In a world where tiny houses are suddenly a thing, Mattie Shelton and her business partner, Evan Walbridge, make huts.
You wouldn’t call them sheds, nor would you store your income tax records in one, and they don’t bring to mind a yurt designed for camping out near Alaskan glaciers either. They are too elegant and more weather-suited for outdoor Santa Barbara, where they’re made. But they might make a writer’s warren or place to house overflow family visiting from Rust Belt, Indiana.
They’re mainly made by welding steel beams to trailer frames and then draping them in canvas, more appropriate for fashion shoots than trailer parks. Shelton learned how to build these moveable earthships primarily on her own, but occasional help did come from her renowned architect dad, Jeff (El Andaluz) Shelton and Uncle David, who runs a decorative ironworks plant. They look like romantic huts now, but nobody knows what the tiny houses might become.
“I pretty much started this whole thing a year ago, but it almost didn’t happen,” said Mattie, as we stood in the summer sun and tall grass of the family compound where she and Walbridge work. “I was on my way out of town. I was driving to Los Angeles to join a commune. I was hauling a trailer, and then it started to rain.” It came down so hard she turned back home, where her dad suggested the small-house idea. Walbridge, on leave from school, wanted in, and Shelton Huts was born.
“Our first order was five huts,” said Mattie, who recently returned from delivering their first plumbed and electrically rigged hut to a hotel park on the Russian River run by the people who built the Airstream hotel on De la Vina Street. They’ve also sold huts to an idealistic shelter project in New Cuyama and have orders for more.
Mattie was born in Pasadena back when her father was designing for Angelenos — “back when his designs were less wiggly,” as one associate put it — and her mom worked as a screenwriter. After the family moved up to the property near Westmont College that Mattie’s grandfather bought in the 1970s, she went to nearby Cold Spring School, which has had a Shelton enrolled for the past 60 years. Following high school, Mattie went to the Savannah College of Art and Design and then transferred to The New School in Manhattan. Walbridge, meanwhile, studied architecture at UC Berkeley. Before this business, both were vaguely unhappy. “It finally feels natural for me, actually building these amazing things,” said Walbridge, who’d like to integrate more recycled materials into the future. “And even though neither of us is in school anymore, I still feel like we are both learning so much.”
Said Mattie Shelton, “Imagining where we are going from here is very exciting.”