Tiny houses, miniature vegetables and microshops have been giving new life to the old mantra, “Less is more.” Taken together, the delightfully diminutive products, companies and spaces described here suggest more than a passing trend for all things small. From personalized service, to concentrated flavor, to dramatic vistas, to elegant simplicity, these small experiences are bringing big things to life in the Bay area.
Peyton Harvill of PH Building and Design, above right, is giving new meaning to downsizing. He and his family have built a teensy, tiny house — just 144 square feet, plus an 8-by-8 foot loft that fits a queen-sized bed. This little house is surprisingly large on amenities though. It includes a full bathroom, full kitchen, propane range, tankless water heater and HVAC. “That’s what intrigued me, ” Peyton says, “the challenge of getting everything in such a small little box.” Without plans or guidelines to reference, it was a matter of figuring it out as he went. Now, he is looking for someone who wants to make this tiny house their new home.
For Peyton, the ideal owner of a tiny home is probably a young person, who is perhaps someone looking for flexibility or considering a move. He understands the attraction: “You’re not tying yourself down to a big mortgage, and you have the freedom of packing up and moving to another piece of property in the same town, a state over, or a country away.” This tiny house would also be ideal for a hunting camp or as a rental property on the water, he notes. Wherever the tiny house goes, Peyton imagines a big deck should be attached to extend the living space.
As a builder, Peyton notes that homeowners are tending to gravitate toward houses with a little less square footage. “People are using space a little more wisely, ” he explains, pointing out that formal dining rooms are often the first room to go. “So many people have a dining room, and most admit they don’t use it.”
For branding consultant and boutique owner Carlisha Hartzog, a 130-square-foot shop is enough space to give her online fashion retail business a physical presence. Her microshop, Urbane, located inside The Exchange 202 on Government Street, is a showroom for a curated collection of leather goods and ready-to-wear women’s clothing. And, it’s a place for customers to get a shopping experience that’s tailored to them.
At any time, Urbane typically carries five to six clothing lines. Although she includes some foundational pieces, Carlisha, right, says, “most have something different: maybe exaggerated shoulders, or a maxi skirt with a dramatic slit and shorts underneath. Not too trendy, but definitely innovative.”
Her hours are on the small side, too, because she specializes in individualized, appointment-based consultations. With so much personal attention, clients get a customized experience. “An appointment starts with a conversation about what they need and what fits, how they move within their lifestyle, ” Carlisha explains. “If I hear that several people are interested in a particular product, then I make it a point to source that item.” She hopes the shopping experience is as luxurious as the pieces she sells: The space is filled with the smell of fresh flowers, and there’s a pretty cake dome that’s always filled with sweet treats for her clients.
The flexible hours and small space mean the shop is “like a semipermanent pop-up, ” Carlisha adds. She is considering opening and closing the shop seasonally, as this sort of retail tends to slow as locals head out on vacation in the summer months. “We’ll stay open through Mardi Gras, and then perhaps reopen next fall.” Owning a microshop allows her the flexibility to do just that.
Mobile Pedicab now provides the best little way to scoot around Downtown. It is also the newest business venture of Preston Griffith, of the well-known Griffith’s Shell on Government Street. “I had ridden in pedicabs in New Orleans, New York — even Istanbul, Turkey. Every ride was a cool experience, ” says Preston, below. He wondered if it would work in Mobile, he remembers, “but I never thought I’d be the one doing it.” Best of all, the ride is free. “That’s right — no charge! However, the pedalers do appreciate their tips.”
With three wheels and seats for two, pedicabs are ideal for short trips and for taking in the sights. Griffith sees his bike-powered vehicles as an integral part of Mobile’s thriving entertainment scene: “You get in a traditional cab to go home, ” Griffith explains, “but on a pedicab, you’re in the open air, and the atmosphere is great. There are all the balconies. The music is playing on Dauphin Street. And you’re not going too fast, so there’s time to enjoy it. Lots of people just want to ride around for a bit.”
