May 26, 2023
A couple in Dallas are helping develop a niche housing market that appeals to those who want to shrink their environmental footprint.
Army veteran Peter Huggler and his wife Christina Wester both learned the nuts and bolts of home building while working for Habitat for Humanity.
Their shared love of construction and appreciation for alternative housing eventually led them to launch Indigo River Tiny Homes in Dallas five years ago.
Peter Huggler, center with hat, and Christina Wester, back row, with the Indigo River Tiny Homes crew in their Dallas shop. Courtesy of Indigo River Tiny Homes.
After serving in the Army after high school, Oklahoma City native Huggler studied business and accounting in college and grad school. He volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in his free time.
Meanwhile, Wester, who grew up in Alabama, began volunteering with Appalachia Service Project in high school. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she worked on staff in a transitional housing program for homeless families and later at Habitat for Humanity.
By the time, the couple got together in Dallas in 2002, Huggler had already gravitated towards living in small spaces.
“He was living in 350 square feet when I met him,” said Wester on a recent industry podcast.
She ended up renting one of the tiny apartments herself, foreshadowing the business that was to come.
"It was a little ironic that we both lived 'tiny' (less than 400 square feet) before we married. But it was also just the most natural thing in the world," said Wester, in hindsight. "Really tiny homes are not new."
Eventually Huggler realized he preferred working with his hands more than crunching numbers. So he left accounting to work in construction and remodeling, including owning his own business.
Wester recalled that the genesis for Indigo River was a gradual realization of their calling rather than a quick decision.
“It wasn't one aha moment. It was a lifetime of preparation and all of the circumstances aligning,” she said.
The Indigo Go is the company's most economical model. Courtesy of Indigo River Tiny Homes.
Huggler has always been intrigued with small buildings and the concept that smaller can be better.
In 2009, the couple built their first tiny home shell in a Dallas backyard with their first construction company.
The Wilhite is their most luxurious model to date. Courtesy of Indigo RIver Tiny Homes.
In 2017, they read about a new tiny home village opening in Colorado and decided to try their hand at building a tiny home on wheels. They purchased a tiny house trailer later that year and spent the next six months, with the help of some investment partners and their teenaged son, on their initial project.
The following spring, they launched Indigo River and built two more homes in 2018 while Huggler continued to do remodeling projects on the side. By 2019, they were going full bore and completed eight tiny homes. They haven’t stopped since, even during the pandemic.
Most of the homes that the company creates are based on their own experience and knowing what works in a tiny space. According to Wester, Huggler has a knack for listening to customers and adapting a home’s design to suit their needs.
“Each home is like a puzzle that he has to figure out how to fit as many things as possible from the homeowner's wants and needs lists," she said. "It’s really an obsession with tiny buildings and fitting everything in the space drives his designs.”
Big Blue features a tankless water heater and a spiral ladder to the loft. Courtesy of Indigo River Tiny Homes.
One of the advantages of a tiny home is that since the space is so small, it’s more affordable to upgrade to top-notch materials. Indigo River prides itself on using the best materials so that the homes are built to last for generations.
The company also utilizes sustainable methods and materials in each project, from the SIP (structural insulated panel) or spray foam insulated walls that provide maximum insulating properties to optional solar panels and rain catchment systems. They also incorporate upcycled barn boards in their more rustic models as well as “found” branch railings and interior trims.
ROOMY LITTLE DESIGNS
Each Indigo River project is different from the other but we asked Huggler which one holds special memories for him.
“I think my favorite home we’ve built is still Thoreau. We’ve built over 40 Tiny Homes on Wheels now, but the sixth one we built in 2019 still stands out. It’s a tough call though because every home we design and build is unique and has a special place in my heart. Our work is always a close collaboration with the customer, so all the homes have individual personalities and there’s something awesome about each one.”
The cabin-like Thoreau features a ground floor master bedroom and a sleeping loft above that can hold two twin beds. Courtesy of Indigo River Tiny Homes.
Like the Thoreau, many of Indigo River’s models feature the master bedroom on the ground floor. The Thoreau offers a king-sized pop-up storage bed in the master with a sleeping loft above. There is also an adorable Murphy bed above the living area that opens up into a twin-sized bunk, perfect for overnight guests. It looks like rustic Texas flag themed artwork when it’s closed.
At a recent tiny home festival at Southfork Ranch, Indigo River opened their models to visitors. Upon entering, one is struck by the spacious feel and comfortable layout. The kitchens are large enough for multiple cooks without bumping into each other. Living rooms will accommodate a full-size couch plus a chair or two and large screen TV.
Stairs lead to a stand-up loft with three wardrobes in the Magnolia. Courtesy of Indigo River Tiny Homes.
Most Indigo River models offer stairs to a loft rather than a ladder as some tiny homes employ. This feature alone appeals to many prospective homeowners who are often empty nesters that don’t relish climbing a ladder. Upstairs lofts are surprisingly roomy, many with standing room for climbing in and out of bed, plus built-in storage. Bathrooms are comfy with large showers and sometimes a bathtub.
In addition to being a veteran-owned business, including another partner, Indigo River is an employer of other veterans. They are also fervent supporters of two nonprofits that assist vets in DFW: Farmers Assisting Returning Military and Operation Tiny House.
Currently they are helping Operation Tiny House to convert a donated Tiny Home shell into a tiny latrine with three toilets, two sinks and a shower. Want to help? Volunteer days are coming up and will be added to their events calendar this summer. Or you can add your name to their email list to be notified when volunteer days are scheduled on this and future projects.
The Watermark is designed to be a medical clinic on wheels. Courtesy of Indigo River Tiny Homes.
WHERE CAN I PARK A TINY HOME?
According to the company, Texas is a very “tiny home friendly” state. Generally if your property is outside of city limits, tiny homes on wheels and tiny homes on foundation are allowed. There are some exceptions if there is an HOA or other local deed restrictions, but outside of city limits there are many, many options for placing a tiny home.
In recent years, some cities like Austin, Dallas and a few smaller cities and towns in Texas have also legalized tiny homes within the city limits. Dallas now allows ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) built on a foundation and Austin allows both foundation built tiny homes as well as tiny homes on wheels.
The city of Lake Dallas, a Dallas suburb, has a Tiny Home Village that allows tiny homes on wheels in downtown Lake Dallas.
The Indigo Go at Richland Chambers is available for overnight rental on AirBnB. Courtesy of Indigo River Tiny Homes.
TINY AIR B&B
Interested in trying out tiny living before you buy? You can stay in one of three Air BnB's at Lake Richland Chambers featuring Indigo River's tiny houses.
Stay up to date on everything green in North Texas, including the latest news and events! Sign up for the weekly Green Source DFW Newsletter! Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Also check out our new podcast The Texas Green Report, available on your favorite podcast app.