Text Natalie Rinn
Jon Staff, co-founder of Getaway—a startup that provides vacations in tiny homes deep in nature—noticed that we had lost the pockets of quiet, rest, and recharge that used to exist at the end of each workday. The internet had swallowed them up whole.
“I like my technology, and I like that I can work flexibly,” says Jon, a two-time Harvard graduate, “but I don’t like always being connected and able to talk to colleagues at 10 p.m.” He’s on his cell phone, standing outside of a café in upstate New York. Not far from there, Jon and the Getaway staff are living in an abandoned lodge for the summer, on a plot of land where they plan to build yet another of the young company’s small, rentable homes. In June 2015, Jon and his co-founder, Pete Davis, debuted the first Getaway house, The Ovida: a traditional family bunkhouse a couple of hours outside Boston that sleeps four, comes with bookshelves stocked with classic literature, board games, a heated shower, an electric toilet, and is equipped for any season. Two more tiny homes, The Lorraine and The Clara, followed shortly, and since this autumn, three more are available within easy driving distance of New York City. All tiny houses were 100 per cent booked for the first time months after Getaway launched, and have been 90 per cent book ever since, have sold out from the moment they launched, says Jon with stupefaction. Clearly, this is the kind of vacation people didn’t know they needed until they were told they could have it.
The idea for Getaway came to Jon as he travelled the American West for five months in an Airstream. He grew up in the Midwest and went to college in Massachusetts, but had long dreamed of exploring the oversized landscapes not present on the East Coast. While on the road, Jon spotted a tiny home. “I connected with it, and began observing this alternative form of housing as an interesting trend,” says Jon. “It seemed like it could have an impact and reflect our generation’s values.” Jon began researching the tiny home movement to figure out how he could scale the concept into a business. The movement had been gaining traction for a while, yet until now it had been predominantly attainable only as a luxury option for homeowners. Jon reached out to Pete Davis, a friend from college, to bounce some ideas around. Together, they wondered: “Can we use tiny houses to quickly and affordably get away from the city, to do basically nothing at all, and none of the things we normally do that stress us out?” With the help of friends at Harvard Design School, they figured out a concept that allows a greater number of city-dwellers to get away from it all, on a modest budget, and without any of the excessive logistics commonly associated with vacation planning.
“It was amazing. Here you have a bunch of people living in really small spaces but having the time of their lives, knowing each other, and looking after each other.”
The positive effects of alternative housing and connecting with nature are in Jon’s bones. He grew up in rural Minnesota and spent his summers living on a houseboat on Lake Superior. Jon’s parents put all their extra savings into the family’s little floating lake home. They knew Jon was precocious, and felt comfortable leaving him with the lake community. “I lived in this marina with all these old mariners,” says Jon. “It was amazing. Here you have a bunch of people living in really small spaces but having the time of their lives, knowing each other, and looking after each other.” Jon’s co-founder Pete comes from Falls Church, Virginia, which is famous for having “a small-town vibe,” Jon explains. As undergraduates at Harvard, both were assigned to Currier House, known for being “the old and ugly” dorm. The dormitory was divided up into small rooms and had only one entrance, which became a de facto social hub. “Everybody ran into everyone all the time,” says Staff. “That’s how we met, actually—through architecture and a community centre.” I asked whether it was odd that two people with a passion for building better communities would pour their energies into constructing tiny homes isolated in nature. On the contrary, Jon insists. The interests are symbiotic. “Just because you care about community doesn’t mean you don’t need alone time, or to disconnect, or to recharge, and go into the woods with people you care about,” says Jon. “Being in your city does not automatic-ally mean community—quite the opposite.” Getaway homes, even more than an escape, are a medium for unalloyed connection. “I write to every guest after their stay and ask for feedback. I get stories about ’I had this conversation with my partner and we hadn’t talked like that in years,’” Jon says with pride.
Initially, Jon and Pete expected Getaway to appeal to young, stressed-out professionals. In practice, it has struck a chord with nearly everyone. “It encapsulates families, couples, groups of friends, older folks, younger folks, so it’s kind of across the board,” says Jon. “I called one guest from a rural area code and asked why he came. It was the same story: He said ‘I live in a rural place but my house is a mess and I’m sick of my neighbourhood and I wanna get away from the kids and not worry for a couple of nights.’”
Every inch of a Getaway home is designed to promote one’s full presence with oneself, with housemates, and with nature. In their rudimentary materials—no granite, no stainless steel, just rough-cut plywood, butcher blocks, and no internet (yes, that’s right, no wifi)—simplicity is the goal. “There is electricity but not enough for a blow dryer,” Jon explains. “The house is a piece of hardware that lets you be in nature.” And here’s the best part: to dissuade type-A planners from making itineraries, the exact locations of the homes aren’t revealed until just before departure. Are there any roadblocks that could make Getaway’s mission hard to achieve, looking for-ward into the future? Just one, says Jon: building enough tiny homes to meet demand. But based on his immense love for this project, and Jon and Pete’s team of talented designers and builders—including Jon’s own father, who first showed him the magic that happens when tiny spaces, nature, and community all come together—that shouldn’t be a problem.
This article was published in BESIDE Magazine, Issue 01
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