10 Secrets of Small House Design

Expert tips for squeezing living space into the smallest designs.

Expert tips for squeezing living space into the smallest designs

1. Borrow space within an open floor plan

Minimize the number of walls within your space. Open spaces are more comfortable and allow for versatility. Open floor plans also make your spaces work twice as hard, so some of your spaces do double duty. The open spaces are defined by how they are used.

2. Keep it simple

A square or rectangular floor plan not only saves money, but eliminates tiny spaces where logwork is awkward and difficult to piece together. It also eases the relationship between the builder and homeowner since a simple plan is easier to construct.

3. Incorporate clever storage

Consider storage early on in the planning and find ways to use every square foot of your space. A small home can never have too much storage. Build at least one good-sized closet in every room for clothing, linens, coats, brooms, extra food, etc., then find clever ways to make use of other storage spaces. Keep your eyes open during construction for additional storage spots.

4. Expand upward, not outward

Whether limited by budget or the size of your property, you can make good use of a small home by adding floor levels. Additional floor framing costs less than the greater roof and foundation costs of a ranch design. Building up also generally results in lower heating and cooling costs than a single story design. Cathedral ceilings are nice but they eat up valuable square footage where an upper level or loft could be built. Raising your ceilings a foot can create a similar effect without wasting second floor space.

5. Provide perceived space

Sometimes perceived space is more valuable than actual space, so contrary to the previous point, you may decide the open feel of a cathedral ceiling is well worth losing that second floor space. You may sacrifice square footage by eliminating an upper level room, but a soaring cathedral ceiling will lend your small home a wide open space and a break from small, cozy rooms. Don't go overboard. Put a cathedral ceiling over the great room or master bedroom and close off the space above other rooms to take advantage of second floor spaces.

6. Remove extraneous rooms

Do a thorough self-analysis before designing your home. By cutting space from bedrooms and bathrooms, you can add crucial square footage to other rooms. Keep common areas as big as possible to accommodate guests.

7. Use outdoor spaces to expand living space

Outdoor areas cost less to build than rooms inside your home, and if properly planned can serve as extensions of indoor spaces. Porches and decks provide overflow space for you and your guests, and windows and doors opening onto these areas extend the feeling of spaciousness from within your home. Dormers, bump-outs, breakfast nooks with bay windows and gabled entry elements also expand living space, and clerestory windows and lofts with views bring in natural light, further blurring the line between inside and outside spaces.

8. Use thoughtful décor

Perception is as important as reality. Add depth with lighting and trim details to make your spaces feel larger. Color also comes into play. Light colors expand a space while dark colors provide depth and contrast, and natural light defines and highlights spaces and frames views.

9. Provide a focal point

If you have one focal point per room (fireplace, stairs, wall of windows, etc.) your rooms will feel comfortable and less cluttered — an important consideration when dealing with small space.

10. Do away with hallways

Most designers agree hallways take up space with little benefit to the overall plan.