Managing Space in a Tiny Home

by Kent Griswold on June 13th, 2013. 22 Comments
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Guest Post by Nicholas Haywood 

Tiny homes can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you are incapable of accumulating useless junk. On the other, we as tiny home owners would often prefer to keep at least a portion of that junk. Fear not. There are ways to increase the amount of space available to store all of those wonderful items that you cannot live without.

Utilize All Spaces

It’s not that tiny homes lack space to store items; it’s that the space that is available isn’t always utilized to its full potential. Walls and ceiling space are valuable resources that tiny home owners may fail to utilize to their full potential.

  • Additional storage areas or shelves can be built near the ceiling to create additional storage areas in spacious rooms.
  • Purchasing shoe shelves that can be attached to the doors of your bedroom will allow you to store shoes behind doors which would otherwise be unusable.
  • Floor to ceiling shelves will allow homeowners to utilize all of the space available in the room. Doing this with all the walls may be too much, but utilizing this method on some of the walls will provide tiny homeowners with a lot of vital space.
mason jars

Photo Credit: Tammy Strobel

Dual Purpose Furnishing

If you are a tiny homeowner, dual purpose furnishings will allow you and your family to make the most out of all your furniture choices. Not only can it magically create more storage space, dual purpose furniture can allow you to choose which house you want to show guests: the crowded, cramped house born of necessity or the spacious, well-crafted illusion.

  • The couch by day and bed by night is the oldest dual purpose furniture on the market. This piece of furniture is a solid way to save space if you do not have enough room in your house for a full bed.
  • This sofa/table can serve as either a 2 or 3 person couch or a 6 person table.
  • Stow ottomans serve as both seats and additional storage spaces. They can provide additional areas to put must have items.
  • Window seats can be created that serve as both as storage areas and a comfortable place to entertain guests or curl up with a book. The only downside of this plan is that the glare from the sun can create an uncomfortable atmosphere and can cause cushion fabric to fade over time. Both problems can be dealt with by applying window film to the window or purchasing blinds.
  • For additional dual purpose furniture ideas you can peruse this article.

day bed

Think Smaller Appliances

Why does everything have to be so big? The mainstream American refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers, are all massive items that take up room that tiny home owners may not be able to give up to the appliances.

Thankfully someone heard the cries of distress from hundreds of tiny homeowners and created a solution. Fun size appliances.

  • Tiny portable dishwashers akin to the size of a larger microwave can be acquired for your kitchen. This small appliance can be set on top of your countertop.
  • Washer/Dryer combos allow homeowners to purchase only one huge appliance to do the job of two. Stackable washers and dryers will also save space.
  • Tiny refrigerator/freezers about waist height are sold. They have all of the capabilities of the larger refrigerators, but with slightly less storage space.

tiny dishwasher

With a few tactics you can transform your tiny cramped home, into a spacious living space that can still manage to hold more than you ever thought possible. Once you have started your home’s transformation you will wonder how you ever lived in the old version of your home.

22 Responses to “Managing Space in a Tiny Home”

  1. alice h says:

    I’ve been working on scale models for my “Swiss Army” kitchen, sewing area and computer desk. Most of the things can be used in place as is and have one or more configurations but the key to all is minimal disturbance during the changes. All the extra work surfaces either pull out from under a permanent counter or flip or slide in place, some have both options. There is a flip down desk/table beside my built-in daybed, cut as a section of the door of the computer armoire so you can just sit on the bed and pull the computer out through the hole left by dropping the desk or use the table for other things. The armoire has a lot of work surface that pull out on drawer slides and the doors will slide back into the cabinet when open. The sewing area has a double drop leaf table that tucks underneath the sewing desk and can be used in place with one leaf up for sewing, pulled out with one or two leaves up for either cutting fabric or dining for four. There is storage in the base. Curtains can cover the pegboard storage on either side of the window above the desk as well as the window or be opened fully for access.

