When he first began pondering retirement plans ten years ago, Bil Malbon, a minister from Richmond, Virginia, dreamt of building his own church, one that can host up to 200 people. Then, the recession hit, people started downsizing, and the so-called tiny house movement found fresh fuel. Soaking all this in, Malbon's vision pivoted drastically: instead of a grand chapel that can host two receptions at once, he would build a tiny wedding chapel on wheels. Plunging right in last spring, Malbon attended a tiny house building workshop to develop his idea. And this past December, a 100-square-foot chapel big enough for 25 people, was finally completed. Now officially retired, the self-proclaimed "tiny chaplain" just hopes his idea of intimate, low-cost, mobile ceremonies will catch on.
Building the tiny chapel took longer than expected. Originally slated for completion at the end of last summer, the trailer structure didn't totally come together until Christmas time. But all the additional time meant that Malbon, and his builder, Robin Hayes of Build Tiny (an education-based tiny house company in Virginia) could really think through all the design decisions. Beyond adding necessities like the roof, HVAC system, four walls, and plumbing, Malbon and Hayes debated specific finishes and features.
There's the solid oak flooring composed of different-sized planks, which Malbon says gives the space "a little more rustic look." Then, there are faux beams (metal wrapped in wood); a custom-built cabinet (with a bent horseshoe as a toilet paper roll holder); a spire that can retract and store separately (a must for staying within Department of Transportation height restrictions.)
Now parked in front of a business owned by Malbon's friend, the tiny chapel is ready to serve up non-denominational wedding ceremonies within a one-hour radius of Richmond. The service comes in several packages. The "basic" starts at $100 for a 30 minute ceremony, but the packages get increasingly costly with a longer function. However, while typical ceremony venue fees can average over a thousand dollars, Malbon's most expensive, the "first class" package, tops out at $500 for an one-hour event at the customer's chosen location.
So what's a "Tiny Wedding Chapel" ceremony like? Here's a clue: last October, while the structure was still nearing completion, the tiny chapel already performed its first vow renewal ceremony. Thom and Midge Stanton, fellow attendees at the tiny house workshop Malbon went to last April, commemorated 24 years of marriage at Malbon's chapel. "We went and renewed our vows with 20 people in one tiny house, shoulder to shoulder, everyone tucked in together," Thom Stanton recounts the experience to Henrico Monthly.
These days, Malbon is busy attending wedding expos to get his idea out there. He acknowledges there are plenty of small wedding venues out there (Las Vegas, anyone?), but he believes he's the only one offering a super tiny, mobile space that people can actually inhabit. (According to Malbon, a family in Illinois has converted a fire engine into a "wedding truck" of sorts—but again, the ceremony wouldn't be indoors.)
For now, Malbon already has another event lined up. On March 14, a very special Pi day, a math teacher will be getting hitched in a very special chapel.
Author's note: A previous version of this article stated that there was a converted fire engine "wedding truck" in Missouri; it should be Illinois.
· All Micro Week 2015 posts [Curbed National]