By now you’ve probably heard of the tiny house movement, which attracts those who reject the concept of what most people consider a normal-sized house and instead choose to live in something that’s under—usually way under—500 square feet. They’re usually free-spirited, off-the-grid young folk in Austin or Seattle. But people forget that in Florida, tiny houses have been around for years. They’re called trailers.
And I think I may have found the coolest trailer in Florida. It’s located in Braden Castle, up in Bradenton, which is a wonderful and wonderfully authentic relic from Florida’s past. It’s part bungalow colony, part trailer park, and it’s chock full of tiny houses, some mobile, some not. This shiny, all-aluminum, streamlined Art Moderne masterpiece is one of Braden Castle’s crown jewels.
It’s owned by Don and Lorraine Kreuzburg, and yes, it is their full-time home. When I first drove past, down a picturesque, meandering lane right on the Manatee River, I did something I’ve never done before. I knocked on the door and begged to be invited in.
Fortunately, the Kreuzburgs turned out to be extremely cool, and rather proud of their tiny home. They gave me the grand tour, which, even though the trailer is only 149 square feet, took almost two hours. There was so much to see.
The Spartan Manor is sort of the Lucy of modern trailers, meaning—like that ancient skull they found in Ethiopia—all trailers trace their genealogy back to it. It basically started everything. Before it came on the scene trailers were smallish things you hauled around for camping trips. They were strictly for vacations. Then, after World War II, with a nationwide housing shortage going on, the Spartan Aircraft Company stopped making the airplanes they were famous for and, using the same advanced aluminum technology, began making trailers you could actually live in.
Or could you? I must confess that I was extremely skeptical. I loved the idea, I loved the design, I loved all the little drawers and cabinets everywhere, but the thought of actually spending all day in such a confined space gave me the willies. But once I got inside I did a complete turnaround. The more time you spend inside, the roomier it starts to feel. The Kreuzburgs made it clear they did not spend all their time in their pleasant outdoor living area, with the awning and the patio furniture. “Nine months of the year it’s just too hot. We stay inside,” said Don.
I should explain that the Kreuzburgs bought their 1946 Spartan gutted and had it professionally renovated. The amazing thing is how well the all-new interior summons up the original. Spartan trailers were known as the Cadillacs of the industry and cost as much as a “real” house. They’re famous for their beautiful birch paneled interiors, and the Kreuzburgs’ new version replicates this crucial element beautifully. And they kept pretty much the same layout. In fact, as Lorraine explained, it’s a series of rooms: There’s the living/dining area up in front, in the form of a banquette that multitasks as a hangout space, dining table, computer work space, and even occasional guest room—it turns into a bed.
Next comes the surprisingly well-equipped kitchen, part propane and part electric. Beyond the kitchen is the bathroom. Here we find the biggest change. The original Spartan Manors didn’t have bathrooms. Present-day owners understandably have a problem with this, and they figure out a way to squeeze in a shower, toilet and sink. The Kreuzburgs’ is tiny but adequate.
It’s the bedroom that really sold me. Most tiny houses have a loft bedroom, meaning you have to climb a ladder to get up and down. Anyone over 50 knows that attempting such a thing on a regular basis is complete folly, so having the Kreuzburgs’ bedroom on the ground floor makes the place really feasible for boomers. It’s here that Don and Lorraine watch TV, on a little flatscreen tucked away on a built-in shelf.
By now you’re probably wondering, who are the Kreuzburgs and what life journey led them to a tiny trailer at Braden Castle? They met in New Guinea, where Don had a job fixing helicopters and Lorraine was passing through on a work assignment. They’ve now been married 45 years and it’s been one adventure after another. About every six or seven years they move somewhere new and do something else. They built a schooner and lived on it. They’ve lived in Hawaii several times. They managed a hardware store in Maine. Their motto is “We never run away, we move toward something.” But it sounds like they like Braden Castle so much—particularly with the nearby beach and all the theater in the area—that they’ll be here quite a while.
They get along great with their conservative Midwestern neighbors, mostly snowbirds. Their eccentricities are excused because they are from Hawaii and thus expected to be a little unusual. Yes, they can move the trailer and go somewhere for the weekend, but they rarely do. This doesn’t mean they don’t travel, though. Since their housing budget is as tiny as their trailer, they can do just about anything, and they’re busy planning another European trip.
I started out by liking the couple’s tiny trailer but the more I think about it, the real story here is the inspiration of their retirement lifestyle. As that great boomer philosopher Bob Dylan once said, “The truth is the truth no matter where you find it. And sometimes you find it in a candy store.” Or in this case, you find it in a trailer park in Bradenton.