    In the kitchen there’s a base cabinet with butcher block top that can pull out from under the counter, a double drop leaf storage cabinet that pulls out of the lower pantry and can be a dining table for one or two, extra counter space that pulls out from the centre part of the pantry on drawer slides, plus the entire pantry can be pulled out and a drop down counter section can cover the space it leaves. Extra work space when you need it, plain old space when you tuck it all away. At the entry the shoe storage ottoman will pull out from under a permanent bench top so it can be used as extra seating without losing an entry bench. The only chair will be a rolling office type (but a comfy one) that can move anywhere needed. Two people can sit on the daybed, two on the other seating when the larger dining table is in place. Locking casters are handy and I’ll figure out some kind of anti-tip system for the pantry when extended. Lots of options for different configurations.

    • Natalie says:

      I think there would be a lot of interest in your scale models & drawings of your various Swiss Army Knife multi-use furnishings. Hope you take some photos to share with the rest of us! Sounds wonderful and very useful.

      • alice h says:

        Once I get the foamboard models done I can take pictures. The cardstock models are a bit flimsy and floppy and don’t photograph well, though I did take pictures of them in my scale model tiny house that kind of shows the basic idea. Not sure how or where I would post that.

  2. alice h says:

    One more idea I saw someplace, the person sewed storage pockets into their curtains.

    • Hope Henry says:

      If you don’t want to sew, there are shower curtains with pockets already in them. I use shoe bags in my closet to hold underwear and socks…no need for a drawer. You can also get jewelry holders that hang in the closet on a hanger and take up the space of one thin garment…same thing with scarf holders and belt and tie holders.

  3. MelD says:

    Ottomans that hold a spare bed, coffee tables that become dining tables (adjustable height), tables used as desks, shelves over doors or mounted high on the ceilings, wall-mounted TVs (or anything!), and anything that does double/triple/quadruple duty!
    When the Swedish population flocked to the cities in the 1920s, the apartments built were small and therefore they had to be creative – hence Ikea having many good items like this (fold down tables…). English houses are small, too, and so the furniture tends to be similar in scale.
    As for appliances – I don’t know why Europeans are craving American appliances, now! I would much prefer a slim 18″ dishwasher in my kitchen to the regular 24″ I have and I don’t need the relatively large fridge in my kitchen, either, I’d much rather have a below-counter-level model (household of 3 adults) – and that’s despite being in Europe!
    I keep things as small and multi-functional as possible!

  4. Brenda says:

    The Sue Grafton alphabet mystery novels frequently reference the joys of small space living – her heroine lives in a cleverly finished out garage, fitted something like a small yacht I think.

  5. Wengue says:

    How about less appliances? Rather then a tiny dishwasher occupying countertop space why not wash dishes by hand? Ditto a dryer… hang laundry outdoors if you live where the weather will permit this. I do it even in winter under an awning. In summer it dries in a day, in winter might take a few days. But it’s free and occupies no space.

    • Hope Henry says:

      I plan to build a greenhouse…hanging the laundry inside will not only give me free clothes drying, but help to increase the moisture available for my plants.

      • Susie says:

        some wonderful ideas on here. I plan to have my tiny house with my bed raised on top of a storage area, vardo style. Underneath will be beadboard double cabinet doors that slide accross each other, and inside, a half height garment rod in one, with shoe storage on the bottom; and in the other, a roll out double sided multi-basket basket-bank container that will house all my foldables, linens, undies, sox, etc. I am handy, so I shall make those my self. the castors will slide 4 ways, so I can put one back, then slide it over to replace the second. I plan to surround the inside of my bed ‘nook’ with corner shelving for books and nick-knacks, install a mini home made chandelier, lots of comfy cushions, and make it as boho as I can… If I can fit a small bathroom lengthways along the side of my bed, then I shall, as for a loft, there may or may not be room for one above the bed, but if not, I’ll use it for storage, as I am an avid crafter – fabic, yarn, wood, etc. and that’s how I make my ‘gravy’.

