Tiny House Trend, Meet the Mattress-in-a-Box Boom
In the most marginally ambitious brand crossover of all time, the online mattress-and-bedding retailer Allswell is going on tour across America in a Modern Tiny Living 28-square-foot prefab house, and selling mattresses out of the bedroom. Because everyone—inexplicably and all at once—wants a tiny home, and everyone loves a road trip, and everyone needs a mattress.
To be clear, no one is actually living in Allswell’s model tiny home, though it does come with a fully functional washer, dryer, refrigerator, two-burner cooktop, shower, and toilet. (Plus, of course, two beds equipped with Allswell mattresses, both queens. Not one more would fit.) Two brand reps are hauling this small trailer home behind a truck—they started in New York, and this past weekend they were in D.C., which is where I caught up with the tiny-mattress house set up in the heart of CityCenter, a shiny shopping neighborhood downtown. By April (!) they’ll reach Seattle.
Instead of crashing on the mattresses while en route cross country, the Allswell team is parking and staying in hotels each night. Seems like a waste of a house, but with dozens of guests streaming in and out each day snapping Instagrams of twee throw pillow arrangements and bouncing on the firm mattress paddings, things could get gross from a “cleanliness standpoint,” Rachael Durkin, Allswell’s head of retail, told me. (She assured me that Arlyn Davich, Allswell’s brand president, will actually be staying in the building for a week this summer, in Maine.)
And to be even clearer, Allswell, which is owned by Walmart, isn’t going right from making mattresses to making the houses around them. The tiny trailers are made by Modern Tiny Living, the Ohio-based firm that customized Allswell’s home to their specs. You can buy a carbon copy of the touring Modern Tiny Living model—plus two Allswell mattresses—for about $100,000, right from the website. According to Durkin, in the first three days they got 50 inquiries from interested buyers, and most of them wanted an exact replica.
Why subvert the mattress-advertising norms of splashy subway campaigns and take a chance on a mattress-mobile? Looking at the experience holistically, Durkin said, “we really think that a tiny home emulates what our brand mission is—and that’s kind of ‘luxe for all.’”
Whether tiny homes represent a more inclusive form of luxury has been a point of much debate. The micro-living units have been marketed as an alternative living solution for the young and rootless —more upscale and urban-chic than a mobile home, but more attainable and flexible than a traditional mortgaged single-family home. The Modern Tiny Living model Allswell went with is mounted on a trailer, for those in pursuit of a free-wheeling #vanlife, but with better plumbing. “It lets you be mobile and travel and take the comforts of your home with you,” said Durkin. “For families that want to get on the road, but don’t want to sacrifice leaving their home behind.” Free slogan idea: Buying a mattress is a commitment. Buying a home doesn’t have to be.
Because tiny homes are cheaper and easier to build and erect than their non-tiny counterparts, they’ve also been touted as affordable housing solutions in costly cities. They’ve been deployed to house the homeless in Austin and Nashville and, soon, in San Jose. In Arizona, one public school district is proposing a tiny home village for affordable teacher housing. In Boston, the mayor’s housing innovation lab is pushing residents to build pop-up affordable tiny houses in their yards.
But Allswell’s tiny house is more Instagram-friendly than austere, maybe more suitable for the buyers who already have one or a couple of Normal-Sized Homes to spare. At $100,000, it’s also on the pricier end of the spectrum; most manufacturers sell the structures for between $35,000 and $100,000.
For that sticker price, you get an undeniably charming package. Like a teeny beach house in a Nicholas Sparks movie, the mini-cottage boasts a standing-seam metal roof, white plank paneling, and a trellis-lined window through which to gaze wistfully at some New England beach. (Or, in D.C., dirty snow and gawking pedestrians.) For the warmer months and climates, a “breezeway” can be created by opening garage-style doors on one side and french doors on the other—the mattress, naturally, becomes the focal point. Whilst showering, residents can reflect on the precarity of mobile living as they press their bodies against a tiled wall reading “It Was All A Dream.” For the showing, tiny-dog throw pillows and photo booth accessory signs reading “Blanket Stealer,” “Cuddle Monster” and “Make Your Dreams a Reality” were strewn about. (I sheepishly posed for a staged picture, but though the company ate my email address, I haven’t yet received the print.)
Honestly, though, there wasn’t that much stuff. There wasn’t space for it. And that may be the most attractive part of tiny home living of all: a way to live and breathe Marie Kondo minimalism, for a price. (Those who actually experience day-to-day life in a tiny home may find their pared-down existence somewhat less Zen-like.) With it’s scrupulously serene and mostly empty interior, the Allswell home doesn’t really feel like a place one could live long-term. But it sure looked like a great spot to take a nap. And that’s its main job right now—to provide a stage for the company’s bedding products.