BIG DREAM Tiny Houses

Robert Coppa stands on the open beams of his prototype as he continues to streamline his tiny house design with the hope of building a small tiny house community on his five-acre stretch of land where people can come try out simple living.
Jen Kocher

Standing on his five-acre parcel of land along the banks of the North Platte River, just a mile outside Glenrock, Robert Coppa stares across the wind-scarred empty patch of land and dreams of the future.

He sees the dozen or so tiny houses in a horseshoe surrounding a communal bathhouse, a miniature utopia valley nestled in the triangle between Monkey Mountain Road and WYO 99, where in the evening visitors can meet up to chat and share stories.

Fishing tips. To take a deep breath and look up at the fl at horizon of blue sky and be unshackled from the bustle of their everyday lives. It will be a place for people to get away and try on an unadorned life.

“People want to reach back in time and get more simple,” Robert says, eyeing the shell of the 12x20 open-beamed tiny house, his fi rst prototype, sitting at the edge of his gravel driveway next to his workshop to the rear of his sprawling L-shaped wooden cabin, where he and his wife Tish live with their daughter and her husband and new baby girl.

This is his vision, his dream: an off-the-grid utopia of small houses for sale and rent – where people can “try out” minimalistic living.

A Simpler Life

The Coppas moved to Converse County from Southern California just over a year ago. They’d grown up there and spent their lives in high-stress careers; Robert as a construction foreman and a state building superintendent, and Tish in real estate. Until it got to be too much and they wanted to fi nd a more quiet life.

“I began wanting to move cars out of my way with the bumper of my truck,” he smiles, the skin crinkling around the edges of his clear blue eyes. “It was time to get out.”

Years previously, their son Tom had moved to Wyoming, where he runs his own company and has a small farmstead in Rolling Hills. Tom had talked his parents into checking out the patch of land during a visit, and Robert and Tish were immediately hooked, selling their house in California and buying the property outright.

Riverfront property is hard to find, Robert knows, and it just seemed like the perfect time to throw up their former lives and rebuild new ones. Quieter ones. More simple with far fewer people where they can be self-suffi cient. He envisions the large garden they’ll plant this summer.Along with a handful of dogs, all saved from various shelters, the farmstead is teeming with livestock and other animals. A couple of adopted cats sniff around a coop on tiny wheels. Ducks and chickens live in separate coops, both designed by Robert. The slaughter chickens live out of sight of the house while the other closer coop is reserved for the pet chickens and ducks, which gaze up from their straw-floored nests with curious anticipation as their recently hatched offspring stumble on limbs that are still rubbery.

Outside of the garage sits a smoker that still emanates with the faint smokey scent of yesterday’s smoked ham from a pig that he raised and slaughtered along with a few smoked fish he pulled out of the river.

His Utopia

Ultimately, he’d like to run his operation and live off of the grid, both their house as well as their community of tiny houses that Robert plans to rent out or sell to visitors.

And, despite his stated impassioned desire to live in isolation far away from crowds and people, he hopes people will visit. The irony of escaping crowds to move to remote Wyoming only to turn around and invite those same people to his home is not lost on Robert.

“It’s just a phase,” he laughs without hesitation. “I’m still decompressing from bumping elbows. It’ll take a while.”

At heart, he and Tish are incredibly social, and today in his mid-fifties, he’s looking ahead to a time when he knows he’ll once again want to be in the center of a community, as well as creating a viable plan for retirement.

They sold everything to move to Wyoming, and as such, they’ve got to rebuild their nest eggs. Robert is working at Backcountry Super Cubs in Douglas, while Tish commutes every day to Red Cross in Casper.

As he looks forward, Robert wants to get away from working up ladders to actually being on them again, because somewhere along the line, he stopped getting to do what he loved: build things.

Hence, the tiny houses.

Tiny Houses

From the ground, he squints at the open hole in the roof of his first tiny house before jumping up on the ladder and monkeying his way across the exposed scaffolding like a trapeze artist who was born on a high beam. Without so much as a bobble or throwing his arms out for balance, Robert points out the features in the bottom level of the miniature room.

Looking around, its hard to imagine fitting a house-full of stuff into this oversized closet.

That’s the point, according to Robert, people don’t need all this stuff that shackles them.

And though the tiny house movement is hardly a new concept, even in Wyoming, where increasingly more and more people are attracted to the notion of living simply, for Robert, it’s not the movement that he finds attractive.

He just wants to build stuff.

“If I could afford to build big houses, I would,” he shrugs, “but since I can’t, I’ll start with tiny ones.”

That said, he’s not complaining that its become a trendy lifestyle, mind you, because that just opens up a new market, not to mention endless opportunities to be inventive.

He talks excitedly about the various ways to maximize space and ways to stack beds into walls and compost toilets and inventive ways of maximizing shower, shelving and cabinet space, maybe even a way to take off the roof and fold the sides for mobility.

The trick is figuring out how to build cheaply because right now all of their money is going to bills and just surviving, though the goal is to one day turn these tiny houses into a lucrative retirement plan. Right now, however, Robert is being creative and frugally figuring out how to use reappropriated materials and discarded materials to complete his first prototype, which he estimates will cost just around $5,000.

His labor is free, he figures, and with the exception of some weekend help from his son Tom and his son-in-law, he puts in the lionshare of the work in the evenings and weekends. He’s the only one of the three who is comfortable moving around in high spaces, he laughs, as he jumps from one beam to the next without looking at his feet or the eight or so feet down to the wood planks beneath him, which could easily mean a broken leg or a cracked collar bone should he slip.

By August, he hopes to have at least one and a half houses done in time for the eclipse, which as far as he is concerned was a fortuitous accident that he now plans to leverage.

In the long run, he would like to rent the tiny houses out to visitors, so they can try out downsized living for a day or week or however long they’d like to be there. If they love it, then great. He’ll have a steady supply of cabins ready for purchase at which point they can just cart one off.

He has no idea what the price will be and right now his designs are still just sketches on a napkin, but he’s confident it’s going to work out, regardless.

“If you love what you do, you’ll be successful,” he says with a smile. “The key is to follow your dreams and have fun doing it.”


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