- Tiny houses are actually pretty spacious if you utilise them right.
- Business Insider spoke with four tiny house dwellers about how they make their tiny houses work for them.
- They shared their best space hacks: opting for multifunctional furniture, maximizing storage, and bringing the outdoors in.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
There’s more to tiny houses than what meets the eye.
They may be small – generally defined as less than 400 square feet – but they’re bigger than they look if you get savvy with the space.
Four people who traded their homes for minimalism shared with Business Insider their best tips and tricks on maximizing and utilising a tiny house.
They love multifunctional furniture – think a bathroom door that doubles as a ladder to a loft or a bench that folds out into a guest bed. And, of course, tiny living requires creativity with storage. One couple installed floor cubbies in their bedroom to hold miscellaneous items, while another uses magnets to keep kitchen accessories on the walls.
But making the most of a tiny house is about more than purpose and organisation. Some make their space seem bigger by designing big picture windows to let natural light in or using an off-white paint to create the illusion of openness. And many expand their space by bringing the outdoors in, from building a deck to installing an accordion window.
Here’s how tiny house dwellers make living tiny work for them.
Bela and Spencer Fishbeyn live in a 300-square foot tiny house in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains.
They document their tiny house life in their blog, thisxlife.
They told Business Insider they aimed to design their tiny house without any compromises — they wanted it to have everything a traditional home would.
For them, that means a full-sized kitchen, a king-sized bed, an extra room for their daughter, a river-tile shower, a dishwasher, and a professional kitchen range. “Living in a tiny home doesn’t have to involve a lot of shortcomings,” they said.
“We’ve learned that most of our storage and multi-functional space ‘tricks’ haven’t actually worked out as intended,” they said.
“It’s easy to think that conveniences (like lots of storage) make life easier,” they said. “But we’ve found the things that make our short-term easier, often make our long-term harder (like accumulating tons of things we don’t need). “
For example, the entire space underneath their kitchen hides two full-sized tables, three sliding benches, four stools, and one hundred cubic feet of storage – but they hardly use any of it because it isn’t convenient, they added.
They found the trick to living in a small space is to make it perfect for what you actually do on a daily basis. “Try to create your space exactly around your life,” they said.
“Focusing on clever convertible furniture sounds good on paper but it’s very difficult in real life,” they said.
Most tiny houses use a full-sized loft, which maximizes square footage, but Bela and Spencer said it limits the space’s usefulness and expansiveness.
They put their master bedroom over the tiny house’s fifth wheel hitch, which gives them full standing room. A giant picture window “opens it to the outdoors and makes it feel expansive.”
“There’s also a geometric fixture on the ceiling that somehow it makes it feel as though the room is floating through the sky,” they said.
Underneath the bed itself is a bed frame with hydraulic lifts, which gives them an extra 100 cubic feet of easy-access storage.
They added giant windows all throughout their tiny house to break down wall barriers and bring in the outdoors, they said.
For their daughter’s room, they used an L-shaped loft to create a more private space and a natural play area in front of her bed.
“She can sleep soundly upstairs while we have full access to the rest of the house and added ceiling space,” they said.
However, they recommend building in an extra vent fan in a closed off loft to circulate the cool air from your HVAC.
“The biggest thing about a tiny house that you cannot possibly change is that you’re forced to think about the outdoors from the very beginning,” they said.
They suggest considering the following: How are you getting rid of your walls? How are you bringing the outdoors, indoors? What will you do to spread out on your property?
“Remember that your small space isn’t in a vacuum,” they said. “People who live in small spaces often have access to lots of outdoor space.”
They took advantage of their outdoor space by building a 300-square-foot deck, complete with a canvas tent to add on a complete extra room.
This greatly expanded their tiny house, they said: “We can unwind out there in the evenings or use it for guests when they’d like to crash. It’s also a great place to store children’s toys and camping gear.”
“Our tiny house really doesn’t feel like a tiny house at all,” they said. “We can always open it up to the outdoors and the indoors and have everything you’d expect from a traditional home.”
Tim and Sam of Tiffany the Tiny Home in Florida bought their 270-square-foot tiny house, but have learned how to make the most of a small space they didn’t design from scratch.
