Tiny house living: 3 big design elements to focus on

Jennifer Noonan | Improvement Center Columnist | March 15, 2016

A tiny, tropical houseThe average American home has ballooned to nearly 2600 square feet in recent years. The appetite for more and more space has left many consumed by debt and buried in "stuff." It's no surprise that many wonder if it's all really worth it. As a result, the tiny house movement has begun to build steam. Though there's no technical specification for what makes a "tiny house," they are generally considered to be between 100 - 400 square feet. For most, that requires significant downsizing. However, you can still live large in a tiny home, where the emphasis is not on size, but rather, quality and character.

Space efficiency

Living the tiny lifestyle is all about doing more with less, and being ultra-efficient about it. Innovative design elements and out-of-the-box thinking lead the way.


Tiny house footprints require you to use every bit of your space wisely. Especially the vertical space. That's why so many tiny house's incorporate lofts for either working or sleeping. Skylights and dormers can help a loft space feel bigger and more open. Murphy beds and hideaway furniture can help lofts be multi-functional - making them sleeping quarters at night, and useful space for work and play during the day.

Modular, multi-functional & hideaway furniture.

The best tiny homes have few, if any, unitaskers - even when it comes to furniture. Most any piece of furniture in a tiny house will include some sort of storage element. And those that don't, find a way to disappear. Murphy beds fold up into the wall during the day, and drop leaf tables pop open at mealtime. Modular furniture elements like crates and cubes that stack, and can be used in multiple ways, are a big bonus in a tiny space.

Smaller appliances.

Downsizing to a tiny house means scaling everything back - including kitchen appliances. Full sized refrigerators, ovens and ranges take up too much real estate. But luckily, there are tiny-friendly versions of all that equipment. And there's so much more available than that dorm fridge you remember from college. Refrigerator/freezer combos, washer/dryers, air conditioners, and even dishwashers all come in compact, even portable, designs.

Streamlined design.

There's no room in a tiny house for chunky built-ins and ornate banisters. In fact, many forgo stair banisters altogether to keep the space open and unfettered. Staircases are narrower, and cabinets and shelving have smaller profiles, to keep from hogging space, and to help them blend into the overall design.

Bringing the inside out

When space is limited indoors, you want to integrate your house into the property it stands on. Interior designers talk about "bringing the outside in." In the tiny house movement, you take the inside out. You create outdoor spaces that extend the living space beyond the walls of a tiny house, and use architectural elements like sliding glass doors, or covered porches, to help the spaces feel integrated. Patios, porches, and outdoor rooms make a huge impact on the quality of tiny living. There's no limit to what you can do. Tiny homes can have rooftop gardens, sleeping porches, outdoor dining rooms, and even swimming pools.

Style & quality over size

One of the great upsides of designing a tiny home is that you don't need to spend a huge amount of money on any one material. So, you can afford to splurge on some things that are super high quality and/or exotic. And it's much more feasible to incorporate unique, one-of-a-kind elements, or the work of master craftspeople into the design. Exotic hardwoods, high-end tile, and artistically inspired pieces can come together in a tiny home to exhibit a lot of character and reflect the owner's values.

Living tiny doesn't mean living limited. It means living with what you really need and want, and letting go of the rest. When your home consumes less of your time, energy, and money, you can put those resources into enjoying the rest of your life. A life as large as you want it to be.

About the Author

A confessed DIY junkie, Jennifer writes about home improvement, gardening, upcycling, and all things do-it-yourself. She lives in Delaware with her husband and daughters, where she is ardently teaching the next generation how to use power tools.