10 SMALL HOUSE DESIGN STRATEGIES
If you’ve ever spent time in a small house, you’re probably already aware of the challenges. A SMALL HOUSE DESIGN runs the risk of feeling cramped and confining.
On the flip side, it can feel cozy, connected, and comfortable.
Determining what factors contribute to each of those feelings can help determine how a design can avoid small space drawbacks and enhance small space assets.
The 10 design strategies enumerated here aim to support an expansive, versatile, and well-crafted small house that relates well to its environment and natural forces.
These strategies are presented somewhat in the order you might address them as you begin your design process.
Starting from the broadest strokes and progressing to the finest lines.
But, of course, the design process is fluid, and you might find yourself moving back.
and forth between a handful of the strategies or even getting an initial spark from the last strategy presented here.
1 – BE SENSITIVE TO THE SITE (SMALL HOUSE DESIGN)
Your site may be your house’s greatest asset.
If your house is in the country or near a body of water, it may boast a significant natural feature or view.
Organize your small house and outbuildings in relation to the natural feature or view.
That may mean placing the house in sight of the natural feature without crowding it.
Or it may suggest arranging your small house parallel to a wide view or in a way that frames an isolated view.
Whether your house is located more remotely or is in a village or in town.
place your small house so its relationship to other site elements, or outbuildings shapes a rectangular outdoor room or series of outdoor rooms.
SMALL HOUSE DESIGN
Semicontained outdoor spaces can greatly expand small-house living area in temperate months.
Incorporate hedges, pergolas, arbors, and fences to bound open edges and/or lead to site features.
A small footprint will allow you to tread lightly on your property and to take advantage of its natural assets.
Site the spaces in your house to capture natural daylight and augment or buffer its heat, depending on climate and season.
2 – PAY ATTENTION TO THE THIRD DIMENSION
Most folks who embark on the design of a small house begin by sketching a plan.
Though the plan is a vital tool in conceiving how a small house is organized and flows, it represents only a two-dimensional view from above.
But, of course, a small house is experienced three dimensionally from eye level.
Considering the third (vertical) dimension is critical.
Despite a small footprint, a soaring ceiling may lift our spirits, suggest a shared communal space, and allow for an additional function like a sleeping loft.
A lowered ceiling or soffit may suggest a more intimate or task-oriented space within or bordering a taller space.
Just as the ceiling may be adjusted up or down, so can the floor plane.
Stepped floor levels may differentiate a small space without dividing it.
Even the height of elements on an exterior wall can significantly impact a small house.
SMALL HOUSE DESIGN
A windowsill 8 in. above the floor may feel less enclosing and, therefore, more expansive than a sill that’s 3 ft.
above the floor. Similarly, a window head that’s 8 ft.
above the floor may feel less enclosing and more expansive than a window head that’s 7 ft. above the floor.
Consider starting the design of your small house by sketching a vertical section.
(or vertical slice through your house), instead of the plan, in order to better take advantage of the third dimension.
3 – BORROW DAYLIGHT AND VIEW (SMALL HOUSE DESIGN)
I’m convinced that people, like many plants, need abundant daylight to thrive.
A small house should capture daylight where it can from multiple directions, and share it generously with the various spaces it contains.
Open plans, ample windows, half-wall dividers, cased openings, and translucent or clear-glass paneled interior doors and partitions.
to name a few features, allow daylight to travel more deeply into the interior of a house.
enlivening and seemingly expanding what might otherwise feel like small, cramped spaces.
Similarly, views through one space to another and on to the exterior lend a sense of spaciousness.
A borrowed view seen from the kitchen, across a dining space, through a living space.
and out a window allows those in the kitchen to feel connected to the other spaces and outdoors, rather than hemmed in by tight walls.
Cased openings, dropped beams over columns, and interior windows often lend order to open spaces.
mark view thresholds, and can extend daylight and view.
4 – MAKE A BIG STATEMENT
Just because a house is small doesn’t mean everything in and on it should be small.
In fact, a small house begs for some larger spaces, features, and furnishings.
A small house that is primarily a single larger open room that uses low walls, soffits.
and/or columns or posts to differentiate space, (with perhaps one smaller room for a bathroom and some pockets for privacy), will generally feel more expansive than the same square footage carved into multiple smaller rooms.
Likewise, a room with larger windows, on several sides, will likely feel more generous than one containing smaller windows punched into more enclosing walls.
even if the windows are on more than one wall.
A larger room with larger features can also comfortably accommodate some larger furnishings like a substantial chaise or beefy armchair and ottoman.
Of course, if you overstuff a room—even if it’s large—with swollen furniture, the room will start to feel cramped. It all comes down to balance.
5 – CREATE MULTIPURPOSE SPACES
Spaces that are open to each other allow for overlap of function and greater flexibility.
There simply isn’t room in a small house to accommodate a different room for each activity or numerous hallways.
Even opening a stairway with a more transparent or porous guard rail can add visual space to an adjacent living area.
Moveable elements like partitions or doors on tracks, cabinetry on wheels, and built-ins that fold furnishings into walls also allow spaces to be used for multiple purposes.
Slide partitions open between sleeping alcoves and an adjacent central space to create a shared kids’ playroom.
