8 friends, 4 tiny houses all in a row, 1 'Exit Strategy'

8 friends, 4 tiny houses all in a row, 1 'Exit Strategy'
The view from the cabins. Click any photo for a slideshow.
The view from the cabins. Click any photo for a slideshow.

They call it the Llano Exit Strategy.

It was built by four couples, most of them friends for nearly 20 years. Their kids have largely grown and their lives are taking that proverbial turn -- moving away from the busy day-to-day and toward a little extra time to enjoy the simpler things in life: the warm country air, lazy days reading by the water, and time spent with good friends.

That's why they made the Exit Strategy, an eco-friendly encampment of one tiny home per couple plus a larger building to share meals and each other's company. Each of the four tiny houses measures 365 square feet, and all are plotted next to each other along the Llano River, about an hour and a half away from the couples' Austin home base.

(Click here or on a photo for a slideshow.)

The camp's name started as a bit of an inside joke -- alluding to the couples' fantasies about what they'll do when they escape the daily grind -- but co-owner Fred Zipp says it's not far from reality for himself and his wife, because their work is pretty flexible. For the other three couples, who can get away only on weekends, it remains mostly a dream for now.

"We had been talking, in fact, for 10 or 15 years about the possibility of finding a weekend place where we could jointly own, reduce the cost of ownership and enjoy it together and enjoy each other’s company," Zipp says.

Then, about four years ago, when traveling to visit another friend, the couples came across 10 acres outside Llano. The land initially wasn't that inviting, with invasive grass and piles of debris, Zipp says.

But they pooled their resources and bought it, building the homes with views of the river as it swells and shrinks, and wildflowers as they bloom and die over the seasons.

The water tank collects rainwater from butterfly roofs.
The water tank collects rainwater from butterfly roofs.

The homes themselves, designed by Austin architect Matt Garcia, are strikingly simple. They are made largely from corrugated metal and plywood. Along one wall, a glass door and windows overlook the river.

The four tiny houses include just a bedroom, living space and bathroom. The bigger home, a little larger at 1,500 square feet, keeps the kitchen, dining room and living space for lounging, along with some space for guests (and kids) in the form of two built-in bunkbeds. (Click here or on a photo for a slideshow.)

The owners wanted the homes to leave a minimal footprint, so they asked Garcia to keep that in mind when designing the buildings.

Low-e glass windows, highly efficient air conditioners and high-quality foam insulation keep each home cool when you want it cool and warm when you want it warm, Garcia says.

"It's kind of a bulletproof little box," Garcia jokes.

And because the camp was built in 2012 during an intense Texas drought, the friends were acutely aware that water is precious. All of the roofs are built to collect rainwater, which is used to hose off the dogs when they emerge from the water and to keep the plants on the grounds watered.

The couples, all in their 50s, try to get out there as much as they can, Zipp says, and they offer the whole camp for rent on Airbnb.

Cabin interior. Click any photo for a slideshow.
Cabin interior. Click any photo for a slideshow.

Incidentally: The friends' story has been making the Internet rounds, with some writers calling the camp "Bestie Row." But that's not quite accurate. They don't all live there together, and they travel as a group to the compound maybe two or three times a year, Zipp says. They've developed a loose tradition of spending Fourth of July and New Year's Eve there together.

Despite Zipp's reality check on the Internet's tendencies toward heartwarming sensationalism, the couples' story has proved inspirational for those imagining the possibilities of building a place to be with  just your best friends.

"I still tell people all the time about it," says Garcia, "and they’re like, "Man, I’ve got to do that. Me and Joe and Dave and John, we should all get together and do something like this.'"

Click here or on a photo for a slideshow of the Llano Exit Strategy, eight friends' tiny-home micro-village in Texas.

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