By Eric Peterson | Mar 07, 2022
The husband-and-wife team of Huggler and Wester merged experience and passion when they started Indigo River Tiny Homes.
"My background is in construction -- I've got over 16 years of construction experience," says Huggler. "I've always been fascinated by small structures. I actually started out building storage sheds, then moved into home improvement and remodeling."
And tiny homes more or less sit at the crossroads of both professions. "It's just kind of an obsession," says Huggler. "I just love everything about them: the puzzle of trying to fit everything into a small space, the challenge of that, and then making something unique."
The focus is squarely on custom builds with high-end finishes and plenty of headroom. "Everyone who has come to us for tiny houses wants something different," says Huggler. "Basically, we're building tiny, high-end, custom homes."
Wester highlights "the quality of the building materials we use and the trailers that we use. It's not a mobile home, it's not a factory-built home at all. The construction is even more study than what you'd find in a foundation-built home."
Customers choose from eight floor plans and a long list of add-ons and options. The Homesteader Deluxe is the most popular floor plan, accounting for about 40 percent of sales, featuring a loft with enough room for a 6'4" person to get in bed from a standing position.
"We have stand-up lofts in ours," says Huggler. "The vast majority of tiny house builders have crawl-in lofts."
Indigo River's tiny homes start at about $75,000 and can run as much as $200,000 for a larger one with all the bells and whistles.
Because they're technically trailers, the maximum size of a tiny home is 399 square feet -- and 8.5 feet wide -- and Indigo River regularly builds units within 10 feet of that cap. "What's grown is the size of the houses we're doing," says Huggler. "Every year, the average size of the tiny hoses we're building has gotten larger."
The trick is designing a space that feels bigger, says Huggler. "People say all the time about our designs when they walk inside, 'Wow, this feels really big on the inside. I wasn't expecting it to feel so big.'"
The company also offers a custom Office on Wheels. "Each one is a one-off, because every business is different," says Wester. "We do get a lot of calls for coffee shops on wheels, but other than that, it's every other different kind of business, dentists and chiropractors and all kinds of businesses."
The company's crew can build up to three homes at a time at the company's 11,000-square-foot facility. "We have a workstation at one end of the shop and the materials at the other end, and then work on tiny houses in the middle," says Huggler. "Then we have a big 12-by-15-foot door that we move them out of the shop."
The company sources customized trailers from Trailer Made in Olathe, Colorado, and brings in outside contractors for insulation, electrical work, cabinets, and painting. Everything else is handled by employees. "The framing, the plumbing, all the finishing work, the windows, installing the roof," says Huggler.
Building in a controlled environment brings the company several benefits. "It helps us because there's no rain delays," says Huggler. "Everything is delivered to the warehouse instead of individual job sites."
While most customers are from Texas, the market is nationwide. "We get calls from all over the country, a lot from California, some from Florida," says Wester. "In California, it's legal to park a tiny home in the backyard in a lot of cities now, and then Colorado has the most tiny house manufacturers, but it's really hard to find a place to park. Then Texas is pretty open: As long as you're outside the city limits, you can do what you want with your own land in Texas."
Challenges: "Supply chain and inflation," says Huggler, noting that windows have gone up by 200 percent, lumber has been on a roller coaster since 2020, and pocket doors were impossible to source in 2021. "It's always something different like that."
In response, Indigo River has had to bump up its prices by more than 50 percent. "We have to laugh to keep from crying," says Wester. "It's bananas."
Opportunities: The big opportunity would involve a nationwide acceptance of tiny homes, says Huggler. "That's a big obstacle for a lot of people. They don't want to order until they can find someplace to park it."
Investors with Airbnb in mind are also driving growth. "If people have an opportunity to stay in a regular house or garage apartment or tiny house, they're going to choose the tiny house, just for the experience," says Huggler.
Needs: Huggler says "good employees" are a need as the company grows, but notes that there are plenty of passionate tiny house enthusiasts looking to get into the industry.
Adds Wester: "The biggest need is education of the public, of the government, of the financial institutions. Getting a bank to finance a tiny home is a really big hurdle. You can't get a regular mortgage for it. It's either an RV loan or a personal loan as the two main ways to get it financed, and not everyone can qualify for one of those."
"Right now nationwide, there are two banks that will loan on tiny homes -- one in Tennessee, one in Utah," says Huggler.