By Susan D. Brandenburg

The popular tiny house concept of downsizing to a simple lifestyle is sweeping the nation and many are jumping on the bandwagon — but the small house that 25-year old designer Joel Esposito is building in St. Johns is as much a one-of-a-kind as he is.

A 2013 graduate of Jacksonville University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Computer Art and Design, Esposito is an imaginative, detail-oriented person whose hobby is all things food and cooking.

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Growing up in Jacksonville, Esposito started providing computer graphics services to local businesses while he was still in school. He recently acquired a professional certification in Autodesk Revit Architecture and has spent the past year working with his father, Bob Esposito, in residential design. The young designer is combining his unique skill set (a borderline obsessive interest in cooking and a generalist skillset in computer-aided design) to build his first home, which is about 450 square feet.

“I wanted to design something that would serve as a fully functioning home and also provide me with a studio space to work,” said Esposito. “One of the constraints was designing something small enough to be affordable and allow mortgage-free living.”

Esposito designed his small house and had it placed on his property so that it can eventually be converted into a garage with an overhead door, allowing a “main” house to be built on the center of the lot at a later date. He prefers to differentiate what he is building — a livable, practical and convertible space — from a true tiny house.

Although he had to pay the same county impact fees as anyone else building a single family residence in St. Johns (a minimum of about $9,000), he noted that everyone at the county building department was very helpful in the permitting and inspection process.

While his kitchen is necessarily small, Esposito is enthused about the high functionality of it, featuring commercial/restaurant-grade equipment and fixtures to support his cooking hobby.

“One of the neat features is a custom foot pedal set-up on the sink to provide hands-free operation,” he said. “I’m extremely detail-oriented, so I had the plumber hook them up in such a way that it allows both the faucet and the foot pedals to work simultaneously. It’s the type of custom design you would likely only find in the most cutting edge restaurants.”

With plans to enjoy and employ all of his new kitchen features by creating great meals, Esposito is also using an induction cooktop that “just about maxes out the capacity of a standard residential electrical outlet.”

When asked to share a favorite recipe with our readers, Esposito provided an enthusiastic response. His “Butter-less Chocolate Chip Chocolate Cookies” recipe is based on the rationale that the amount of fat and water in butter and the amount of sugar in a standard cookie recipe, compared to the amount of fat and sugar in chocolate, allows for the total removal of butter from the recipe.

Butter-less Chocolate Chip Chocolate Cookies
(all ounces by weight, except for milk)

6.8 oz bar chocolate (60 percent cocoa)
1 egg
1.75 oz sugar
1.75 oz brown sugar (Light for slightly crispier cookies, dark for slightly chewier cookies)
1.5 tbsp. neutral oil (vegetable, canola)
4.5 oz flour
1/2 tsp. salt (slightly less if table salt, slightly more if kosher salt)
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4.75 oz chocolate chips or chunks
1.2 oz milk (optional, makes slightly “cakey” cookies)


Preheat oven to 365 degrees. Melt chocolate gently in microwave (10 – 15 second increments, stirring between each). Stir in egg, sugar, vanilla, milk (if using), oil, baking soda and salt. After a smooth mixture starts to form, add flour and chocolate chips. Fold/stir until just combined. Use a medium cookie scoop to drop cookies onto a parchment lined sheet pan, leaving space in between. Use your thumb to create a depression in the center of the cookie so it spreads evenly. Bake in preheated 365 degree oven for approximately 10 – 12 minutes or until cookie is just set. Remove and allow to cool on the sheet pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a plate (and immediately eating). Recipe makes approximately two dozen small cookies.

With a projected completion date of mid-November 2016, Esposito is looking forward to moving in this year and thinks his unique small house/studio plan may become part of the Esposito Design repertoire.

“There are many neat features throughout the house, but I’m most excited about the kitchen,” he says. “I do hope to continue to hone and leverage my kitchen design skills for those who like to cook!”

With his tall chef’s hat placed firmly on his head, his small house nearing completion and a number of delicious gourmet meals in the planning stages, this young and innovative designer is well on his way to becoming a leader in the small house and kitchen design industries of St. Johns County.

Photo courtesy Joel Esposito

Joel Esposito in his small home under construction.

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