Dónal Byrne set up Big Red Barn and starting making modular buildings five years ago, after working as an event manager at the London 2012 Olympics.
“We used a lot of marquees at the Olympics and they used to break my heart,” he said. “We ran test events throughout the year. When it was hot, you’d have condensation, when it was windy the marquees would move, and when it snowed, the roofs would cave in under the weight.”
When the Games were over, Byrne used a €50,000 redundancy payout to design a sturdier steel-framed, timber-clad alternative. He set up The Big Red Barn in Swinford, Co Mayo, to market his modular-build structures to event organisers, music festivals and corporate clients in Ireland and Britain.
He then adapted the concept for a new market the following year with the launch of his portable wedding venue, The Little White Chapel. Having initially outsourced manufacturing, he subsequently opted to bring production in-house, and in 2017 he opened a 15,000-square-foot-factory on a three-acre site.
Big Red Barn became a high potential start-up client of Enterprise Ireland last year and the facility has since doubled in size, funded partly through business priming and expansion grants from the Local Enterprise Office in Mayo.
Now Byrne has his sights set on yet another market, having expanded into modular housing, with one and two-storey options priced from €41,500.
“We launched a new ‘tiny home’ earlier this month. We found we were getting a lot of enquiries from people with budgets in the €20,000 to €25,000 range and we couldn’t do anything for them.”
With a compact floorspace of 28 feet by 8 feet, that model is priced from €20,000. “Our biggest seller at the moment is our two-bed modular home. We put out one of those houses every week, and they go to young couples who can’t get a mortgage but can borrow €50,000 to €60,000 for a starter home,” said Byrne.
“We’ve had four orders already for the new tiny home. One woman got in touch because her son has a girlfriend and a baby. They can’t afford to buy or rent a property, but they can get a loan from the credit union for one of these tiny homes, and they can set it up behind his mother’s house and live there warmly and securely.”