Their storage space is hard to come by — every inch needs to be maximized, and that means getting inventive with DIY shelving.
“We have organisers everywhere that allow us to organise drawers and cabinets to stack our items vertically,” they told Business Insider.
Stacking vertically helps them use all of the space and keeps them more organised, they added.
They also have built-in storage everywhere in their home, thanks in large part to shelving.
It’s why their bookshelf is so handy, they said: “In our tiny home, everything has its place.”
To avoid accumulating extra stuff, they said they borrow items they rarely need from friends instead of buying them.
When moving in, they had to downsize sentimental items and memorabilia. “We have enough room to keep what we call the ‘nonnegotiables,’ but we definitely parted ways with some of our memory items,” they previously told Business Insider.
They love to travel but avoid buying souvenirs. “We compromised by sending ourselves postcards and keeping them in a small album in our bookshelf.”
They added that this trick is both cost- and space-efficient, and helps them remember their most cherished trips.
Their leaflet dining room table, which collapses to leave more room when not in use, also “makes a huge difference,” they said.
So does the custom cat litter compartment they designed for their cat. They keep it tucked behind a door under their staircase over the tankless water heater.
It includes a swing door for their cat and a built-in scratch pad. The location helps hide any scent, they said.
“We were worried about where to put this but it worked out super well,” they added. “This feature really helps us use every possible square foot of our small home.”
But their favourite tiny hack was putting a projector in their loft — no need for a TV here. “This totally makes up for the small couch in our home,” they said.
But maximizing space in a tiny house isn’t just about storage — lighting should also be strategic. “There’s such a thing as too much light and the size of the bulb should be considered based on your fixture,” Tim said.
In a blog post on their website, Tiffany the Tiny Home, Tim said you don’t want to see the light bulb while looking at the fixture because it can cause stress on the eyes in such a small space.
Fixture size also needs to be taken into account. “The fixtures sizes in Tiffany are on point,” Tim wrote. “They are not too big for the tiny space but they are not so small that it’s not functional.”
They also found that the small size of their bathroom soaks up more moisture. A vent leading directly outside for the exhaust fan makes it easier for moisture to get in.
They ended up solving the problem by getting a dehumidifier, which removes moisture from the air and reduces the sulphur smell from the water, Tim wrote in a separate blog post.
Like the Fishbeyns, they utilise their outdoor space for things that may be limited by their small indoor space. They said they have a space for yoga, a hammock, and “crafting and tinkering.”
Joshua and Shelley Engberg also utilise the outdoors to maximise space. The California residents live in a 374-square-foot tiny house they designed.
They run the blog Tiny House Basics and build custom tiny house trailers.
They told Business Insider they were practical with what they needed for day-to-day living, deciding on a 28-foot trailer frame — the largest they’d seen used for a tiny house at that time.
Their tiny house is eight feet, six inches wide.
Today, most of the trailers they build for their customers exceed 30 feet and many are 10 feet wide, they said.
To open up space, the Engbergs brought the outdoors in by installing an eight-foot accordion bi-fold window. “It really makes all the difference in our design,” they said.
“It’s been one of our favourite features,” they added. “It allows us to use our tiny house as a dual purpose space of living and entertaining. It was definitely an investment, but we’ve gained so much more from this feature than we ever thought we would.”
Inside, they find that hidden storage makes the most of a small space — like the floor cubbies surround their king-sized mattress in their sleeping loft.
The loft head clearance is about four-foot tall on the high side. They said the floor storage was the most practical way to help them keep extra stuff out of sight so it felt as open and clutter-free as possible. They called it a “gamechanger.”
“It lends to a nice tidy, open feeling in our sleeping loft,” they said. “With our neutral carpet tiles that cover the floor cubbies, it gives the master loft a look like a Japanese tatami room.”
In the kitchen, they designed custom cabinets with unique storage features to help make the most of space.
When they built their tiny house, they originally went with semi-custom cabinets, but after years of use found they “had so much wasted space” in their 85-square-foot kitchen.
They eventually worked with Masterbrand Cabinets to design a kitchen cabinet layout “perfectly suited” for their small space. “Definitely put some thought into cabinetry and don’t skimp over it like we did the first time,” they said.
