7 Big Lessons to Learn From Tiny Home Design

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By Kate Reggev
Acclaimed for being sustainable, affordable, and adorable residences, tiny homes are also superb teachers when it comes to organization and design.

With the average tiny home measuring under 500 square feet, these mini abodes often have to be designed radically different from larger traditional houses. Below, we take a look at seven of the biggest lessons one can learn from tiny home design. No matter if you plan to call a tiny house "home" or not, these key tips are relevant to just about any space, large or small.

1. Bigger Doesn't Necessarily Mean Better.

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Los Angeles–based Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir and Tryggvi Thorsteinsson of Miniarc created this 320-square-foot tiny dwelling, Plús Hús, to be a sustainable and useful solution for addressing the housing shortage in their adoptive home. 

Los Angeles–based Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir and Tryggvi Thorsteinsson of Miniarc created this 320-square-foot tiny dwelling, Plús Hús, to be a sustainable and useful solution for addressing the housing shortage in their adoptive home. 

This idea is essentially the core tenet of tiny home living—that a large home doesn't always mean it's better or more thoughtfully designed. With tiny homes, every decision has to be based on thoughtful consideration. More often than not, efficiency rules, leading to a well-designed home.

2. Space Planning Is Critical.

After moving the wall between the kitchen and living areas, this family was able to configure an L-shape, which was critical to adding a full-height refrigerator, full-height pantry, and an 18" dishwasher. They opted for a minimalist black and white aesthetic, with dark black-green cabinets, and a dark soapstone counter.

After moving the wall between the kitchen and living areas, this family was able to configure an L-shape, which was critical to adding a full-height refrigerator, full-height pantry, and an 18" dishwasher. They opted for a minimalist black and white aesthetic, with dark black-green cabinets, and a dark soapstone counter.

Of course, it goes without saying that when you're designing a home under 500 square feet, every inch counts. Yet it cannot be emphasized enough just how critical space planning is in these dwellings, and not just in terms of the different zones of the home—should the living room be located in the middle of the home where it acts as a multi-functional space, or stationed at a far end for more privacy?—but also in the layout within these spaces. For example, like the placement of a shelf or drawer in the kitchen that could save a precious 4 inches of counter space. 

3. Take Advantage of Height.

This couple took advantage of the gabled roof in their tiny home and opted to have their sleeping area in a lofted space.

This couple took advantage of the gabled roof in their tiny home and opted to have their sleeping area in a lofted space.

You may have noticed that in many tiny homes, the bed is located in a lofted space, often under a gabled roof. A gabled roof has the benefit of shedding rain and snow easily, but it also makes an ideal location for a bed, where low head-height is required and the coziness of the space is just an added benefit. By placing the sleeping quarter in a raised space, this frees up the area below for other activities. Storage is another great way to utilize higher ceilings that might otherwise go unused.

4. Invest in Quality Over Quantity.

This Toronto loft is both a home and art gallery. To encourage guests to explore, the architect has designed two built-in light fixtures that cast a dramatic glow across the unit's custom-made wood door.

This Toronto loft is both a home and art gallery. To encourage guests to explore, the architect has designed two built-in light fixtures that cast a dramatic glow across the unit's custom-made wood door.

When you're in a smaller space, you likely have fewer items, simply because there isn't room to keep clutter around. This means that you use these few pieces—whether they're silverware, dish ware, bed linens, or furniture—more heavily than if you had multiple of the same thing. 

As a result, it's much easier for these items to show wear and tear, making fewer, higher-quality pieces that are less likely to break a better choice.

5. Make Furniture and Spaces Multi-Functional.

"We wanted to keep the exterior walls uncluttered, so you can focus on the views, the light, and the air," says the homeowner. To achieve a clean slate, everything gets tucked away, including the mattress and bedding.

"We wanted to keep the exterior walls uncluttered, so you can focus on the views, the light, and the air," says the homeowner. To achieve a clean slate, everything gets tucked away, including the mattress and bedding.

Not only do a lot of pieces need to be high-quality, they also need to be multi-functional, playing multiple roles in the same space. For instance, a dining table can also function well as a desk, and a sofa can easily transform into a bed; the living area may easily be converted into a sleeping space at night, or double as the a dining room during the day. 

If an item can only serve a single function, it should be easily stored so that it takes up as little room as possible.

6. Consider Bespoke Space-Saving Items.

A Dornbracht tap sits above a custom-built glacier white Corian countertop and sink. The sink is covered by a removable cutting board that can be kept in place for an added work surface, or removed for dedicated sink use. The cutout in the center allows water from the tap to flow straight through to the custom Corian drainer.

A Dornbracht tap sits above a custom-built glacier white Corian countertop and sink. The sink is covered by a removable cutting board that can be kept in place for an added work surface, or removed for dedicated sink use. The cutout in the center allows water from the tap to flow straight through to the custom Corian drainer.

While foldable or collapsible beds, tables, and chairs might not be easily found at most furniture stores, their reduced footprint is so important that it can be worth it to have these items custom designed. Even something as small as a cutting board that fits perfectly into the sink basin to allow for additional counter space can make all the difference.

7. Open Up to the Outdoors.

A look at the Wedge tiny home model that features an outdoor porch area.

A look at the Wedge tiny home model that features an outdoor porch area.

Whether it's through multiple windows or a generous porch, opening up to the outdoors can give the illusion of space. While a small home might be desirable because of cost or lifestyle, that doesn't mean that a space should feel tiny or claustrophobic. Large windows can help avoid this, as the eye will be able to travel much farther beyond the walls of the home.