        After emerging from my wonderful nest of a bed, There would be a window on the left, followed by a kitchen island at right angles to the wall. Small sink, maybe a 2 ring propane burner, or, if I can fit it in the PV load, an induction burner that tucks away into the cabinet when not in use. French press for coffee. Dishes done by hand, (bare minimum kept to avoid clutter)I have found a small clothes washer that stores away when not in use, it is hand cranked,much like a salad spinner. Nice low foot print. In fact, I have found many hand operated rather and electric gadgets.

        I have drawn out many floor plans until I have found one that works for me. I wish to custom make most of my furniture, and have also managed to find an old treadle powered sewing machine. For dining, I think modifying an old Amish idea is ideal, they used to hang the chairs on the wall, well, why not take it a step further? have a folding bistro table and two chairs that hang on the wall when not in use? especially if you paint them as art pieces.

        I would have a desk slide out of the other side of the kitchen island to accommodate myself on the home made sofa bed running the length of the room, of course with storage underneath. On the opposite wall would be the nice slim wall mounted tv, visible from sofa, bed, kitchen prep, & sewing area. The dining/sewing area would be the nice little 3 sided window bump out next to the front door. That way I could choose to sew looking out the window on good days, or turn around and watch tv, while I work, during bad weather.
        I have also planned an out door shower and hammock area, with a little patio and outdoor fire place, out door cooking (simple tri pod and dutch oven)lots of twinkling solar lights, herbs, veggies, etc.

        If you are looking for lots of space saving ideas, I have been collecting them on my Pinterest boards
        http://pinterest.com/susieq007vt/tiny-house-ideas/
        feel free to browse away, and poach my poached ideas…. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just what is out there…

        • alice h says:

          Love how well-thought out your plan is and how suited to your own way of living. That’s the biggest advantage of DIY, tailor made for you.

  6. Julie says:

    Thank you for this article, and thanks for the commenters — what a wonderful community. Alice, I love your concept of a “Swiss Army” house. And Brenda, I also think along those lines, with boat-style practicalities. Some thoughts: 1. I have a shed that I’ve dreamed for years of turning into a tiny house (it’s 8 x 12). It has a gambrel roof, which permits so much more room above. Is there a practical reason why small houses are typical the slanted, pitched roofs and NOT gambrel style? 2. I have a 1920s cast-iron clawfoot bathtub that I’ve had in storage for more than 10 years. What do you think of setting up a bed OVER it (suspended a bit, either by slidng in a piece of plywood into slots on the sides of the wall to hold a mattress that is stored out of the way, or Murphy-type)? Is there a reason a bathtub SHOULDN’T be in an area where you’d sleep (or, perhaps, have a drop-leaf desk instead of a bed)? Thanks for any input!!

    • alice h says:

      I think the main reason people don’t build more gambrel roofs is that it’s more work and more complicated with the extra angle cuts. If yours is already built you’re ahead of the game.

      No reason why a tub and bed shouldn’t be close as long as water isn’t left in the tub and provisions are made to keep the bed dry when using the tub. There are also some examples around of tubs set into a floor with a section of flooring that lifts out for access.

      • Julie says:

        Thanks, Alice.

        I have had so many ideas over the years, and have felt very alone with them and without the confidence to say, “Hey, this COULD work.” I’m not handy, either (although that again might simply be confidence). I appreciate so much that this community exists, and that people are enthusiastically living it, and building, and being ever more creative. JOY!

        • Hope Henry says:

          I have seen bathtubs under beds…also under the flooring. If you plan to have a vardo, consider using a large plastic tub (like for storage or gardening) and a completely surrounding shower curtain, hooked onto a hoop (maybe a heavy-duty hula hoop?) that is suspended temporarily from the ceiling…the tub can be emptied with small buckets onto the garden or into a water tank (plastic garbage can, etc.) outdoors for later use…I have a water hose attachment glued to the bottom of a large garbage can that I use to re-direct wash water during drought…

      • Susie says:

        As far as a gambrel roof being more difficult to cut because of the angles, as a quilter,I have always taken a slightly different approach to carpentry to make sure I get it right. If I can draw it out on a concrete pad first, full size, in chalk, make sure every thing fits, then I have a plug and play template that I just have to cut to fit, just like paper piecing in quilting. Once I have made one truss that fits and works, then I just make the others all the same. That way, I don’t so much have to worry about measuring angles, just transferring the marks that work on the template to the next piece that I am cutting. This works extra well if you number the order of cuts and assembly for maximum efficiency. But then again, I could be a bit anal sometimes, lol.

