The gypsy wagon rolls on

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How a well-heeled adman became a happy minimalist

By Rusty Tagliareni

Chris Schapdick is a native of Canada, and through the ebb and flow of life he ended up working in an office, for an advertising corporation in Manhattan. That was until a few years ago anyway. Today I was standing in Schapdick’s new office: a garage in Clifton, NJ. This is his workshop. “I grew up with nature,” he said. “In New York, I saw my daughter was growing up without all that. I decided to buy some land in the Catskills and make a little cabin we could visit.”

It wasn’t long before his getaway for his daughter, now 13, became his own, too, from what he felt was an unfulfilling role in life. “The money was good, and people said I was crazy to leave, but I wasn’t happy,” he said. “I guess I was just brave enough to do what others want to.”

Schapdick took the plunge in 2016, quitting his nine-to-five to set up his own business, Tiny Industrial. He now designs and crafts tiny homes capable of functioning off-grid, outfitted with water tanks, solar panels and composting toilets. His gypsy wagons also boast that Madison Avenue polish, with touches like live-edge kitchen counters and adorable planters outside the front door. By 2017 he had already raked in the Best Tiny House award at the New Jersey Tiny House Festival.

On the day of my visit, he was in the very early stages of a 12-foot home build. He walked across the raw plywood floor and half-built 2x4 walls, gesturing to where things would eventually be. He pointed to a salvaged wooden door in the corner of the shop. “That’s going to become a sliding barn door for the bath,” he said. “Here we will have a large bay window. The customer’s land is by a lake and he wants people staying here to wake up to a beautiful view.”

Since his tiny homes are built on trailers, they have the ability to relocate in the event of an emergency or natural disaster. “Actually these homes are more-or-less built to be hurricane proof,” Schapdick said. “Just the act of moving them on a highway subjects them to 60 mile-an-hour winds and bounces them around with essentially the force of every earthquake that has hit California.”

Schapdick’s pride in his work shines through, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that that’s because he is, at last, happy. Having ventured this far out of his comfort zone, he’s pushing onward and becoming an author. His first book, Living Your Tiny House Dream (Creative Homeowner) is slated for release in June.

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