The resort consists of four homes, a tiny store, a laundry, and a dog wash named the “Laundramutt.”
Although his SoHo-based pop art store closed decades ago, Bob Malkin has never stopped thinking big. Instead of giant objects, such as the five-foot crayons and six-foot pencils sold at the iconic Think Big store, Malkin is now focused on tiny homes. He’s considering plans to grow his Think Big! A Tiny House Resort in South Cairo.
Nestled in 28 wooded acres overlooking the Catskill Creek, the resort currently consists of four homes, each just big enough for a romantic weekend, a writing retreat, or discovering what it’s like to live in a tiny home. While only a few diminutive homes currently dot the property—plus a tiny store, a laundry, and a dog wash named the “Laundramutt”—there are immediate plans to grow. Since its opening in September 2017, the resort has been so successful that Malkin and his family business partners are ready to expand.
“We think that by the end of April we will have nine tiny houses, “ said Margie Juszczak, who manages the resort with Malkin, her father, and Melissa Juszczak, her daughter.
Besides more houses, plans are underway to add a swimming pool overlooking the creek and possibly romantic amphitheater-style seating across from a waterfall on the property.
The tiny home movement, which advocates living simply in small homes, is not new, said Margie, but she knows of nowhere else that offers luxurious tiny homes as vacation rentals. Margie and daughter Melissa know all about downsizing and living small. After selling a Long Island home, they repeatedly crossed the country in an RV. Meanwhile, Malkin who has lived in the Hudson Valley for almost two decades, was busy becoming a vacation rental entrepreneur, buying, rehabbing, and renting a series of vacation homes. He suggested she move to the Hudson Valley.
“He’d say, why are you traveling?,” said Margie. “It’s all up here.”
Malkin landed in the Hudson Valley because of a series of dramatic successes and disasters. His store, open from 1979 to 1994, was an instant pop culture success. In its heyday, Think Big items were featured in films such as Forrest Gump and Big, and on TV sitcoms and game shows. Malkin got a lucky boost in publicity when a New York Times home section editor saw him unloading giant crayons from his car shortly before the store opened.
“She asked what I was doing. I told her we were making a giant store and she told me, ‘If you don’t give any other newspaper the story on the day you open I’ll give you front section of the New York Times’—not the home section, but the front section. We did that and the result was every TV station came down, and it just kept on going.”
After selling his Think Big concept to a California-based fine art gallery firm, Malkin moved to Los Angeles, then went back to school for a degree in psychology. In 1994, his Santa Monica home was destroyed by an earthquake.
“The Northridge earthquake destroyed the fantastic place we were living in and I was no longer comfortable living in LA,” said Malkin.
So, he moved back to SoHo. A few years later, 9/11 happened.
“On 9/11 I was underneath both buildings when the planes hit,” said Malkin. “I was one of those grey people covered in dust when the buildings fell.”
A few weeks later, a friend invited him to the Woodstock Film Festival, so he could escape the city. The very same weekend, Malkin decided to buy his friend’s home, which was up for sale.
“Pre-9/11, if somebody told me I’d live in the country I would have said, you’re crazy. But post traumatic stress got me out. And then eventually I found I really liked it up here.”
Malkin became involved in vacation rentals, buying a few area homes to let out. Then came the tiny house idea, suggested by his granddaughter Melissa. He sold a SoHo property and invested more than a million dollars in developing the resort, cleaning up underbrush, laying down lines, and buying made-to-order mini domiciles with upscale details and color palettes inspired by nature. Each tiny home has a theme and a name. Malkin’s favorite, “The Mizu,” is a Japanese-inspired tiny house with a Shou-sugi-ban exterior and large glass windows to let in the light, a lofted queen bed, an additional twin loft, and full downstairs living/sleeping area.
All the homes have multiple heat sources, full bathrooms, well-stocked kitchens, full Internet, and outdoor grills. There are also plenty of amenities, including the option for on-site massages, Saturday morning yoga, Sunday dog grooming, a garden full of pick-your-own veggies and meals cooked by a raw food chef. The resort is very dog-friendly.
So far, the family has received only positive responses. Margie who meets her dad for business brunches at Betty’s Too diner in neighboring Leeds, says she often has to pinch herself when realizing how lucky they are.
“When you tell people what we do, they all say that’s really cool,” said Margie. “You say ‘tiny house’ and they just smile.”
Malkin, who once good humored-ly appeared in a Colbert clip about his stolen Gumby statue, thinks tiny homes are especially appealing to younger guests.
One day they may start a tiny house community where people own their own houses but lease a spot, much like people do with campers.
Meanwhile, Malkin is sure his tiny house resort will take off in a big way. He envisions the location as a go-to destination for weddings and family gatherings, a place for a group to gather and still have privacy.
“It’s as big as a hotel room but you have your own house, you have the stream and the waterfall,” said Malkin. “You will have a swimming pool, you have a barbecue, you can cook, enjoy the woods, enjoy nature. It’s a whole new kind of business, it’s an experience.”
This story was originally published in Hudson Valley Magazine.