Regional prize-winners of the Prix Stars et Métiers organised in Normandy by the CMAs (Chambres de métiers et de l’artisanat, or Chambers of Trades and Crafts) and Les Banques Populaires, Bruno Thiery and Michaël Desloges are the leading builders of Tiny Houses in France. These are true homes, built using a wooden structure, solidly attached to a trailer that’s adapted to the width of the roads and entirely constructed out of ecological materials. Also nominated for the national prize, here follows the story of an engaged – and durable – initiative!
Published on 17/05/2019
Reading time : 3''45'
It was just to amuse ourselves at the time, but then we got hooked
An original concept
In the countryside at Poilley, in the south of the Norman county of La Manche, near the town of Avranches, people are working away merrily. Dotted about are little houses, measuring from 10m2 to 15m2 on the ground, with one, or two, mezzanine levels measuring between 5m2 and 7m2, capable of accommodating the essentials of any home, comfort included. Since 2015, Bruno and Michaël have been building and selling Tiny Houses – micro-houses on wheels – for French and European clients. Their story? It all started, as so often, with a wonderful encounter, that of Bruno, a carpenter by profession, and Yvan Saint-Jours, a journalist. ‘‘That was back in 2008. Yvan, who’d created the magazine La Maison Ecologique, had discovered the concept of the Tiny House in the USA. Three of four years later, he decided he wanted to have two built, for himself and his children. He set up the project all by himself, but called upon Bruno, who already had his own carpentry business, to make it come true,’’ explains Michaël.
By spring 2013, the first Tiny House was well under way. Michaël, a small tenant farmer and organic baker at the time, came to give his old friend a helping hand. ‘‘By August 2013, the second house had been built. It was just to amuse ourselves at the time, but then we got hooked.’’ Next, alongside their ordinary work, our two friends decided to build a Tiny House of their own. ‘‘We went to specialist fairs to present it; after the summer of 2014, the first orders started coming in.’’ Since then, they’ve grown and grown in success. In 2015, both regional and national press and media ran with their story. They’ve appeared in the Ouest-France newspaper, and on the French shows Carnets de voyage (on France Inter) and Télématin (on France 2), as well as on the channels Arte and TF1… ‘‘These were exceptional channels for getting ourselves known,’’ Bruno recognises. ‘‘The evening after the report about us in the show Capital, on the M6 channel, we received over 1,000 emails, and 1,500 in total that week,’’ Michaël recalls.
Every client has their own specific reason for choosing one, but the environmental factor is fundamental
Several motivating factors, but always the single defining choice
This new kind of home, which is both small and easy to drive around, distinguishes itself from its sometimes shakier cousins, the Mobile Home and other types of old-fashioned mobile caravans, in the comfort it offers as well as the ease of moving around with it. The Tiny House sits on a trailer adapted to the width of roads, can be towed simply with a van and doesn’t require an additional special driving licence. ‘‘It offers a new way of providing accommodation, be it for a single person, a couple, or a family. It makes a noble home, as people choose to live in such a dwelling,’’ reckons Bruno. The added extra they provide? The Tiny Houses created by our two Norman friends are all different: ‘‘We do custom-built projects. We adapt to the needs and tastes of each client. No single Tiny House we sell resembles another.’’
A Tiny House is of course small by nature, but there are very many reasons why people opt for one. Whether it be for greater mobility or the feeling of freedom, to have a custom-made home, because of a tight budget, or to make a financial saving: ‘‘Every client has their own specific reason for choosing one, but the environmental factor is fundamental. Lots of our customers want to reduce their ecological footprint as well as their costs…’’. A true house with a wooden frame, these Tiny Houses made in La Manche are entirely constructed out of ecological materials. ‘‘They’re sourced as close to us as possible. It’s essential that the Houses match our sustainable development values. The materials come from Normandy, as far as is possible, and never from beyond France.’’ From wood cut in the Forest of Saint-Sever in the Norman county of Calvados to the wood panelling from Honfleur or Saint-Malo, via the trailers made in Valognes, or the insulation from Vendée… ‘‘this isn’t about a commercial strategy,’’ the two friends concur. For Bruno, who has long worked in eco-construction, as for Michaël, who’s long been an organic baker, the natural side to their Houses is something they care about deeply, and for the long term.
We were the first, going back in time, and we’re first in number of Tiny Houses produced
A true commitment
Besides the materials used in the construction, dry toilets and organically produced electricity are most often considered essentials too, while shielded cables divert the magnetic fields in order to ensure the least interference possible with the human body’s cells. Much more than a mere fashion, the wish to live simply and with as much freedom as possible appears to be a true commitment, in line with the times. ‘‘Generally speaking, I get the impression that France’s western side is a pioneering area when it comes to new types of homes and many people here seem to be paying attention to nature,’’ notes Michaël. Be that as it may, their Tiny Houses have travelled beyond France’s borders, with Germans, Swiss and Belgians, for instance. ‘‘We were the first, going back in time, and we’re first by number of Tiny Houses produced.’’ If similar initiatives have since been launched in both France and Normandy, our two friends express a mix of pride and humility in declaring: ‘’It shows that we had a good idea!’’
In May 2019, Michaël and Bruno celebrated their 77th construction. ‘‘On average, we build two a month, so between 20 and 23 a year.’’ On the aesthetic side and in terms of internal layout (for example, with beds on the upper or lower levels) the company offers several options and several sizes, for budgets ranging from €50,000 to €65,000, and according to different tastes. ‘‘Sometimes we only build the frame, leaving the interior empty, to enable a client who’s a fan of DIY to decide on the internal arrangements according to their tastes.’’ To fulfil the many orders they receive, the team has grown, counting some ten people today, reducing the waiting time from two years to one. Stages in the process for clients include visiting existing Tiny Houses, reverse planning, exchanges with the company, and the to-ing and fro-ing of proposals from its interior designer, Julie. ‘‘Every person tackles ordering a Tiny House as they wish. We discuss matters at length with our clients to come up with what fits them best and we only make the design at the last minute. First, it’s a matter of exchanges,’’ explains Michaël, whose smile indicates that lots of their clients have become friends.
Learn more about La Tiny House at: http://www.latinyhouse.com/index.aspx