With its pint-size luxury modular homes, Wheelhaus proves you can live large in small spaces.
By Kelly Bastone
No one would ever mistake Jamie Mackay for a hobbit. Hale and broad-shouldered, the Wilson builder inherited his sturdy physique from his Glasgow-born father, Callum Mackay, who gave Jamie more than his Scottish genes: the log-home builder also imparted his love of woodworking. So it’s fitting that Jamie’s own home designs feature gorgeous Douglas fir and reclaimed barnwood. What’s astonishing is that these fine finishes appear on houses scaled for Bilbo Baggins.
Mackay is a tiny-house specialist. His company, Wheelhaus, builds modular cabins measuring just 400 square feet (and sometimes less: the “Silo” model comprises 348.5 square feet of living space). They’re mobile homes, requiring just two to five days to set up and connect to water, sewer, and electric services. But they’re impeccably designed and finished, with Kohler fixtures, stone countertops, and gleaming lumber. And they feel much larger than they are, thanks to patios and windows that blur the boundaries between indoors and out.
“I love spaces that are well-designed,” says Mackay, who admits that most homes don’t pass his scrutiny. “Narrow hallways, I hate them,” he says. Also on Mackay’s blacklist: low ceilings, straight driveways (they expose houses to the road), and windows that aren’t centered on the walls. Thus his “Wedge” model uses an angled roof to give the living room a 12.5-foot ceiling (and yes, the massive sliding glass door is centered on the entry wall).
It takes tremendous design investment to make Wheelhaus dwellings feel spacious rather than cramped. “Smaller is harder because every inch counts,” Mackay says. “If you take two inches out of the kitchen to widen the hallway, you may not be able to fit any refrigerator,” he explains. But mastering the Jenga game has turned Wheelhaus into national news: Mackay’s first project, Fireside Resort (where “Wedge” and “Caboose” cabins occupy a former RV park) on the Teton Village Road, has earned accolades from such publications as USA Today, Time magazine, and Sunset.
Now, Mackay is partnering with Los Angeles-based designer/craftsman Alex Chow to create high-end furniture collections themed to each Wheelhaus model. “We both have a passion for wood,” says Chow, who’s made sofas for the likes of singer CeeLo Green. “And we both appreciate green materials and building methods.” Chow avoids glues containing Volatile Organic Compounds, and Mackay uses Douglas fir deadwood.
Mackay’s bigger designs (like his 1,560-square-foot “Hitch Haus”) have their roots in small spaces—an approach he’s borrowed from architect Jonathan Foote. “Instead of building one big, monolithic structure, Foote uses breezeways to separate the house into pods so you can distance a bedroom from the ruckus of the central living area,” Mackay says.
But even in combination, little spaces can’t support a cluttered material palette. “Piling on too many colors or textures doesn’t work,” says Mackay (who limits each Wheelhaus to three materials, tops). “Less really is more, especially with smaller structures.”