiny living can cost big bucks. As listed online, a 250-square-foot Alpha costs $124,000, while the 325-square-foot Escher starts at $185,000.
At $500 per square foot, New Frontier’s tiny homes are more luxury living than affordable housing. Latimer’s first signature models have found buyers on the West Coast, and his next custom project is a writing studio and library for best-selling children’s author Cornelia Funke.
Latimer hasn’t given up on extending the common-sense beauty of tiny living to a larger audience. For a six- unit tiny-house hotel in the works for East Nashville, he’s exploring cost-effective variations, such as eliminating the trailer base and streamlining the interior design. But he’s not prepared to sacrifice too much design. Latimer feels strongly that housing, no matter what size, should be beautiful and inspiring. It’s just of question of how to make it economically scalable.
He cites Tesla’s Elon Musk, whose effort to bring electric cars to the masses began with luxury automobiles. “Pioneering is expensive,” Latimer says, cataloging the many time-consuming lessons he has learned along the way. “But I know this is the future of housing.”