- Orlando Lakefront is a tiny house community in Orlando, Florida. I stayed there for three days to learn about the tiny house movement and to see what living in one is like.
- I stayed in a 350-square-foot tiny house called The Venice. I was surprised by how spacious it was, especially compared to my Brooklyn apartment back home.
- Orlando Lakefront’s owner, Adam Money, gives residents access to a community garden, a boat, and fishing gear. He even hosts movie nights for the residents.
- After speaking to residents about how they came together during Hurricane Dorian, I realised that living in a tiny house community is all about living with people who share similar interests.
- The experience taught me that living in a tiny house community isn’t all that different from a regular neighbourhood.
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Over the past few years, words like “downsizing” and “living tiny” have entered the common lexicon, as the tiny house movement has been growing in popularity in the US. Tiny house owners are attempting to prove that bigger isn’t always better – and it’s working. In fact, 53% of people said they would be interested in living in a tiny house, according to a 2018 study by the National Association of Home Builders.
Since the movement is still relatively new, regulations and building codes for them don’t exist yet, which can cause headaches for owners, who often have a hard time finding a place to park their tiny home. But there’s one place in the US that is attempting to get ahead of the curve: Orlando Lakefront, a tiny house community of 34 tiny homes in Orlando, Florida.
In September, I spent three days there, living in my very own 350-square-foot tiny house. I attempted to learn more about the movement and why people are choosing to live in this community. Here’s what it was like.
Approaching Orlando Lakefront, I could see the tops of the tiny houses overlooking the trees and fence.
Living in cramped New York City apartments for the past five years, I felt like I was more prepared than most to downsize. But I was still unsure of what to expect.
As the car pulled in, I got a clear view of the lake, and I spotted the tiny house that I had rented for the next three days.
I was surprised by the community’s proximity to the lake, with homes lined up right next to the shoreline. The community seemed quaint and picturesque.
I walked up the path to my temporary tiny house — called The Venice — and was struck by how well it was maintained.
The Venice is 350 square feet and sleeps three people.
Once inside, I was shocked by how roomy the space felt.
The living space included a full-sized couch, a fireplace, a bookshelf, and two huge windows that looked out onto the lake.
The kitchen had more space than the one in my New York apartment.
Though I did not cook a single meal, the kitchen came fully equipped with a stovetop, oven, refrigerator, and dishwasher.
My favourite part of the entire home was the garage door that opened onto a deck that overlooked the lake.
I came to learn that windows are arguably the most important part of tiny houses because they make the space feel larger.
The bathroom was also bigger than I expected with a large shower and a washer/dryer in the corner.
The toilet hooked up to a septic system in the park, so luckily there was no composting necessary.
Apparently, the idea that all tiny homes use composting systems is a common misconception.
My bed was in a loft area above the bathroom. It was too small to stand up in.
The loft was the one feature that made me the most nervous about tiny home living. As a claustrophobic person, I was anxious about sleeping in a space where the ceiling was closer than an arm’s reach away. But I slept soundlessly each night after getting over the initial fear. The three windows on each wall helped make the space feel more open.
Outside, the community boasts 34 tiny houses in total, with a few RVs sprinkled throughout.
I took a walk through the neighbourhood to get an understanding of the community.
I instantly noticed that there was no uniformity among the tiny houses. Each one looked completely different from the one next to it.
Some tiny homes had slanted roofs while others were flat on top. From lime green to dark grey, the homes came in every colour.
I learned that while some do opt to build their tiny houses themselves, many turn to contractors to do the work for them.
Some of these homes are available for short-term rentals, and I took a tour of several of them.
Orlando Lakefront owns 10 of the tiny homes on the property,which can be rented. They are a good opportunity for those who want to try tiny home living, but are hesitant to make the leap permanent.
The View, for example, is a 400-square-foot tiny house on the lake that you can rent for $US70 per night.
The View is the newest home in the Orlando Lakefront community.
It has some of the best views in the entire community, which is how it got its name.
Wood-paneling gives the tiny home a snug vibe.
The living room is situated under the loft, creating a cosy atmosphere.
The staircase features a table that can be pulled out.
The staircase — which is filled with storage compartments — leads to a lofted bedroom.
The loft fits a queen-size bed, a television, and three windows.
The bathroom is on the smaller side, but has everything you need.
The bathroom has a toilet that is hooked up to a septic system, a small sink, and a stand-up shower.
Just a few doors down, The Swan is a 400-square-foot tiny home that is also right on the lake.
You can rent The Swan for $US68 per night.
The Swan comes with a full kitchen.
It features more counter space than my Brooklyn apartment does.
The living space has a couch and a 42-inch flat-screen television.
Though the living space may seem tight, there’s a built-in fireplace below the TV and a wine fridge.
There are two lofts in this tiny house, each with their own set of staircases.
Each loft fits a queen-size bed.
