By Eric Peterson | Sep 19, 2016
"We've had a whirlwind of inquiries," says Parr of a recent hot streak getting press from Sunset, Dwell, and Architectural Digest attracting potential customers from Dubai, New Zealand, and Croatia.
"It's just like boom," laughs Parr. "We're looking for special locations, and people with special locations are like, 'I've been looking for something like this for years and there's nothing like it.' There's this niche and nobody's doing it. There's yurts and Airstreams, but there's no high-end temporary structure."
His original vision involved a boutique hotel that he could move on a seasonal basis, and he read an article on legendary Malibu, California-based architect Harry Gesner in Dwell. "I must've read it a hundred times," says Parr.
Intrigued by the self-taught Gesner's background, Parr soon sent the legendary architect a letter, got a surprisingly quick response, and later lived in his spare room in Malibu while the duo brainstormed tent designs.
"He would design houses on sites other architects would deem unbuildable," says Parr of the 92-year-old Gesner. "He was our guy."
After installing a prototype at the Plains Conservation Center's 9,000-acre Bijou Ranch east of Denver in summer 2015, the company honed the design and pitched the first true Autonomous Tent at Treebones Resort near Big Sur, California, in spring 2016. At $495 a night, it isn't cheap, but it's a huge hit. "That tent is sold out through next July," says Parr, noting that he installed it out of pocket with a revenue-sharing deal. "We took all of the risk."
"People are looking for a unique lodging experience," says Parr. "Hotel rooms are everywhere. They're nice but they don't provide that experience."
Ranging from 350 to 650 square feet and starting at about $100,000, each tent has a steel or aluminum frame and are sheathed in a high-tech fabric not unlike the terminal's cladding at Denver International Airport. Designs can feature solar and wind power, graywater systems, custom interiors, and indoor fireplaces and outdoor firepits.
"The frame and fabric have to be so precise," says Parr, noting that the frame is cut on a 5-axis laser tube cutter. "That's such a game changer." The fabric is likewise cut on a CNC machine.
He works with a number of contract manufacturers and vendors in Colorado and elsewhere, and is looking to build a network of contractors to help with installs and add custom features. "What we're doing is looking for people we can partner with or refer to build decks and entryways, and we're going to focus on building the tents," says Parr.
Potential clients include hotels, guest ranches, wineries, festivals, and people looking for a unique office or guest house. With numerous proposals on his desk, Parr says he plans on making 25 tents by the end of 2016 and forecasts 100 orders in 2017.
He's now looking for a high-profile to install a demo model. "What we're looking for is a rooftop in Denver where we can install our tent and host some events," says Parr. "We probably need 800 square feet. How we get the materials up there is a logistic."
The company represents a big career change for Parr. "My background is software," he says. "I did it for 20 years. I just got burnt out and wanted to focus on something I really loved."
Challenges: "The biggest challenge is getting through all these steps," says Parr. "When you cut the tube with a laser, the tube is still straight, then you have to bend it. Making sure the fabric fits perfectly is a huge challenge."
And installation can be difficult. "Every location is different," he adds, "I'm learning a lot of things the hard way."
Opportunities: "We think when we find a rooftop to put a tent up, that's going to open all kinds of opportunities," says Parr, noting that the tents would be good VIP lounges for events and sporting venues. But that's just the beginning: "I think we're going to find more creative uses we didn't even think about."
Needs: Contractors, installers, and other partners "to help us with the pieces we don't do," says Parr. "We're writing The Definitive Guide to Autonomous Tents."