What We Can Learn from Tiny Homes: Tips for Maximizing Your Space

Living room courtesy of Robin Bond Interiors.

Living room courtesy of Robin Bond Interiors.

The idea of a living a more minimalistic lifestyle is appealing to many, as evidenced by the tiny home movement. But not all of us are ready to live in 400 square feet, with our bedroom a loft at the top of a ladder.  In fact, a recent Trulia survey found that nearly half of Americans surveyed want a larger home. 

Even if you aren’t ready to downsize to a tiny space, you can get tiny home advantages in a not-so-tiny footprint. Here are a few ways to apply tiny home-concepts to traditional home design.

Rethink the Formal Dining. Be honest. How many times have you used your formal dining room? If you aren’t regularly entertaining and serving family and guests in it, that space can be better used – or eliminated – in your next home. The idea is not a new one, but it has taken consumers (and architects) awhile to adapt home designs to it.

“Almost 100 years ago, Frank Lloyd Wright at Fallingwater in Pennsylvania argued that a room should be used for many functions.  He did not have a dedicated dining room in this most famous of all residences,” notes Austin, Texas, architect Janet Hobbs of Hobbs Ink.  “Dining for two or for 20 was accomplished in the same place by reconfiguring furniture in what we would now call a great room. It has taken us a while to catch up to this forward-thinking concept, but most of the homes we design do not have separate breakfast and dining areas.”

Study the Study. The formal study, another room that was a staple of traditional home designs for years, is being replaced or merged with other footage in home designs.  “The traditional study - an entire room with wood paneling and double French doors, visible from the foyer -- is a folly in this day and age when most business can be transacted on a handheld device,” says Hobbs. “This room is often 200 or more square feet that is a terrible waste of space.”

As people increasingly are working from home, however, buyers generally want a dedicated work space. With a little creativity, you can have that space and still save square footage. 

“An office nook can fit in as little space as a kitchen pantry and provide all the room needed, even for a homeowner who works from home,” Hobbs says. “It can be tucked under the stairs, or at the entrance to the house from the garage, or just about anywhere you can find about 40 square feet.” 

Another option is to maximize a guest room. “We recently worked with a client who used her guest room to serve double purpose as a work space,” says Robin Bond, CWTC, Green AP, lead designer and president of Robin Bond Interiors in Austin.  “My client was able to use the space on a daily basis, allowing an otherwise unused space to be functional.”

Find Creative Storage Places. Tiny homes have mastered the art of creative storage, with ideas that traditional homeowners can adapt as well. Begin by making furniture double as storage. Ottomans with lids that open, and beds with storage drawers beneath, are great options. Or how about a window seat in the game room that opens to hide away toys? In addition, under-stair storage options are almost limitless, from pull-out drawers, to closets and even bookshelves and display nooks. And don’t forget to look up when considering storage options; think high shelving for seldom-used items, or to house decorative baskets that hide kitchen gadgets.

Get Flexible. Rather than have multiple rooms each dedicated to a different type of use, create "flex rooms," suggests Hobbs. Her home designs feature open-concept flexible spaces for living, dining and cooking -- but flex rooms don’t have to end there. A recent design for a custom builder included a craft room/utility room combo, for example. With lots of work space and cabinets for hobbies, the flex space approach turned a boring utilitarian room into one that can be used for multiple activities. 

“Have a room that does double, or even triple-duty,” agrees Bond, whose firm recently transformed a dreary basement space into high-performing multi-use space. “Now, backing up to the living room space is a kitchen, eating bistro, desk and to top it off the sofa folds out into a bed.  My client’s guests can be comfortable here for an extended length of time and have everything they need,” she says. 

Keep it Simple. Keeping colors to a whole-house color palette is another design trick to give smaller spaces a bigger feel. Using a single color palette throughout the house “lets you visually add space by keeping to a simple,” notes Bond. Get bonus points by ridding your home of unnecessary clutter, to achieve a clean, organized look.

Downsize Furnishings.  Large, heavy, ornate wood furnishing and oversized seating add bulk to your space, making it feel smaller and more crowded. Home furnishing retailers like West Elm. Pottery Barn and Resource Furniture have caught on to the small home movement, and now offer smaller, multifunctional and modular collections. 

Take the indoors outside. There’s perhaps no better way to make a room feel larger than to open it up to the outdoors. Large windows bring natural light in, and porches extend the living space. “We are very fortunate here in Austin that, other than a few scorching hot months, we can enjoy our outdoor spaces for much of the year,” notes Bond. “You can literally add thousands of square feet of living this way.  Add in outdoor fans, heaters and misters and you can extend the amount of time these areas can be enjoyed. “

Freelance writer and marketer Sue Durio has been writing about construction, design and related products for more than 18 years. Connect with her on Linkedin.

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