We can live large without living with a lot of stuff. At least that’s what Jamie Mackay, founder of Wheelhaus, Inc, thinks.
Here’s the thing—he’s not alone. There’s a real “live small but don’t sacrifice luxury” movement afoot and Mackay and his high-end mobile Wheelhaus cabins are at the front of the pack. For good reason too.
PRE FAB = PRETTY FABULOUS
Born and raised in Jackson Hole, Mackay grew up skiing and fishing. His dad ski patrolled in the winter and built log and timber-frame homes in the summer. Jamie was a regular visitor to the construction sites, and he paid attention. He learned early on the value of good craftsmanship and developed a healthy obsession with design and architecture. All this while still fishing every chance he could get.
After college Mackay returned to Jackson because “the gravitational pull of Jackson is just too strong to fight.” And in a small town like Jackson, you have to get creative if you harbor an entrepreneurial spirit, so Mackay set out to make something happen. He bought an old KOA campground and tried to get an affordable housing project approved by the necessary city channels. When that didn’t work out, Mackay didn’t get discouraged, he adapted.
He credits a friend of his Worth Coleman with planting the kernel of Wheelhaus when he sent Mackay a photo of a wood-sided RV in 2008. With that, Mackay developed a plan for his campground—a high-end RV resort. But first, he needed to find the right park-model RV. After touring many RV factories in the Midwest, Mackay realized that nothing on the current RV market matched what he’d imagined. Quality construction was a part of his D.N.A. and he wasn’t going to settle for less than the best. “The pre-fab going into your traditional RV is really poor construction. They are mass-produced and the craftsmanship and the finish work are not high quality. I wanted to do pre-fab mobile cabins that matched the quality I’d grown up seeing in the homes my dad had built.”
So he took matters into his own hands—literally—and he started building the first Wheelhaus, a model he called the Caboose, and he built it onsite at his soon-to-be Fireside Resort. After that first Caboose, there was a model called The Wedge. And then his Fireside Resort in Jackson Hole started getting busy. He built his own pre-fab field of dreams and people came to stay.
“We probably tore down the interior walls on that first Caboose three or four times to get three inches here or five inches there. We’re working with limited square footage so we were meticulous and creative.” What, you might ask, is the square footage we’re talking about? Well, the Caboose model is 400-square-feet of indoor living space. There are some storage add-ons you can opt for so that all your outdoor gear and your toys have happy homes, but most of the Wheelhaus models range from 350 to 400 square feet. There is one deluxe model, the Hitch Haus, aptly named because it stitches together three smaller models for around 1,500 square feet of luxury living.
And that’s the key. Wheelhaus models are, according to Mackay, “The BMW of the Modular world.” And he is not kidding. In all construction decisions, Mackay and his team refuse to settle for less than the best. Unlike some brands that try to appeal across the board, Mackay says “Wheelhaus is high-end. We’re not going to waste time and energy trying to be something we’re not. We’re going to focus on being the best pre-fab there is—the best design, the best construction, and the best finishes. All of that makes for the best experience.”
But that was not the end of Mackay’s ingenuity—it was only the beginning. Mackay’s guests started asking if they could get a mobile unit like the cabins at Fireside. Ever the enterprising businessman, Jamie responded, “Of course you can.” Orders were placed. Hands were shaken, and then Wheelhaus Inc. proper was born. In all, he and his friend and co-worker Rick Gava have designed seven models with an eighth on the way—the Caboose, Wedge, Hitch House, Rail Car, The Mod Haus, Silo, and the coming-soon, the totally-off-the-grid Flex Haus.
The Wheelhaus aesthetic vernacular is decidedly contemporary, with tips-of-the-hat to Mackay’s rustic roots (and the names are fun too). The Caboose has barn wood siding and metal sheeting for one of the more Western-contemporary looks. Contrast that with the Mod Haus or the Silo, models which are more solidly contemporary. When you look at the quality of the craftsmanship, the design, and the finishes, it’s easy to get carried away and forget that most of these rolling cabins are 12 feet wide by 34 feet long (not including decks). About the size Mackay says, “Sure, it’s an adjustment to live small—but over and over I hear that once you downsize, you realize how little space you really need and how much stuff we carry around in our lives that is just that–stuff.” And how big is Mackay’s abode? “750 square feet. The first things I purged were my excess toys and clothing. Living in Jackson, I had so many old bikes and pairs of skis that I never used and just sat in my garage. Those had to go. And I just simplified my wardrobe.” How did he make his choices? “I decided that anything I hadn’t worn or used in six months had to go. Really, think about your kitchen. What do you need besides a good wrought iron pan, a Dutch oven, and something to cook noodles in?”
OK. So you may not be jonesing for Mackay to cook you dinner with that bit of information, but after you tour his Wheelhaus models (or stay at Fireside Resort in Jackson), you will be ready to sign up for the next rolling cabin to come off his factory floor. Admittedly, for all you people out there who couldn’t live without your chef’s kitchen, Wheelhaus living may not be for you. But, maybe you need a guesthouse, a man-haus, or a place for your mother-in-law to stay (out of your haus). Mackay has had clients of all sorts—“Our first client actually bought four after staying with us at Fireside and uses them as vacation homes. Some of our clients are young couples starting out, working remotely, and living an adventurous life. Others are retired and want less maintenance.”
Whatever your speed or particular station in life, Wheelhaus is all about living large in small spaces.