Small-House De­sign Strate­gies

Smart so­lu­tions for liv­ing large in your not-so-big home.

Timber Home Living - - Contents -

Smart so­lu­tions for liv­ing large in your not-so-big home.

While many con­tinue to be­lieve that big­ger is always bet­ter, we’re here to tell you that small homes are here to stay. That’s right; de­spite the post-re­ces­sion re­turn to in­creas­ing me­dian new sin­gle-fam­ily house size, there seems to be a move­ment afoot among those who in­tend to live small de­lib­er­ately and com­fort­ably. “It’s not only more af­ford­able and gen­tler on the en­vi­ron­ment, but it can be em­pow­er­ing to have less to main­tain,” says Katie Hutchi­son, ar­chi­tect, pho­tog­ra­pher and au­thor of The New Small House (Taun­ton). “It also means less to dis­tract from what mat­ters, while still en­joy­ing more of your time and more of the space you do have.”

Hutchi­son’s state­ment seems to specif­i­cally ap­ply to those in the cus­tom-home mar­ket where, for a num­ber of rea­sons, from cost to co­zi­ness, peo­ple are de­cid­ing to swap out added square footage for more ef­fi­cient, com­fort­able and qual­ity de­signs. But while home­own­ers seem to be fall­ing for smaller spa­ces, they’re fac­ing new chal­lenges when it comes to mak­ing those spa­ces re­ally work for their ev­ery­day lives.

“When you’re build­ing a smaller home, it’s re­ally im­por­tant that ev­ery inch of space work. It’s chal­leng­ing, but it is pos­si­ble,” says Jeremy Bonin, Prin­ci­pal Part­ner and Lead Ar­chi­tect at Bonin Ar­chi­tects in New Lon­don, New Hamp­shire. “The big­gest chal­lenge when aim­ing to build small is fall­ing prey to what we call ‘project creep,’ where we de­cide to make some­thing just a lit­tle bit big­ger, and then the rest of the house fol­lows suit.”

Af­ter this hap­pens sev­eral times, Bonin ex­plains, an ex­tra 100 square feet quickly be­comes an ex­tra 1,000. “Keep­ing a tar­get square footage or foot­print as a prime goal in the al­len­com­pass­ing list of goals is key,” he says. “Com­pare choices and potential changes against that goal, and care­fully weigh the im­pact they’ll have be­fore mak­ing a fi­nal de­ci­sion.”

For­tu­nately, by de­cid­ing to build a tim­ber home, you’re al­ready one step ahead when it comes to choos­ing a house style that lives large. One of the

main rea­sons peo­ple grav­i­tate to a tim­ber home is be­cause they’re drawn to the wide-open feel­ing that comes nat­u­rally from the unique frame, no mat­ter the square footage.

But even with the in­her­ent qual­i­ties that come with a tim­ber home, you’ll still need to in­cor­po­rate de­sign el­e­ments to make your house func­tion well with­out be­ing clumsy and claus­tro­pho­bic. In fact, you can even make a few de­ci­sions that will make the space feel even larger than it ac­tu­ally is. Here, we share four ways to make the not-so-big idea work seam­lessly in your tim­ber home.


In her award-win­ning book, The Not So Big House (Taun­ton), ar­chi­tect and au­thor Sarah Su­sanka talks about in­ten­tion­ally cre­at­ing di­ag­o­nal views, a strat­egy long used by chore­og­ra­phers and the­ater di­rec­tors to cre­ate added depth on the stage.

“Think about it: In a rec­tan­gu­lar or square space, if you lo­cate the en­trance di­ag­o­nally from the fo­cal point of the room, whether it be a wall of win­dows or a stun­ning kitchen, the in­creased distance be­tween the two points will make the room feel much larger,” ex­plains Bonin.

The rea­son for this phe­nom­e­non re­lies on sim­ple math. Just as the hy­potenuse of a tri­an­gle is the long­est line, in a square room the di­ag­o­nal view is the long­est di­men­sion. If you make a point to cre­ate a num­ber of di­ag­o­nal views within your home, you will per­ceive the house to be larger than it is.


