Interview with Big Tiny’s Jeff Yeo on living small on the move
Co-founder of Big Tiny, Jeff Yeo, speaks to us about the idea behind Big Tiny, its goal for real estate and role in eco-tourism
Let's be honest, living in Singapore comes with a hefty price tag. And with the increasing cost of travelling seeing no signs of stopping and the inevitable work stress, local startup Big Tiny may hold the ticket to our relaxation woes. Helmed by Jeff Yeo, Adrian Chia and Dave Ng, who go way back to their school and army days, the idea of living in a mini house/vehicle sparked when Chia, who used to work in the government sector, took a trip to a farm in Australia to recharge himself from the hustle and bustle of our highly populated country. During his stay filled with Australian sunsets and greenery, Chia wanted for more spaces like the one he stayed in to be available for others to relax. With Ng, who specialises in material science and environmental technology, he suggested using tiny houses instead.
Yeo, who has more than 15 years of marketing experience to add to his portfolio, said, "We took close to two years to fully conceptualise and evolve the business concept to what it is today." Big Tiny finally started in March last year, and have since designed two houses on wheels that are available in Australia — the Reyes Big Tiny and Mel Big Tiny — where the trio made sure that everything about the house is as eco-friendly as possible.
We took a trip down to Citizen Farm where one Big Tiny house was being showcased during The City Ramble Design Trail as part of Singapore Design Week 2018 two weeks ago. At first glance at its wooden exterior, I didn't believe that the space provided could even fit a mini kitchen. A step into its quaint interior definitely lived up to Big Tiny's play on the oxymoron, with a living room fitting a queen-sized bed/sofa, kitchen and shower - something an individual could ever ask for when seeking refuge from city life.
Were you moved or inspired by tiny homes you had seen before? Yes we were. We are huge fans of Tiny House Nation on FYI, Tiny House Big living on HGTV and many others on YouTube. We love how the designers and subsequently the house owners were able to downsize their way of living without affecting their quality of lives and how it's ultimately beneficial to the environment as well.
Are there any plans to roll out more types? We have a few standard models available but those are not the only ones we produce. We hope to have something special for each and every one of our owners/occupants so that they too can be part of our tiny house movement.
Who have been the buyers so far? Do you push for it to be used by owner-occupiers or owners who rent it out? Our clients are mostly Singaporeans for now, and also a few expats who are based here in Singapore. We do not really push for a particular segment per se, as our belief is that we sell to fulfill our clients' needs and not the other way around. Having said that, we however do have the capabilities to build tiny houses not only for our sale and lease back scheme but also for homeowners who wish to customise the house for their own residential needs.
How big are the Big Tiny Houses, and what are the sustainable materials used? How else does the Big Tiny contribute in lessening the user's carbon footprint? They are typically approximately 160 square feet in size. We make use of insulated panels that can withstand the cold temperatures of winters as well as responsibly farmed woods in the construction of our tiny houses. Besides the solar panels that harness solar energy from the sun to power up the electrical appliances in our tiny houses and the composting toilets, which after the human waste is treated with enzymes, can be used by our land partners as fertilisers.
We also have rainwater collection and filtration systems in place which collects rainwater, which after filtration, can be used to shower and wash kitchenware thereafter. All these are part of our efforts to do an eco-friendly close loop and reduce the carbon footprint and damages to the environment.
Is the interior of Big Tiny House designed and furnished by Big Tiny? What aesthetic were you going for there? Dave designed the interior fittings of each Big Tiny house and worked with a student from Republic Polytechnic to further enhance space optimisation and user experience. We sought to evoke the feeling of spaciousness with minimal design (floor-to-ceiling windows for maximum natural light) and used multi-functional fittings to maximise comfort in a small space.
Can you give examples of multi-functional furniture that is in Big Tiny? What's in the fully functional kitchen? We have sofas that can convert into full queen-sized beds, with storage space below, stools that can transform into coffee tables and also act as storage bins as well as a dining table that can be folded down into cabinet doors when more space is needed. Our fully equipped kitchen consists of a microwave oven, a convection plate cooker, a fridge and a sink.
How receptive has the market been in Australia? Since our tiny houses listed on Airbnb and Booking.com in early February, we have not done any form of publicity for them as yet but we have seen many enquiries coming in to rent our properties for their holiday escapades. Till date, there have already been two groups of guests who had checked into our tiny houses, with more requests coming in as we speak. One of our houses has also been booked out for six months, and reviews have also been very positive!
How feasible will Big Tiny House be in Singapore when it becomes available? What are some challenges you foresee, and will there be additional features? Big Tiny houses are unlikely to be deployed in Singapore for now. But there has been interest from some of the local authorities so we are hoping to make it happen in the near future. We have designed our tiny houses to be livable in all parts of the world hence if you were to ask me if there would be any other additional features, it would probably be the themes that we are looking at. Imagine a Peranakan-inspired theme tiny house...
What are your future plans for Big Tiny House in Singapore, and is there anywhere else in the world that you'd like to introduce the house to? We hope to be able to work with the relevant local authorities to bring our Big Tiny houses to the sunny island of Singapore where Singaporeans, young and old, can bond and be at one with nature by staying in one of them.
There will be more tiny houses in Melbourne and Sydney in 2018. We are also currently looking to launch Big Tiny houses in Brisbane in the second quarter of 2018 and also in New Zealand towards the end of the year. We are also in talks with a few interested parties to launch Big Tiny in Asia.