How a Talented Architect Keeps Refining the Tiny House Until He Gets It Right

Small cabin in a dark, snowy forest

Escape Vista

We have been following the work of architect Kelly Davis and his partner Dan George Dobrowolski trying to solve the problem of the tiny house with their Escape Series. I have started them all with "how a talented architect" addresses the complex mix of tradeoffs of size, rules, cost, complexity, how much of this and how much of that goes into it. The Escape Vista is the third in this series and they have really given us a rare opportunity; this is a talented team, and one can almost see the thought process as they progress through the different designs in a short period of time. It all started with this, with another design built under another set of rules: How a talented architect makes a Park Model look like a charming cabin in the woods

The Traveler Model

credit: Escape Traveler

The first we showed was the Traveler, in Talented architect tackles the tiny house and comes up with a mini gem. They described it as..

A remarkable building, hand crafted in our own plant in America's Heartland. Its design magically allows living large in a small, energy-efficient space. Leave it in place or move it at will. Even most standard pick-ups can move it. Traveler does things in a big way.
credit: Escape Traveler

Inside, the Traveler shows the range of decisions that have to be made. For instance, it has a massive bathroom for a tiny house, with tub and laundry and big vanity, everything you would find in a condo, not a trailer. The kitchen also runs the full length of the living area, which eats up a lot of an 8'-6" wide space. There are two lofts, which is great for getting a lot of people in, although lofts are not the best places to sleep. Because of the high level of fit and finish it costs $66,600, which prices a lot of people out of the market. But this is a design based on their best guess about lifestyle choices; a design for people who do not want to compromise with tiny bathrooms or appliances or going without a fireplace and a big TV- it is packing a condo into a trailer. And I like how it is so contemporary; Kelly Davis doesn't go for the cutesy traditional gables and puts a shed roof on it, which lets you sit up properly at one end of the bed in the lofts.

credit: Excape Traveler XL

The Traveler XL stretches the footprint of the Traveler to get a full separate bedroom. I wrote in How a talented architect squeezes big things into a tiny package

In a lot of ways this is a great thing; most tiny homes have sleeping lofts, which are simply not that good for the older crowd that is looking to downsize into a tiny home or RV. The ladders and steep stairs are awkward at night (your average boomer goes to the loo at night more often than your average millennial). And lofts can be uncomfortably hot and painful when you bonk your head.

Pros and Cons

credit: Traveler XL

And here is where, philosophically, I began to differ with their choices. They wrote:

Traveler does things in a big way. Full-size kitchen and bathroom, large dining or work table, living area with fireplace and big screen TV, soaring windows, on-demand hot water, even a washer/dryer.
I was not so sure and complained about the full size appliances, wondering why everyone living in Europe can get by with 24" wide appliances but here, they felt it necessary to put full North American size units in a tiny home.
This is the problem with the design of tiny houses- in the boat and RV world, people expected seriously tiny bathrooms and prided themselves on turning out big meals on two burner stoves. Many tiny houses, and the Traveler series in particular, are designed to give all the comforts of a traditional house (big bedroom and bath, full kitchen) in a small space. This model does that extremely well, giving people what they have said that they want. But when you finally see it, I think it begs the question of whether it is what you really need.
A commenter agreed, noting:
You hit the nail on the head. Many of these problems have been solved (for decades) by travel trailers and boats. So many of these tiny homes seem clunky and incommodious. Traditional furniture and appliances just don't fit. I love to cook, but I would not need a full-sized range or fridge to produce a fantastic meal. Most people use only one or two burners of their 6-burner range, anyway.

The Escape Vista Model

credit: Escape Vista

Which brings us back to the latest model, the Escape Vista. It is appropriately named, given the amount of glass.

Vista is an escape to a private space that is both sheltering and directly connected to nature. Craftsmanship is everywhere is the quiet, clean, open design. Vista is perfect for a guest house, fantastic for AIRBnB or rental space, excellent for weekend getaways to the beach or mountains and just right for that special space of your own to escape the stresses that invade all of our lives.

But you could live in this if you wanted, and at 160 square feet for $39,900 it is getting down to where people stop complaining about the price.

credit: Escape Vista

The plan is an interesting riff on the Traveler, still with the counter running the full length of the living space. People have complained about this in comments, but it makes some sense to think of it as a big country kitchen, with a comfortable day bed that acts as sofa and sleeping. You can no longer have a party in the bathroom but it is still generous by tiny house standards.

credit: Escape Vista

As they say in New York real estate ads, this is certainly a RM W/ VU. Perhaps too much VU in cold weather and in summer when the sun is shining, but it is spectacular and big windows make the space feel much bigger. There is a monster TV that pops out of that cupboard under the window at the foot of the bed.

credit: Escape Vista

Then there is the kitchen, which is such an about face from the earlier designs, it doesn't get more minimal with an under counter mini-fridge, a sink, and no stove at all. This is a trend we first saw in Graham Hill's Life Edited apartment, where he realized that with induction stovetops you can treat your stove like a coffee maker and rice cooker, putting it away when you don't need it. I suspect that we are going to se a lot more kitchens set up this way, particularly in small spaces. (a built in induction stovetop is available)

Pros and Cons

credit: Escape Vista

Some fundamental questions remain unaddressed, which are the same problems that everyone faces with these kinds of tiny homes. Here one can see that it has licence plates and lights, and at 6,000 pounds would not be too hard to tow. But to where? It is sitting in a field, but is there a septic tank for the toilet, sinks and showers? Or do they dump into the optional tanks? If set up with tanks, then it has to be towed to a pump-out station or installed in a trailer park. And what is that extension cord connecting to? It is the basic problem that everyone is just beginning to deal with: these are lovely ideas, great designs, but we have to figure out where to put them and how to service them. It will never be more than a tiny niche until we do. But it is a lovely tiny design.