Dreaming of a simple life in Northern Michigan with as little square footage as possible between you and the Northwoods? Meet Dwayne Johnson and Marc O’Grady, founders and owners of beag+haus, a design firm designing innovative small homes in the Leelanau and Traverse City area.


Borg, 987 square feet

What is beag+haus and what do you do?

beag+haus is the collaboration of Dwayne Johnson and Marc O’Grady; two Northern Michigan natives who share a passion for design with a focus on innovative small homes for the everyday adventurer. At beag+haus we design (and build) small and efficient homes that are integrated with innovative technology to both simplify and improve the lives of others.

Interesting company name! What’s the story behind it?

When deciding on a name, we wanted it to be unique yet grounded in who we are and the focus of the designs. Looking to Marc’s Irish family heritage we discovered beag which is the Gaelic word for small. Combined with the German word haus, we ended up with beag+haus. While beag+haus quite simply translates to small house, this simple approach is also translated into the overall fabric of our company.

Rom, 192 square feet

Your inspiration for the company?

We both grew up in Traverse City and met in 1991 after graduating from high school. Since that time, we have experienced much that life has to offer and traveled to many places but our heart and soul have always been and continue to be drawn to Northern Michigan. We have always wanted to find a way to connect our professional lives with our personal endeavors in the region. We wanted to be able to give back to the community that had done so much to mold and shape our lives.

There is something about this place that is special and difficult to put into words. It is something that needs to be experienced because words and photos alone cannot begin to bring justice to the natural beauty or the good vibes of the region. The Northern Michigan lifestyle is all about experiencing what is good about life and the great outdoors, and over the years we have fully immersed ourselves in all that the region has to offer. It is what has kept bringing us back, and ultimately what led us to launch beag+haus. Throughout our lives, we have always been intrigued by the philosophy of “thinking outside the box.” In fact, our response to that philosophy has always been, “what box?”

Over the past few years, we have taken annual trips to unwind and reconnect with friends while visiting new places and experiencing new adventures. It seemed that every time we got together the conversation always led to discussing new design ideas and a possible future collaboration. Recently, we traveled to Utah for such a trip filled with fly fishing and hiking the peaks of the Uinta mountain range. While there we encountered a unique blend of architectural styles effortlessly cohabitating with the outdoor lifestyle. This deepened our conversations regarding a collaboration involving home design wrapped up with adventure.

Kile, 622 square feet

Everyday adventurer—we’d love to hear more about that.

An everyday adventurer is anyone who seeks adventure in their lives. It doesn’t matter if you like to climb mountains, travel the world or tackle the daily challenges of raising a family; if you like to live life to the fullest and enjoy all that this world has to offer, then you are an everyday adventurer.

“Stop dwelling. Start living.” That’s a mantra of yours… 

Through our own adventures, we discovered that “adventure” means all things to all people, and we found that we are drawn to the adventurous spirit in all of us. We decided that we wanted to create innovative small homes for the everyday adventurer. We felt that by creating homes customized to a person’s lifestyle that this would ultimately allow them to stop dwelling and start living. Our mission at beag+haus is to improve the lives of others through the design of innovative small homes.

Kul, 949 square feet

You have nine house plans (all with very cool names!). What sets them apart.

We have always been drawn to unique modern architecture. We wanted to create homes that were representative and complementary to their natural surroundings. We want our designs to fit into the landscape rather than the landscape having to make way for our designs. The small-house lifestyle encourages people to engage more with the environment by redirecting the focus away from managing collections of household items. Our concepts could be used for a range of possibilities, such as a guest suite, vacation home or as a main home.

Being aware that there is a shortage of affordable housing in the Traverse City area, we wanted to create homes that were efficient, affordable and would fit the needs of a single person, a small family, empty nesters and everything in between. By offering an alternative to the traditional home, we are hoping that our concepts can fill a need in the region.

The names of the concepts pay homage to Northern Michigan’s Scandinavian roots. Each of the names reflects the shape or vibe of the concept itself. For example, the smallest concept is called ROM which means room and the largest concept is called BORG which means castle. You also must admit that TORGET, which represents four equal sides, sounds much cooler than square.

Punkt, 768 square feet

The plans run from 192 to just under 1000 square feet—what makes these sizes work?

The design process started by researching the zoning in the counties and townships surrounding the Traverse City area. Finding out the minimum dwelling size in each jurisdiction allowed us to design a range of concept sizes that would work in some or all the townships.

The two smallest concepts are 192 square feet and 360 square feet. These two concepts allow for simplicity and ease of construction. Both units are essentially four walls and a roof. While these concepts are small, they do contain all the bare necessities and also some creature comforts. These concepts could easily be used as a detached guest suite or as a small stand-alone retreat of your own. These were specifically created to fit on property that falls within a township that does not have a zoning ordinance. When there is no zoning ordinance, the minimum dwelling size defaults to the Michigan State Building Code minimum which is 120 square feet.

