Tiny house tenacity

tiffany pupa tiny houseTiffany Pupa was going on break at about 3 a.m. She turned around to the tent she just left to see the dark of the night around her. The glow from the large white tent was spectacular in its contrast to the dark – but more spectacular to Pupa was seeing the shadows cast against the tent of the pack of volunteers she had with her at this insane hour of the day.

What were they doing?

For several weeks, the group of more than 150 students, faculty, their family members, and even some of their pets had assembled at the MSU Recycling Center to build the university’s first tiny house.

“Sparty’s Cabin” is the house’s name and the brainchild of Pupa, who graduated in May 2016 from the Honors College with a degree in interior design from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Coming in at 177 square feet, the tiny house features an upstairs sleeping loft, modern kitchen and a composting toilet.

“You don’t have many places to hide things,” Pupa said. “So that brings up conversations about minimalism and living with less. You have to be conscientious of what you are bringing in the house and what you are taking out. The idea is that the students will be able to learn about alternative living.”

The tiny house made its debut on Earth Day, on April 22, with a ceremony at the Breslin Center. Since then, it has lived at the Recycling Center or been brought out to Spartan Stadium during the fall for home football games. Beyond its educational use, the tiny house is being auctioned off and the proceeds will go toward more student sustainability projects and charities that help with housing for low-income residents.  

As president of the MSU’s student organization affiliated with the U.S. Green Building Council, Pupa had attended a conference where she first heard about the rising interest in tiny homes. Knowing the power of the four majors in the School of Planning, Design and Construction, Pupa thought it was a natural fit for MSU students to try their hand at building a tiny house.

Planning began in the summer of 2015. Pupa led a team that built a movement of volunteers, made its way through all the various administrative requirements necessary to build a house on campus and gathered donations from local businesses.

“We got to interact with many people throughout this community of Greater Lansing,” Pupa said. “I learned a lot about project management skills. I’ve gotten to lead a team…lead a real world project and bring it to life.”

While momentum for the project grew, a natural disaster threatened to destroy everything Pupa and her team had built thus far – a fire broke out in the Recycling Center.

“There were a couple of days we had no idea if the house was even standing,” she said.

While some materials were destroyed, the house overall was okay, Pupa said. The team decided to move it outdoors – under the large white tent – for safe keeping.

Pupa gazed at that illuminated tent during the all-nighter the team pulled and thought about how exciting and humbling the experience had been.

“This is really amazing so many people are here right now because they believe in this project and they want to be a part of it with me,” she said.