When most of us think of home cir­cu­la­tion, we think about ven­ti­la­tion and in­door air qual­ity. Here, we’re talk­ing about the pas­sage­ways within your house.

In a smaller home, don’t make the mis­take of try­ing to save space by sac­ri­fic­ing square feet at the en­try and in hall­ways. When you en­ter a house and al­ready feel like you don’t have enough room to move around, you’re set­ting the tone for the rest of the home’s in­te­rior.

“Keep an en­try open to at least one ad­join­ing space, if pos­si­ble, and if the stair­way is lo­cated next to the en­try, keep that open, too,” sug­gests Bonin. “Open views into nearby rooms or stair­wells will make a room feel larger than its ac­tual di­men­sions.” Also, if you de­cide to in­clude tra­di­tional hall­ways in your de­sign, find ways to in­tro­duce light through win­dows, sconces and lighted art­work.


While open spa­ces al­low a small house to feel big­ger, a small house that’s too open can feel in­hos­pitable. “Many of us like to tuck aside oc­ca­sion­ally to en­joy some quiet time while still in sight of shared, larger spa­ces,” ex­plains Hutchi­son. To of­fer this op­tion, pop­u­late the perime­ter of open spa­ces with pock­ets for pri­vacy where folks can sam­ple soli­tude with­out feel­ing iso­lated. “Win­dow seats, desk al­coves and/ or in­glenooks with over­head sof­fits or slightly dropped ceil­ings pro­vide quiet mo­ments to take a breath with­out miss­ing any­thing,” Hutchi­son adds.


Of all the qual­i­ties that peo­ple de­sire in a house, “light-filled” is among the most pop­u­lar — and it stands to rea­son. Day­light makes a home feel more wel­com­ing, while win­dows con­nect us to the out­side world. But just like square footage, it’s not the num­ber of win­dows that make a house feel larger, but their func­tion and place­ment.

When plac­ing win­dows in a smaller home, think about the out­side view first. If you want to re­ally cap­ture the ex­te­rior land­scape, place win­dows no more than 30 inches off the floor. If win­dows are higher than that, the out­side view will be lim­ited when you’re sit­ting down. In bed­rooms, lower lev­els and all seat­ing ar­eas, win­dowsills should be brought down so they don’t ob­struct views, mak­ing peo­ple feel closed in.

Other smart ideas for win­dows in­clude cor­ner win­dows (two win­dows that come to­gether in a cor­ner), which ex­tend the di­ag­o­nal views to the out­side. A win­dow that’s placed right up against the edge of a ceil­ing with­out a frame also makes a space feel big­ger be­cause it’s re­ally serv­ing as a seethrough wall and con­nect­ing the in­doors to the out­side.

“Nat­u­ral light is always im­por­tant, but it’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant in a smaller home. It im­proves moods, pro­duc­tiv­ity and fos­ters a pos­i­tive re­ac­tion to a space,” ex­plains Bonin. For more small-space so­lu­tions, log on to

Smart de­sign so­lu­tions like a pow­der room tucked un­der a stair­case or an in­ti­mate built-in break­fast nook are great ways to make the most of your space in a small house, all while adding in­stant charm.

[art: an im­age of a win­dow seat or read­ing nook would work here]

Cre­ated to pay trib­ute to the big­gest trend in home de­sign, The New Small House ex­plores the grow­ing move­ment to­ward not-so-big liv­ing. Start­ing off with 10 key small-home de­sign strate­gies, ar­chi­tect Katie Hutchi­son then presents read­ers with a num­ber of homes that il­lus­trate how to take those ideas and trans­late them into real-life liv­ing. Packed with beau­ti­ful pho­tog­ra­phy, de­tailed floor plans and smart take­away tips, this book is the per­fect guide for any home­design en­thu­si­ast in­ter­ested in think­ing big, but liv­ing small. (Taun­ton Press, $32)

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