Roll a kitchen island aside to make room for more leaves to be added to a dining table.
Fold a bed into a wall to transform a bedroom
into a living room. Multipurpose furnishings or millwork can spark a second use for a space.
Try to provide for several activities for every area—like a stair landing that is also a window seat—to fully enjoy small-house versatility.
6 – SHAPE POCKETS FOR PRIVACY
While open spaces allow a small house to feel bigger, a small house that’s too open can feel inhospitable.
Most of us like to tuck aside occasionally to enjoy some quiet time while still in sight of shared, larger spaces.
Populate the perimeter of open spaces with pockets for privacy where folks can sample some solitude without feeling left out of nearby activity.
Window seats, desk alcoves, and/or inglenooks with overhead soffits or slightly dropped ceilings provide quiet moments to take a breath without missing anything.
Pockets needn’t be small, just smaller. A kitchen can be a pocket. A loft can be a pocket. Plan for pockets for peace of mind.
7 – BRING THE INDOORS OUT (SMALL HOUSE DESIGN)
AND THE OUTDOORS IN Create a sense of spaciousness by expanding your living area onto a deck, patio, and/or outdoor room.
A sleeping porch, dining pavilion, or outside fireplace or fire pit all extend the indoors into the outdoors.
Alternatively, create a sense of spaciousness by welcoming daylight and outdoor scenes deep into a small house.
with the aid of large windows, clerestory windows, transom windows, skylights, roof monitors, and/or interior courtyards that bring the outdoors in.
Even something as simple as continuing a patio flooring material onto an adjacent kitchen floor. Or extending a wooden dining-area ceiling material out over intervening windows onto exterior eave soffits can stretch the indoor–outdoor boundary.
Wicker chairs in a breakfast nook and an upholstered loveseat on an open-sided covered outdoor space can likewise delight and blur indoor–outdoor boundaries.
8 – SELECT A SUCCINCT FINISH PALETTE
Since much of a small house may be visible all at once.
it’s a good idea to reduce the palette of finish materials to a handful of elements that work well together.
Perhaps the flooring is primarily one material and changes to another only under limited circumstances.
Maybe it’s wood most everywhere, including the kitchen and bathrooms, but stone tile at the entry and exit locations.
Depending on the design of the house, this might mean a strip of large stone tile along an exterior wall of French doors or sliders, and wood flooring elsewhere.
A succinct finish palette will help tie spaces together and allow them to read as a larger singular space rather than a cacophony of divided spaces.
Apply the same type of thinking to the interior paint palette.
Choose perhaps one trim color to apply throughout the house and only one or two harmonious colors for walls and perhaps repeat a color or introduce a third on the ceilings.
The continuity of your choices will allow discreet accents to pop rather than overwhelm.
9 – INVEST IN QUALITY MATERIALS THAT MATTER
A small house often has a small budget, so choosing how to expend that budget is crucial.
Invest in quality materials where they matter most to you without breaking the bank.
Choose serviceable but more economical materials elsewhere.
If your heart aches for the soft leather-like look and feel of soapstone counters, spring for them, but consider placing them atop affordable IKEA® base cabinets.
If your idea of living is a clear-finished fir tongueand- groove ceiling, consider it for your office alcove ceiling or on soffits above built-in window seats.
But perhaps use fir overhead only sparingly as a beam treatment in the living space.
Maybe faucets are your thing.
Go ahead, get that deluxe rainmaker showerhead and high-design hand shower.
But choose respectable, low-cost subway tile for the shower walls.
Don’t be afraid to mix high and medium quality, just avoid low quality.
Apply the same thinking to your furnishings.
10 – DESIGN DISTINCTIVE DETAILS THAT
RELATE TO THE BIG PICTURE
One of the joys of designing a small house is the opportunity to express an idea through a big gesture and down to the smallest detail.
Unlike larger, more complex houses, a small house can more easily communicate an integrated vision.
It can be evident in a barnlike form of a house and its barnlike interior partitions. A minimalist exterior siding treatment paired with a minimalist interior finish detail.
and an exterior window composition reflected in an interior cubby configuration.
Imparting a bigger idea in a small detail lends a small house clarity.
Details like a slatted wall finish. grooved planks that continue up an interior wall and onto a sloped ceiling. and book nooks punctuating a wall are most satisfying when they relate to the overall design.
Distinctive details can make wonderful sense.
Of course, the 10 design strategies introduced here are interrelated. They work best in combination and are open to interpretation.
In the following chapters, we’ll explore how they can be combined and interpreted in a variety of small houses and retreats.
Look to these examples for inspiration
SMALL HOUSE DESIGN
Ultimately, imagine what you and your design professional can cook up by combining.
and interpreting the design strategies to suit your proclivities and specific situation.
Sometimes you’ll need to let your design simmer. It’s an evolving process.
Now that we’ve lived in our small house for a while, I have some new landscaping ideas percolating.
so we can shape additional outdoor rooms and carve out secret-garden pockets for privacy.
With these 10 small-house design strategies in hand, however you combine and/or interpret them.
you’ll be better equipped to create a small house. that informs and inspires the life you aim to live now and in the future.
And when someone comes upon your SMALL HOUSE DESIGN and is smitten, you’ll know why.