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Business Monday: Brother-sister duo team up for tiny home business

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Siblings Ellie Madsen and Dan Madsen, with a goat, co-founded Paradise Tiny Homes on the Big Island. Photo courtesy.

Many in Hilo know Dan Madsen as the local owner of Oasis Skateshop and for his large murals all around the Bayfront East Hawai’i town.

But what they may not know is Madsen, 36, and his interior designer sister Ellie Madsen, 31, are co-owners of Paradise Tiny Homes.

The Big Islanders said they were inspired to start their business to help address Hawaiʻi’s expensive housing market as the median and average home price approaches $1 million.

The siblings founded their company in 2020, with Ellie Madsen moving back to the Big Island from Montana following the death of their mother. Dan Madsen had become a skilled craftsman after constructing tree houses and small skateboard ramps when he was 12 years.

The Madsens have been combining their design and construction skills to create custom small homes that are more affordable.


The prices for the models range from $50,000 up to $500,000. Their most popular model is listed at about $225,000 at 300 square feet.

Currently, the brother-sister duo is designing an inventory of ATUs, or Accessory Trailer Units, which are structures built using trailers as portable foundations. These aren’t technically homes because they’re not “permitted real estate on a permanent foundation,” but the siblings say they can be used just the same.

So far they’ve built 13 of them, with the first one located by the ocean.

The trailers can also be customized. Some models can sleep up to eight individuals at once, or be used for offices or businesses. Their biggest model so far is the two-bedroom and one-and-a-half-bath unit. Made out of a variety of materials, including mango wood and driftwood, their homes are uniquely Big Island.

The very first tiny home built by brother and sister Paradise Tiny Home owners Dan Madsen and Ellie Madsen. Photo courtesy.

Jeane Ruston from Hāna said she had been looking for a tiny home builder for a while before finding Paradise Tiny Homes. She said she loved the team’s creativity.


“I have been so impressed and am positive I made the only choice for a builder that truly fit me,” she said. “Ellie has been delightful to work with; her enthusiasm, creative vision, attention to detail combined with the ability to truly hear my wants, needs and preferences has been absolutely phenomenal.”

Ellie Madsen, who owns Ellie K. Design, uses her interior design eye to fit each model. With signature colors that range from watery blues and soft whites, local woods in all of their glory, whether cut dimensionally or left in their natural curvy state, Ellie said she loves creating with her artistic eye.

“We love cathedral ceilings and the implementation of curves – two of our most often used tricks to keep our spaces feeling grand, allowing lots of light to hit all the right points and creatively bringing the outside in creates a sense of continuity and openness that keeps our units feeling anything but boxy and small,” she said.

She said she is passionate about creating housing solutions and running businesses that solve problems in sustainable ways.

“The hardworking people of Hawai’i should not need to downgrade or be relocated because of the housing market crisis.”


She also believes that living practically is not a downgrade.

“You can quite literally be surrounded by more beauty, quality and creative architecture and design than so many larger homes with bigger price tags have to offer,” she said.

Dan Madsen said he and his sister started working on their very first Oasis model, which was blue with a round window, in 2019 before officially launching Paradise Tiny Homes.

This tiny come was created by Ellie K. Design and constructed by Paradise Tiny Homes. Photo courtesy.

“Sort of strange timing to have just started a business [when the COVID-19 pandemic struck], but we were working here in our front yard at the house our mother left us three siblings – so it was a good thing that we were able to just keep working on things from home without the pandemic shutting us down,” he said.

Having just started their business, they couldn’t apply for assistance so they had to “just push through it,” he said.

Paradise Tiny Homes has been a labor of love ever since.

“Because of our own experience living off-grid in a cabin our father built, we were not new to the idea of building a self-sufficient lifestyle. We wanted to offer that to others,” Ellie Madsen said. “We obviously didn’t invent the idea of a ‘tiny home’ but were inspired by spaces we’ve seen others build. There’s no lack of creativity out there with people creating all kinds of ultra-efficient spaces. It just makes sense to be using space and resources in this way.”

Currently, they are partnering with all real estate agents and property owners who see their bigger vision and hope to collaborate and help people find better, more fulfilling ways to do things.

Their tiny homes are built on the Big Island but two have been shipped to Maui, they said, and can be transported and parked virtually anywhere. 

“Our main focus is to continue supporting ourselves, our friends, our family, our community and have fun and be innovative while doing that,” she said.

Picture of one of the Paradise Tiny Homes creations from sibling entrpreneurs Dan and Ellie Madsen. Photo courtesy.

For more information visit this website.

Megan Moseley
Megan Moseley is a full-time journalist for Pacific Media Group. Her experience ranges from long and short-form reporting to print, digital, radio and television news coverage. In Hawaiʻi, she's worked for local media outlets and has covered a wide range of topics including local and state politics, environmental affairs, Native Hawaiian issues, travel, tourism and education. She covers the West for Restaurant Hospitality.

She's a 2010 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Magazine Journalism and specializations in Geology and History. She's currently working on her master's degree from New York University and Ohio University and is focused on conflict resolution and peace practices in indigenous cultures in the Pacific.
Megan can be reached at [email protected].
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