How One Chapel Hill Architect Is Leading the Way in Tiny Houses

How One Chapel Hill Architect Is Leading the Way in Tiny Houses

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Arielle Condoret Schechter at home with models of some of the micropolis houses she's designed.
Arielle Condoret Schechter at home with models of some of the micropolis houses she’s designed. -Photo by Briana Brough

“I feel like I popped out of the womb a raging modernist,” says Arielle Condoret Schechter. The architect is sitting in her bright and open living room off of Mount Carmel Church Road, with tunes from jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt detectable beneath whistles and chirps from Gabby, the African grey parrot. This is Arielle in her element – she designed this house for her husband, Arnold Morris Condoret Schechter, and vintage modernist furniture and shelves she built herself complement its layout. “I always was a modernist, even before it was popular. It’s always been really natural for me.”

NATURAL CONNECTION

As the daughter of the late renowned local architect Jon Condoret (we can thank him for bringing us Fearrington Village’s cozy look), Arielle’s career is perhaps no surprise. Despite her innate love of modern design, though, she took an indirect path. “I went to undergraduate school in music, which was a disaster for me,” she explains. Her college years at Juilliard couldn’t cure her of stage fright but did prove, once and for all, that “architecture is right for me. I like being at my desk, drawing.”

Immediately upon graduating from Juilliard, she returned to North Carolina – born in Africa, the Condorets
 fled from the Algerian War to her grandmother’s basement in Durham, where she spent her childhood – to study architecture at N.C. State. Just as expected, she flourished.

Embarking on an architecture practice converged Arielle’s skills and passions. “I’ve always been a hard-core environmentalist,” she says. “I became a vegetarian at age 11, just out of concern for the animals.” Thus, her goal is to create homes that are net-zero, “which means 
the house would produce all it needs, calculated on a 12-month basis.”

Her designs also embrace natural 
light and outdoor spaces. “To have some connection to the outside is grounding,” she says. “I think people crave it – they crave seeing green, or just feeling the breeze, or having the right kind of sunshine on you. It’s all so critical to making a space livable.”

BRIGHT IDEA

Since downtime and work time are one and the same for Arielle, one day she was daydreaming at her desk. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to offer people designs that have an architect feel, for those who can’t afford an architect’s services?’ They can still get a cool little house that comes with a great building envelope.”

Arielle Condoret Schechter at home with models of some of the micropolis houses she's designed.
One of Arielle’s designs. Photo by Briana Brough.

Inspired by the tiny house trend, these ready-made designs would have a minimal footprint. She bounced the idea off of wordsmith Arnold, who has a sports journalism background. “He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of building a metropolis, you built a micropolis of all of these little houses?’”

The name stuck, and now she sells the collection of modern “small home” plans (all 150 to 1,500 square feet) for $2,000 and up. “I never expected to get any interest in the Micropolis houses,” Arielle says. “I started drawing them for myself, and then people started liking them.”

She humbly shifts the Micropolis attention from her design ingenuity to a cultural trend. “It shows that people are searching for smaller choices,” she says. “They’re willing to try. I think people are getting tired of, say, paying heating and cooling bills
 for spaces they don’t use.” Plus, when you build small you can maximize quality. “I love doing smaller houses because you can put more money into the goodies. You can get better windows, more windows, higher quality exterior materials.”

AN ESCAPE

To recharge, Arielle and Arnold travel. “That’s our main hobby,” Arielle says. “It’s work, work, work, and then take off and go someplace great. It’s really inspiring – I think traveling is invaluable.”

Of course, trips are almost always planned around seeing a city’s architecture. “There’s a quote about architecture being 
the fertilizer of our lives,” she says, just after listing her other hobbies as cooking and growing produce like heirloom tomatoes. “Architecture is a way to be a great, big, juicy tomato. It does – it feeds us.”

GREEN THUMB

A signature in Arielle’s designs is “a huge connection to the outdoors,” she says. “And
 a ton of natural light. With those two things, you can really go far in a house. I always include a special outside space: a courtyard, a roof terrace, a screened porch.” There’s usually a third element, too: openness. “I think it makes you feel better. It can make you be more expansive and less insular. If things are open, maybe you’ll feel a little freer.”

‘THE WAY OF THE FUTURE’

Arielle has a keen interest in green architecture and has been into net-zero building since she was a student. “I consider that
to be the most important trend in architecture right now,” she says. “It goes beyond LEED; it goes beyond green building. Net zero is third-party verified, and that means there’s no green-washing. It’s the way of the future. It’s the way we can cause less damage to the planet – or at least minimize it. I feel really strongly about that.”