Only stray bricks and wooden boards remained where Meghan Panu’s house once stood.
This was odd, because there hadn’t been a fire. Or an earthquake. No, the young woman’s home had been wheeled away on the trailer where it rested outside a St. Louis warehouse for home remodeling supplies.
Hers was no ordinary home, with foundations anchoring it in the ground. It was a tiny home. And it vanished over the weekend.
For two years, the recent Webster University graduate had been working on the minimalist accommodation. She had drawn a floor plan, laid sheep’s wool insulation and found electric and water sources. The home rose 12 feet high, with green windows, a tin roof and stained cedar siding. Construction had cost her about $20,000.
Panu planned to move in this spring, taking part in the tiny house movement. The architectural and social experiment has gained traction an alternative lifestyle, and also, in some areas, as a quick fix for homelessness. This has prompted backlash from traditional homeowners who fear the trend will drive down prices, as well as scrutiny from experts who warn that tiny mobile homes – generally 100 to 400 square feet – are insufficient shelter for the vulnerable.
For Panu, building a miniature domicile was an experiment in sustainable living. “My eventual hope would be to participate in the creation of a tiny house eco village,” she wrote on Facebook in March.
“Being able to move into my tiny house and reduce my consumption as much as possible is very important to me,” Panu told the Webster Journal last year. She said she got the idea from a documentary on Netflix.
The process began in early 2017 with pencil sketches. In February, she acquired a trailer. Panu put out a call on Facebook for warehouse space, but much of the construction proceeded outdoors. The house was framed last winter. By March, the roof was in place. She prided herself on using recycled materials and completing the bulk of the construction work herself, enlisting volunteers where she could find them, including friends and even her father on at least one occasion.
“Blood, sweat and tears,” she wrote in February, uploading a photograph of her bloodied hand. “But mostly blood.”
As it took shape, the home had traveled back and forth between St. Louis and Webster Groves, where Panu’s university is located. But on Saturday morning, she received a call from the supply warehouse’s owner, who had recently invited her to park near his business, Refab.
“He asked if I had moved the tiny house overnight and when I said no, he had the unfortunate news that they hadn’t, and it was likely taken,” Panu told WTHR, an NBC affiliate.
She put out an appeal on social media. “I NEED YOUR HELP,” she wrote on her Instagram page, “St. Louis Tiny Living.” Between 10:30 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday, she explained, “the tiny house was stolen.”
“I’m at a loss,” she continued. “Please, if you see it around the city call and report it.”
Her followers came to her defense. “I’m so sorry dude!” one wrote, vowing to “keep my eyes peeled.” Another commented: “I’m livid for you.” One person simply proclaimed, “WHAT.”
And then there was the devoted follower who said she would scour the entire Midwest for the unusual contraband. She was driving from Iowa to Florida, she said, and had taken a screen shot of Panu’s house “to keep an eye out while we travel.”