Although each house is unique, Orlando Lakefront owner Adam Money has made it his mission to ensure every tiny house meets his high standards.
Money bought the community in 2011 when it was an RV park. At the time, it wasn’t a safe neighbourhood, and it has been his goal to turn the park around. He did that by replacing most of the RVs with tiny houses. And as people move into the community with their own tiny houses, he makes sure each one meets his standards to ensure the beautification of the park.
“I have a lot of building experience, so I can tell when I walk into a house if the windows are crooked and the paint job isn’t done,” Money said. “There’s a few that I need to tell to spruce some things up. It has got to look good.”
Money said his goal was not only to create a place where people could park their tiny house, but also to create a community they could call home.
For most tiny homeowners, the biggest challenge is finding a place to legally park. Money allows owners to rent a lot in the Orlando Lakefront community. Lots close to the lake cost $US650 per month, and get cheaper the further from the lake they are situated.
The cost of rent includes access to the park’s amenities, which Money said create a sense of community.
For example, residents often get together for water activities, which are all free of charge.
The park offers residents and Airbnb guests access to a small boat, canoes, paddleboards, and fishing gear.
There are even movie nights, where films are projected onto one of the tiny homes.
Orlando Lakefront features lots of communal areas to hang out in.
Money said he hopes to have fire pits, a volleyball court, and more amenities for the residents in the near future. He even has plans to turn one of the larger structures on the land into a clubhouse.
Residents have also planted a community garden that brings many of them together.
Squash, pumpkin, watermelon, peppers, tomatoes, and chives all grow in this garden, according to Orlando Lakefront manager Amy Boyd.
While the activities seemed like nice perks, I still couldn’t grasp what made this community so special. To really understand, I had to speak to the residents themselves.
Residents in the park come from all over the world. Since most tiny homes are on wheels and can easily be moved, many residents tend to move around frequently.
Amanda Burger has lived in her 26-foot-long tiny house and in the community since January 2019.
She said she spent $US40,000 on building her tiny home and now pays $US500 per month to live in the Orlando Lakefront community.
She shares her tiny home with her two children, who are 4 years old and 20 months old.
The children’s bedroom is a loft, and doubles as a playroom.
She even built an outdoor space for her children to play in.
Burger set up a small playground and swings that hang from the back of her tiny house.
Although Burger admits living in a larger space with two small children would be easier, she couldn’t imagine living anywhere other than this community. “There’s something about the fact that we’re all living simply that brings us together,” she said.
“Everybody comes from so many different walks of life, but [this lifestyle] brings us together on a different level,” Burger said.
Like Burger, Misty Gilley has lived in Orlando Lakefront for several months and loves the sense of community. Her mother lives right next door.
She lives in a 240-square-foot tiny house that is right next door to her mother, DJ, who lives in her own tiny house.
The Gilleys own an addiction recovery centre and lived together in a large condo for several years. In 2018, they realised they wanted to continue living near each other but separately, so they decided to downsize. In February, DJ built her home for $US65,000, and Misty followed a few months later with her $US80,000 house. Today, they live right on the waterfront.
“I love my house,” Gilley said. “But the best part is being close to mum.”
The mother-daughter duo said they really felt the power of the community when Hurricane Dorian was expected to hit Florida in August.
Gilley said the whole community banded together to help each other during the incoming hurricane. Since most tiny homes could only withstand winds up to 45 mph, they had to strap them down. Gilley said everyone was helping each other.
Mickie Boehm, another resident in the community, also remembered the way the community stuck together for the hurricane. “Everybody was helping out, pitching in, discussing tactics,” she said.
Boehm said she had to strap down her $US68,000 tiny home in preparation for the storm and felt comforted by the fact that her neighbours were in the same position.
“It’s nice to be in a community where people are going through the same thing and understand,” she said.
Although Li-Mor Raviv is still in the process of building her tiny home, she has been paying rent on her lot in Orlando Lakefront community to ensure her spot in the community. To Raviv, it’s important to live amongst people with similar interests.
It’s common for people to pay for a lot at the Orlando Lakefront community even though they don’t have a tiny house yet. Raviv is one of those people. Although her $US70,000 home is not yet built, she can already appreciate the importance of living in this community.
“Adam [Money] did an amazing job here,” she said. “[In this community], we can take care of each other and make sure we are all living well and simple.”
After speaking to residents in the community, I realised everyone there prioritises minimalism, simple living, and an outdoorsy lifestyle. “Everyone here is like-minded and came here for similar reasons,” Money said.
In secluding themselves to this small park, they have created not only a tiny home community but a community of people with similar interests, and in that way, they have created a small utopia.
After living in this tiny home community for a few days, I have a firmer understanding of the movement and can even see myself downsizing in the future.
While some don’t understand the tiny house movement, I learned that tiny house living isn’t all that different. The houses may be smaller, but its owners are just looking for a community, a friendly neighbour, and a place to call home.
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