The series of 350-sq.-ft. homes reside alongside the Llano River, outside of Austin
Credit: Alexander Stross

Fred Zipp was an editor of the Austin-American Statesman for 32 years. So when it came time for him and some friends to build a series of vacation homes outside Austin, alongside the Llano River, he was well aware of the conservation and environmental issues facing the region.

Zipp, his wife Jodi, and three other couples turned to the “little house movement” that champions smaller living spaces for inspiration. They partnered with Austin-based architect Matt Garcia for a “compound” of small energy-efficient cabins, each about 350 square feet. The compound has since been dubbed “Bestie Row” across various viral news sites, and Garcia confirms to PEOPLE that the Zipps and the other couples have all been friends for some time, having settled in Austin together around the same time 20 years ago.

“I met the Zipps years before, when I designed their Austin home,” Garcia tells PEOPLE. “We became really good friends.”

“Any good designer or architect is doing sustainable design,” he continues. “It’s a no-brainer at this point, with current water and energy conditions We strive to be artists first, thinking about light, shadow, space, materials, topography, sun and wind, [but] now we have to really consider how to make all of that work and be really energy-conscious and efficient.”

Garcia drew on his childhood in Lubbock, Texas, for the cabins. “The large grain silos and grain elevators were so beautiful, extremely minimal and industrial,” he says, a style that “fit perfectly for the Llano cabins.”

And they’re energy-smart as well: The cabins’ cantilevered “butterfly” roofs funnel rainwater into collective cisterns, and they’re insulated with a heavy-duty spray foam to keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

The centerpiece of the compound is a 1,500-sq.-ft. common building designed with entertaining in mind: A commercial-size range oven and oversize refrigerator are aimed at dinner parties. According to Garden and Gun, Jodi “makes a mean pork and hominy posole.”

So far, the Zipps and their friends aren’t living in their compound – dubbed the “Llano Exit Strategy” – full-time, though they’re taking vacations at the spot.

Garcia says he sees the little-house movement taking off. “If anything ‘good’ came out of the recession,” he says, “it was people hitting reset and realizing they don’t need so much space and stuff to be happy.”

“I love it,” he adds. “And I feel proud to be working with clients who have had that realization, that less is more.”

We’d like to hear from John Mellencamp, if possible.