The largest concept on our website is 987 square feet and can easily function as a main home. It contains two bedrooms, a full bathroom, laundry, a full kitchen along with dining and living areas. Many plans feature an incorporated covered porch and open deck to expand the living space. The single slope main roof allows for a high ceiling which helps to increase the interior volume of the home and make the floor plan feel more spacious.

We have also designed custom homes for client’s that are 1,350 square feet and 1,420 square feet. Our 1,350 sf home contains three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It is just one example of how a well-designed home does not have to be large to include the necessary areas for raising a family.

In general, all the concepts are designed to take advantage of every square inch with efficient use of space. Another option is to build the house on a full basement to maximize the overall footprint for storage or additional living space.

Elv, 576 square feet

What are some of the best locations in Northern Michigan for a beag+haus?

We have researched seven counties in and around Traverse City including 124 townships and villages. After reviewing the information, there is a wide variety of zoning requirements regarding the minimum dwelling size. We were also surprised to find that many townships had no minimum zoning ordinance. Many times, zoning administrators get a bad rap but through our research and many phone calls, we found this to be the opposite. Many of the people we spoke with were very interested in our projects and willing to work with us on the zoning regulations.

The research showed some consistency regarding minimum dwelling sizes in most townships, with average minimum size being 600–800 square feet. In contrast, some of the most accommodating counties in terms of small homes under 600 square feet were Antrim and Leelanau. Peninsula Township in Grand Traverse County is also accommodating with a minimum dwelling size of 576 square feet. These are great areas to build a small home because of the land available and proximity to the lakes and beaches.

Another hot topic is affordable housing inside the Traverse City city limits. Traverse City has begun allowing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) to help increase the amount of affordable house. This means you can build a second dwelling unit on your lot in the city as an accessory to the main house. The ADU has no minimum square feet requirement with a maximum of 75% of gross floor area of the main house or 800 square feet. This is a great option for city residents as a rental opportunity or guest house. Currently, the city allows 15 ADUs to be built per year in single-family zoning districts with an unlimited amount of ADUs allowed in two-family and multi-family zoning districts.

Torget, 816 square feet

If you were building a home for yourself, where would you build it? What style would you choose? And why?    

Marc: If I were going to build one of our concepts for myself, I think it would be a toss-up between PUNKT and TORGET. I love the traditional lines of the A-Frame but also like the large interior volume of TORGET. TORGET also allows the option for a roof deck which would be great for Northern Michigan sunsets and starry nights. All our concepts offer a great deal of natural light through expansive window walls, but I would have to ultimately go with PUNKT for its unique shape and large windows that allow you amazing views of the surrounding landscape. The ideal location for me would be tucked away in the trees on a bluff overlooking the lake with sunset views to the west. Nothing beats a sunset over Lake Michigan, no matter the time of year!

Dwayne: Recognizing my needs to sometimes be an introvert, my ideal space would be the KILE in a densely wooded area surrounded by only the sounds of nature. I tend to stray away from more traditional housing layouts and I am drawn to designs with a focus on evoking an emotional reaction to each space. The non-traditional spaces for me force the question of how and why the space was constructed. This questioning creates an emotional connection to the space, whether good or bad. I am engaged. I believe when working with small spaces this requirement of engagement is exceptionally more important and personal with each client. Each concept, while serving a need as thought starters, will always evolve to meet the needs of each individual client because in small spaces, design matters.

We checked in with beag+haus in March 2019 for an update on their latest projects. 

How has the small house movement developed in the last year?

Over the past year, we have seen many people looking to small homes as an affordable alternative to a larger home with a large mortgage payment. Our clients are looking for a home that allows them to enjoy more of their life that happens outside of a home. They want to enjoy outdoor activities and traveling more than they want to be tied down by a house payment and home maintenance. We have also seen many clients who supplement their income by using their home as a short term rental.

What exciting things have you learned?

We are constantly working to improve our design concepts and have been working on some exciting design and construction techniques that will allow us to offer a more affordable option over traditional home construction. Our biggest challenge this past year has been finding quality materials that fit into an affordable price point. Luckily, there are an almost endless amount of material choices, and the overall theme of suppliers is to offer a wide range of products that will fit any budget.

Any new updates you would like to share?

We are excited to be working on a new development located less than a mile from downtown Bellaire that will feature homes under 1,500 square feet. The first phase of the project will include 23 parcels ranging from .4 to .8 acres. The majority of home sites are wooded while approximately a third of the lots will have views of Lake Bellaire and the surrounding countryside.

Photo(s) by beag+haus