In her daily travels, McMurray Elementary School teacher Rebecca Fox-O’Kelly often passes 84 Lumber’s North Strabane Township headquarters and its display of as-seen-on-television tiny homes.
“I thought it would be great if we could get them to come here and represent their tiny homes, and also show the students what tiny-home living is about,” she said.
And so she helped arrange for the company to transport a 203-square-foot Countryside model to the Peters Township school Tuesday for the culmination of a project on which fourth-graders have been working: the annual Gnome House Design Challenge offered through Fallingwater, the world-famous Fayette County residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
For the challenge, students are assigned three-inch-tall gnome figures as “clients,” with each accompanied by a detailed description sheet.
“They had to take that information and incorporate into building a home,” said Wendy Stark, who teaches with Fox-O’Kelly on the fourth-grade Team Betelgeuse.
“The students started by learning a little bit about some architecture techniques and what it takes to build a home, and they talked about sustainability, as well,” she said. “For the last four weeks, they have been building gnome homes out of recyclable materials. It’s been a wonderful approach.”
Fourth-graders Riley Driscoll and Evan Plante teamed up to build a home for a gnome who, as described, has a wife and 14 children.
“He likes to go out hiking, so we made a hiking room so he could put all his hiking stuff in there,” said Riley, plus space for the supplies he requires as a candle maker.
Another group – Isabella DiLeo, Allison Hammond and Trusson Sikora – designed and built a home for seven field mice to live with two gnomes.
“I enjoyed that we used recycled products,” Allison said. “You didn’t have to go out and buy stuff. We used what you would throw away.”
The process involved more than randomly putting materials together, as the students learned about the roles of dimensions and ratios in architecture.
“If a gnome is three inches tall, then the doorway needs to be at least three inches tall,” art teacher Kelly Rutkowski said.
The project also provided lessons for the students on the ups and downs of completing a project.
“They would fail through it, and then they’d have to problem solve and figure out, well, why is this not staying up? Or why is the paint not sticking?” Rutkowski said. “And it’s OK to fail. That’s what we tell them all the time. That’s how you learn.”
Everyone involved had the opportunity to learn firsthand about homes that may look like they’re for gnomes, but are hospitable for actual humans.
Designers Michelle Tascione and Thom Kuntz conducted tours of the 84 Lumber Countryside and told all about what goes into the miniature abodes offered by the company.
“In all of the builds, we try to incorporate as much sustainability and environmentally friendly type products as possible,” Kuntz said.
“That’s the whole logic behind this, to live smaller with less and have a smaller footprint.”
The model parked at McMurray, he said, is similar to an example 84 Lumber constructed for the “Tiny Zoo House” episode of HGTV’s “Tiny House, Big Living,” which premiered in 2017.
“This is built just like your house and my house,” Kuntz said. “There’s two-by-four construction, three-and-a-half inches of insulation. The only difference is that we put it on a trailer instead of on a concrete slab or foundation.”