They kept their kitchen and bath on opposite ends of the house, which they said helps separate smells, opens space, and works with entertaining.
“When you have the bathroom on the same side of the house as the kitchen, it can close in the space and create a ‘hallway’ effect to make the house feel smaller than it actually is,” they said.
Since small bathrooms can lead to big smells and moisture, they opted for a urine-diverting composting toilet with an internal fan to curb both of these problems.
A urine-diverting toilet means liquid and solid do not meet, they said. By keeping these separate and constantly running the internal fan, composting has been “pretty much odourless,” they said.
They also do their laundry in the bathroom. Instead of having a “big, bulky, and white monolith of an appliance,” they chose a ventless washer-dryer combo.
They said they chose this type of washer-dryer as a compromise between energy use and aesthetics, but sometimes feel forgoing the more common stackable washer-dryer units was a sacrifice.
They recommend a standard house-sized shower over a small 20-inch one cramped in the corner of the bathroom. “Life in a small space will feel more normal and easily approachable.”
The bathroom door doubles as a ladder to a lofted closet above the bathroom. It has 66 feet of hanging space and four small storage drawers for their clothes.
The ladder/bathroom door is one of the few multi-functioning items in their tiny house, they said. But, “If we did it all over again, we would have built a slightly longer trailer and had a small closet in the bathroom,” they added.
Regardless, they said they’re very content with the design of their tiny house.
They were also deliberate with long, slim windows high on the walls. “They bring in diffused natural light without dominating the space and adding unwanted heat in the summer months,” they said.
“The slimmer profile of the windows up high funnels light in nicely and replicates what recessed ceiling lighting would do,” they said. “Having the natural light come in all day has been a big help without needing to turn lights on until the evening.”
There are also additional picture windows at the top of the walls – “where we wouldn’t have been able to use the wall space as storage, so it would have been empty anyways,” they said.
They recommend traditional-sized furniture for couches or chairs versus building your own: “When you use something every day, it should feel normal and that’s a big key to making tiny living successful.”
“We really like to have as many things as possible feel and function as a normal house would,” they said.
Jenna Spesard built her 165-square-foot tiny house, currently parked in Whidbey Island In Washington, from scratch.
After four years of tiny house living, she moved into a 500-square-foot cottage with her husband and now uses the tiny house as an Airbnb and vacation home.
Spesard runs the blog Tiny House Giant Journey.
When it comes to utilising space, “Every inch counts,” Spesard told Business Insider. “I measure everything before I bring it into my tiny home.”
That’s because she thinks about every single item she brings in. “Often, when I’m deciding between two things I choose the one that weighs the least.”
She previously told Business Insider this is because her tiny house is restricted by weight, which is determined by axle size. “I can’t add a marble countertop or a tile bathroom to my house,” she said.
She opted for open shelving in the kitchen, which she said can help the area feel larger.
Spesard also uses magnets to keep kitchen accessories on the walls, such as spices and knives.
A magnetic spice rack and magnetic strip for knives keep clutter off the countertops and out of the drawers, she said in a YouTube video.
“Utilising the space in between rafters and in the corners of the room for storage is also a good idea,” she added.
Clothing storage has proved more of a challenge for her, “but if you use the Marie Kondo folding method you can fit a lot of clothes into a tiny space,” she said.
A few years after building the tiny house, Spesard wanted a downstairs bed option for guests. She and her husband decided to DIY their own futon.
Any purchased futon wouldn’t be the right size, she said. So,they fashioned a futon out of two storage ottomans, a bench, and hinged plywood.
She also created a folding table that, when not in use, looks like a chalkboard on the wall.
Another “space saver” was putting her bedroom in a loft.
“[Lofts] are also therapeutic,” she wrote in a blog post. “A compact loft can act like a cocoon for the human body.”
For her dog, she included a small bathtub for doggy baths and extended her loft just enough for a dog bed at the foot.
The dog’s bathtub doubles as Spesard’s shower stall, but is too small for a human to bathe in, she said.
And because her house is made of wood, Spesard painted her walls in off-white to brighten it up and make the space seem larger. Sometimes, maximizing a tiny space is all about the power of illusion.
“When choosing a colour for you walls, make sure your choice colour will match your future window treatments and furniture,” she wrote in a blog post.
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