by Gabriella Morrison
Do you want to live tiny but are worried about having to make too many sacrifices in space and comfort? We were too but can say with total confidence and from experience that with the right design and house size choice, you can go tiny and still live extremely comfortably. We will assume that if you are reading this article on TinyHouseBlog.com that you share some (if not all) of the same dreams, goals, and values that we do. Living a life that is mortgage/rent inexpensive or free, that is abundant in time for travel, hobbies, family and friends, that is peaceful and harmonious is what we have been working towards for decades. We were so committed to creating that lifestyle for ourselves that we took a risk and built a tiny house (221 SF on a 28′ trailer + 128 SF in lofts) rather than a more conventionally sized home. We were prepared (and willing!) to make significant sacrifices in square footage to achieve our life goals.
Here's the kicker: to our surprise we have not felt, at any point, that we have had to make any compromises or sacrifices in our self designed and built home. Not once have we felt that our space was too small, that our needs weren't luxuriously met, or that we didn't have enough space to run our home business, entertain, cook, bathe, watch movies, play guitar, wrestle with our dog, or store our clothes and belongings. Not once have we been uncomfortable, hurt our backs in the lofts, struggled on our stairs, felt like our fridge or kitchen sink was too small, or felt that we didn't have enough space for an item.
Here are the common areas in a conventional tiny house that typically pose significant compromises/sacrifice and how we found a solution for each:
STAIRS: I would venture to guess that this is one of the top 3 reasons that someone would not build tiny. We're youngish, strong and healthy but we don't want to haul our bodies up and down dinky ladders to get to our bedroom each day. And what if we have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom? Not only do ladders to bedrooms sound miserable but they also seem like a bad idea for someone like me who fumbles to the bathroom with eyes nearly shut at night. We designed our house, which we loving named "hOMe," specifically to accommodate Andrew's modular stair system. The ratio between the treads and risers is set up so that going up is as easy and comfortable as coming down (even with my middle of the night fumbling). Further, there is 25 SF of storage space beneath the stairs and even enough space for a washer/dryer combo unit. Personally, we are using that large washer space as our hanging closet as it can easily hang 20 items of clothing. We also store all of our shoes, hats, winter apparel, dog accoutrements, keys, and purse in the modular system. It is a treasure trove of storage. To learn how to build it click here.
KITCHEN: We are all for rustic living and have certainly done our share over the years including living in an 80 SF historic, off grid log cabin in the Colorado Rockies, tons of long term back country camping and spending 5 months traveling in a pop-up tent trailer in Baja with our 12 year old daughter. We know we CAN cook in a tiny kitchen with two burners, wash dishes in a tiny sink, and cram all of our food into a dorm sized fridge, but we don't WANT to. Not in our home that we plan on spending many, many years in. In order for a space to feel like a home to us, there has to be a spacious kitchen. Ours is 56 SF and it is perfect. Andrew and I can easily cook together without bumping into each other. Our propane range/oven is a standard, full size unit which has 5 burners including the center griddle component. Our fridge is a super energy efficient, 18 CF model which we have yet to really fill up, and our sink is a standard, deep, single bowl with a built-in drying rack.
We have lots of cabinets and storage galore: frankly, too much of it. More than half of our cabinets and drawers are empty because we have gotten really clear on what is necessary in our kitchen and eliminated unnecessary gadgets. I wouldn't trade in that extra cabinet storage because we love how much counter space it provides. It also makes for excellent overflow storage should we need some extra space for a special occasion. Further, creating a U shaped kitchen was one of the best decisions we made in our house design as the work triangle is just the right size.
BATHROOM: Again, I know that we CAN brush our teeth in a mini-sink and shower in an 18″ x 18″ stall, but in our home, we really don't want to. During our build we made a significant and vital design change that increased our bathroom length by 2′. This extra space allowed us to install a regular sized sinkand shower unit. Now the bathroom feels spacious, even with our giant Sun-Mar composting toilet. I mean, that thing is obscenely large and easily twice the size of a regular toilet.
We have an abundance of storage space in two full drawers under our sink as well as a floor to ceiling storage cabinet. All of our toiletries, first aid supplies, vitamins and supplements (yes, we are those types that take about 20 natural supplements per day, so room for all that is no small thing), soaps/shampoos, cleaning and laundry supplies only use up about half of our available storage space. I should mention as a side note (read EXTRA benefit) that both the kitchen and bathroom, which are located beneath the lofts, have ample head room and do not feel cramped at all. That's easy for me to say, but Andrew feels the same way and he is 6′ tall. Furthermore, our bedroom loft and our secondary loft both have great headroom as well.
HOME OFFICE: I have worked from home full-time since 2004 and Andrew since 2007. We are both self motivated, passionate about what we do, and wouldn't trade our jobs for anything. We have tried working outside of our home but have found that we are most productive and love our jobs best when we are working from within our own walls. No commute, we create our own hours, and pay no rent for an office space. Creating a functional office area in hOMe was a necessity and we feel we accomplished that. By creating a paperless office (you can watch a short video on how we did that here), we eliminated 75% of the space we used to require to run our business. We found two folding desks that do double duty between office/work desk and eating table. Our printer and scanner are stored in our cabinets and all of our office supplies fit in just one tall cabinet unit. We also have overflow work space in three other areas in hOMe: our bedroom loft (we bought two bed loungers so that we can comfortably sit up in our bed), our TV/hang out lounge (lots of pillows create a wonderful cradle to prop us up) and the built in sofa. So if one of us is working on something that requires a lot of concentration without disruption, there are choices of work spaces.
STORAGE: The hOMe design centers around a long and tall series of cabinets from Ikea. Even though we have freed ourselves from about 90% of our belongings over our last 3 year downsizing process (you can read more about that here), we still own some material objects. Again, we know that we can live with nothing more than 4 changes of clothes, a couple books, a laptop, toothbrush/floss, and a set of very basic cooking essentials, but in our own home, we need space to store some of the items and heirlooms that we don't want to part with. Our cabinets provide us with 82 SF of storage shelving surface area, more than enough for our belongings and to house our favorite books, camping supplies, linens, etc.
PRIVACY: Andrew and I are super compatible. We have been partners in life since 1993, still love each other's company, and are glad that we don't work separate jobs in different places only to see each other for a few hours in the evening. That said, I don't want to hear or see him every single second of my day (and I'm sure he feels the same about me!). So, we have been happily surprised and delighted at how much privacy we can find in hOMe. Because our bedroom loft is pretty large and has a wall that separates it from the open area below, it really feels like a separate bedroom. When one of us is up here, it feels like we are in totally different rooms. Perfect!
In sum, we have been ecstatic with hOMe and living tiny. Truly it is beyond expectation and our wildest dreams. The months of planning and design paid off and at this point there isn't a thing we would change. By identifying and addressing each of the common tiny house limitations that we weren't personally willing to live with, we were able to find solutions that are working. Because we chose to build tiny rather than a larger house, we were able to pay for the materials in cash and now have the security of knowing that we will always have a place on this planet that we can live for free. And being that it's off grid, we aren't bound to utility bills and the system. If you are considering making the move to tiny, we highly recommend it. If we can do it, so can you! To view more photos of hOMe and read stories about the trials, tribulations, and high points of our build, please visit us at www.TinyHouseBuild.com.