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Resort moves into tiny-homes business

Pearl Lake General Manager Bob Severson stands in front of Pearl Lake's new Pearl Lake Park Model being built. With the tiny house movement continuing to grow, Pearl Lake building custom-made 400-square-foot homes. Its first one featured barnwood decor and its next one will be attached to an 1800s school house. The one shown, under construction, will be a model available for sale. (Hillary Gavan /The Beloit Daily News via AP)

Bob Severson, general manager of the Pearl Lake resort near the Illinois border, stands in front of Pearl Lake’s new Pearl Lake Park Model, which is under construction. (Hillary Gavan /The Beloit Daily News via AP)

By HILLARY GAVAN
Beloit Daily News

SOUTH BELOIT, Ill. (AP) — As the tiny-house movement continues to grow, Bob Severson is hard at work at the Pearl Lake resort near the Illinois border building them.

For 27 years Pearl Lake has been buying 400-square-foot park homes for use at its recreational neighborhood, which is open from May 1 to Oct. 15, and building on room additions. Now the tiny-home trend has given the resort an opportunity to provide guests with an entirely new type of accommodation.

Severson took notice of the trend about three years ago, around the time tiny houses were becoming the subject of popular cable television shows such as “Tiny House, Big Living,” ”Tiny House Nation” and “Tiny House Hunters.”

Many tiny-house hunters wanted hassle-free lives allowing them to devote their time to their real loves — traveling or exploring places outside their homes. To that end, the tiny homes are decidedly minimalist – featuring innovative ways to store belongings and making efficient use of vertical space.

As tiny houses were becoming more popular, Pearl Lake was still battling its way back from the recent recession. In addition to seeing fewer people buy travel trailers in the economic downturn, the business had to begin competing against an increasing number of big RV dealerships. Building tiny homes, Severson figured, might be a good way to enter into a niche market.

Severson said the tiny homes — which typically range in size from 100- to 400-square-feet — were basically park models, except they were being made smaller with more innovations. Although the TV shows tended to show younger people, Severson had inquiries from people thinking about retirement.

He built his first Pearl Lake Park Model for Ron and Laurie Slaughter of Harvard, Illinois. It was to have 400 square feet of space — the largest size allowed in campgrounds.

The Slaughters said they wanted a Pearl Lake Park Home so that, once they retire, they could stay in it six months out of the year. With their kids grown, they didn’t want a full extra house to heat, cool and not use. But they nonetheless wanted the feel of having a home.

“I wanted to be comfortable and wanted to have house-like accommodations,” Laurie Slaughter said. “I didn’t want to have the traditional camper-style windows and slide-outs and walls you can’t put a nail into.”

The Slaughters said they appreciated how Severson was open to all of their ideas, and that the Slaughters had met with him every weekend during the two months needed to build the home. Severson was able to use barn wood for a front wall, two sliding doors and a kitchen island. In a recent interview, the couple said they were thrilled with their house. They were already on the road, traveling to Sugar Shores to stay at their beloved tiny house for the weekend.

“It’s people with heart who built this for us,” Ron Slaughter said. “They are building happiness.”

Following success with the first home, Severson drew up his own floor plans for the second home. The country-style home will feature shiplap siding, a small covered porch and lots of cubby holes for storage. It will be set up at Pearl Lake for sale. Currently under construction, it’s expected to be finished in July. The average price for the Pearl Lake Park Models will be in the $70,000 to $80,000 range.

Severson has also talked to a man in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, who wants him put up a tiny house attached to an 1800s school house on his property. Severson is building the house in two separate pieces to be attached to the school house. The 588-square-foot house will be finished in early winter and will be the man’s retirement abode.

The tiny-house trend and Severson’s construction abilities have combined to open up a bigger market for Pearl Lake. Severson said Pearl Lake may also start building portable rental cabins for Sugar Shores RV Park.

Severson said the nearest tiny-house maker he is aware of is in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. He learned of it when one camper brought her tiny house to Pearl Lake.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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