The small scale offers a personal expedition and friendly service. Riders tend to ask a lot of questions, and Griffith says the pedalers are ready with answers. “One of the pedalers, a history major, recently helped some Australians who had been on a cruise ship that had sailed from Canada, ” recalls Griffith. “The passengers were very inquisitive about the French connection in Mobile, and he was able to tell them all about it.” These “city guides” are also a great resource for restaurant recommendations. They wait for customers all over Downtown but can be frequently spotted outside Moe’s Original Bar B Que, Five or near Cathedral Square.
Since 1960, SeeCoast Manufacturing has been making little lenses that offer amazing glimpses of the big world. This Fairhope company produces those quintessential viewers that magnify scenic landscapes all over the Southeast.
Selecting an instrument depends on the type of view desired. “Binoculars give a wide panoramic view that make them suitable for a place like Vulcan, ” explains Sarah Lacey, director of marketing, referring to a viewer installed at the Birmingham landmark. A telescope, on the other hand, magnifies 20 times — twice as much as binoculars — but has a smaller field of view; that makes them ideal for something like a bird trail. And how far do they allow someone to see? Well, that depends on your eyesight. “Distance is limited only by human vision, ” Lacey says.
SeeCoast Manufacturing is proud that their viewers run on strictly mechanical operations. Here’s how it works: You push in the coin shoot, which switches a lever that both starts the timer and opens the shutter. The user then has between a minute and a half and two full minutes of viewing time; the slight variation in time is a normal part of the mechanical operation. For just two quarters, this little machine makes visible the invisible, letting viewers see and know a bit more of the wide world around them.
A long the back roads of Wilmer, Alabama, Pat and Frank Foster cultivate the sweetest “neigh-bors” you will ever meet at their business Impressible Minis. At less than 34 inches tall, their miniature horses would steal anyone’s heart. The Fosters have been raising miniature horses since 1982, and they are proud of the awards their 75 animals have won. “Nearly all the stallions are world champions or world champion producers, ” Pat explains.
Miniature horses are perhaps most noted for their temperament. As she explains this, Pat’s adoration of her horses is evident in her voice. “They are so very affectionate and gentle, ” she enthuses. “A big horse loves you because you feed it. A miniature horse just loves being with you.” Their intelligence and sweet nature make them a perfect companion for children. “I love them, ” Pat says. “But then, I’ve never known anyone who doesn’t!”
If you’re eating at a local restaurant and find a plate full of regionally-sourced vegetables, there is a good chance they came from Local Appetite, a 3.5-acre microfarm in Silverhill. “At any one time, we’re growing 20 to 30 crops on that small space, ” says co-owner Will Mastin. Their wide variety of vegetables allows them to meet the needs of local chefs; one restaurant particularly likes Jerusalem artichokes, an unusual crop that these farmers grow just for them.
The size of the farm isn’t the only petite part of Local Appetite. Their miniature vegetables are a favorite with Bay area chefs, not least because they present well on a plate. Baby squash are especially popular, Will explains. “We pick them small, when they’re really tender with hardly any seeds. But they look like fully grown squash.”
Most amazing of all, these bite-sized beauties pack a big punch. “The flavor can become really concentrated in the smaller varieties, ” Will adds. “That’s especially true of the lunchbox peppers.” He’s referring to a sweet snacking pepper that’s just about two inches long. Miniature tomatoes are another favorite; a one-pound carton features a beautiful range of reds, yellows, even purple picks.
Individuals can also enjoy their veggies, miniature and otherwise, through a “local bag” subscription service. A month-long subscription buys four bags brimming with farm-fresh produce, delivered right to your door. Thus far, home deliveries have only been available in Baldwin County, but Will expects to expand to Downtown and Midtown Mobile at the first of this year.
text by Meg McCrummen Fowler • photos by todd douglas