  7. Benjamin says:

    European refrigerators in general are much more sensible than ours. I have been searching in vain for years for a fridge that has about 4 cu. feet of freezer and 4 cu. feet of refrigerated space that is also at least Energy Star efficient and doesn’t cost thousands of dollars. Just doesn’t exist. American compact refrigerators assume all you want to freeze are ice cubes.

    • Jennifer says:

      This is exactly the thing that bothers me most about smaller freezers too. I like to buy large quantities of veggies from the farmers’ market to prepare and freeze, so that I have a constant supply of multiple veggies without having to buy those expensive bags of frozen stuff in the supermarket, or having to make multiple trips to buy fresh veggies all the time (and then worrying if I can use them all before they go off, as well as the lack of variety because you have to use that last batch of fresh stuff before getting another batch). So freezing is really economical, and you get perfect control of the quality of the food. It’s also a great way to store things I don’t get through quickly enough, like bread, cake, dried mushrooms in bulk bags, and chocolate, as well as pre-making meals on a weekend so I don’t have to even think about it during a busy workweek. Preparing my own healthy meals at home shouldn’t have to become a full-time job in itself. Tiny living is supposed to be a time-and-money-saver, not a creator of more stuff to do and more ways to have to spend precious time and money on meals out, individual-serve-sized packages of food, or multiple trips to the store.

      Anyway, for people like me who do this, those teeny, badly-organized freezers are pointless. Some models with the drawers are nice, but in the veggie freezing process, and in other cooking applications, I sometimes need to put containers or trays of stuff and liquids in the freezer for cooling down. That’s awfully hard to do in an all-drawer setup because everything gets moved when you open the door, yet the one open-ish space where things get lost at the back is also impractical. It is my dream to eventually live so that I will never again have to “move this to get to that.”

      A nice site I stumbled across specializes in compact appliances.
      This freezer looks nice: http://www.compactappliance.com/Haier-4-8-Cubic-Ft-Upright-Freezer/HUM048EA.html?cgid=Appliances-Freezers-Upright

      Then you can have a fridge separate from it that is about the same size, AND get that feeling of openness that comes from no tall appliances, or maybe you can put both higher up so that you don’t have to crawl on the floor to find anything in them.

      This one is maybe bigger than you’re mentioning:
      http://www.compactappliance.com/Fagor-Energy-Star-Side-by-Side-Refrigerator-Freezer-Stainless-Steel/FQ7925XUS.html?cgid=Appliances-Refrigerators-Refrigerator_Freezer

      I like the side-by-side storage flexibility & freezer capacity, without the having to move, and risk dropping/spilling/holding back, a bazillion items to get to what you’re looking for which is what happens with the single space with a single shelf setup standard in most apartment fridges. I also like that it has both shelves and drawers, no space wasted on an ice maker (I rarely use ice) and the flexibility of adjustable shelves.

      Anyway, just sharing what I found, because I have similar frustrations. I’d like to know if you’ve found anything that works for you, too. Always happy to have more ideas!

  8. Jodyrae says:

    I would like to see more pictures of space saver ideas.

  9. David says:

    Those jars could be easily put under the counter by screwing the lids underneath. Also, you could nail a long piece of canvas with half loops so you could put anythng that would fit underneath. Pins on a wall can hold cups and cookware.

    I am designing a camper that would have mostly canvas and dowel furniture that could be broken down and stored when not in use, allowintg the interior to serve several functions.

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