Inspiration for tiny living
January 18, 2015 3:42 PM   Subscribe

We're realizing that the only way our little family of three is going to ever own a place is if we buy something tiny - 900 square feet or less. I need some inspiration for a livable design though.

There are a few places in our price range and they are typically little bungalows that have 2 bedrooms, a dining room, living room, bathroom and kitchen (usually galley kitchen). I'm all about finding the different, unique and creative ways of making it work in such a small place - but need some inspiration. Any good blogs, websites, magazines etc that have design ideas for such small spaces? Think one step up from Ikea.
posted by Toddles to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
CB2 (by Crate & Barrel), West Elm (by Pottery Barn), and EQ3 are all furniture stores that target the smallish apartment dweller and can be a notch or so above Ikea in terms of quality.
posted by asphericalcow at 3:51 PM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Check out the Small Spaces category on Apartment Therapy.

There's also Tiny House Talk, which has a lot of cute pictures.
posted by dotgirl at 3:52 PM on January 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

If your issue is money than you are limited in what you can do to manage the space.

There are fantastic designs for small space but very few are affordable - hideaway beds and such that I covet.

What is big for us is management of stuff - I put extra shelves in the closets and cupboards. We use the space under the bed for storage. We radically downsized what we owned - less clothing - no books - and everything has somewhere it goes and when you are not using it - it goes there right away.

If we were still crunched for space I would raise our bed so we have more storage underneath (the space above beds is just wasted. I also might find something for under our couch.
posted by srboisvert at 4:01 PM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

For inspiration, you might also like Dwell and Sunset magazines and their online sites. Sunset particularly has a lot of nice ideas on using outdoor gardens and patios to their best advantage.
posted by mochapickle at 4:02 PM on January 18, 2015

Pinterest is my primary resource for micro house inspiration. :)
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:11 PM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Perhaps more on the fun inspiration than strictly practical side, but I lost several hours to these links:
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:45 PM on January 18, 2015

Oh hey, I'm you! We bought a place this summer, 825 square feet and it's a challenge! The biggest thing that's helped us since discovering it, is this weird little japanese organzing book.

The big takeaway from it, is to make sure your stuff fits the house, not the other way around and you'll have more joy in your home.

Domaine is helpful for creative ideas for decorating, it doesn't tend to be recycled from elsewhere, all sizes of spaces, but tends to have small rooms that aren't so minimalist that there's no room for storage.

It's really doable! Don't be scared off.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 5:32 PM on January 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

Shoebox dwelling. The author is a designer, so some things are a little design-y, but it's always inspirational.
posted by MrBobinski at 5:54 PM on January 18, 2015

Vertical storage; 7' + high bookshelves, and lots of outdoor activities.
posted by buzzman at 6:37 PM on January 18, 2015

Tons of books on the subject.
posted by brookeb at 7:00 PM on January 18, 2015

I have been living in a small 1950s house for 8 years. My most important suggestion to you, unless you are one of those people who only eats at restaurants, is to FIND THE BIGGEST KITCHEN YOU CAN within the constraints of your small-house budget, and avoid galleys if you can, or if you can't, find one with a pass-through-- find a kitchen that has an open view of the living room and / or dining room. I have a 1950s galley kitchen and I hate it so so so so much. The rest of my house being less than 1,000 sq ft is totally not a big deal; my biggest problem is finding wall space for bookshelves but aside from that it's fine; I just don't have a lot of unnecessary stuff. But oh, that kitchen. I'd gladly give up the dining room entirely, honestly, to have more space for the kitchen (but I can't even knock down a wall to accomplish that, because there are stairs in the way). When I go into my kitchen to cook I feel like I'm locked in a closet. I can't see my kid playing in the living room; I can't see my friends who have come over for dinner, etc. And you know how people congregate in a kitchen during casual parties? That is so impossible in my kitchen. It's super frustrating. Plus I have to be really careful about which appliances I buy-- I spent weeks searching for a fridge that would fit my old-fashioned space when my old one died on me; I had to choose between a blender and a stand mixer due to lack of counter space, I will NEVER own something so superfluous as a waffle iron, etc.

So. When house hunting, prioritize the kitchen space.

Also, try to find a house with a nice flat fenced bit of yard if you can, so that when you have people over in the summertime, you can let the crowd (5 guests is a crowd at my house!) spill outside. I have a decent yard and patio and that is a big help to me in terms of being able to socialize at home, at least when the weather is nice.

Once you've bought the house: use underbed storage in the bedrooms, for sure-- my son's bed has dresser drawers AND a guest trundle built into it. When choosing between furniture that offers storage and furniture that doesn't, pick the extra storage, and try to pick pieces that can do more than one thing. For example I have one of those padded coffee table/ottoman combos with storage on the inside and that means that it works as a coffee table and as extra seating, and as a place to hide my kid's toys. And instead of side tables I have side cabinets. Since you won't have a guest room, you might want to think about having a convertible couch or futon as the main seating in your living room. (I used to have a futon-- it broke-- and now we have a plain old couch instead and I really miss the futon.) Where you can, hang decorative shelves on the walls instead of pictures. If you are buying a new TV, get a small TV, so you have more room for bookcases and seating. If you have a big TV (like anything over 40 inches) already, unless you are madly in love with your TV I'd advise you to sell it and get a smaller model.

I've been able to increase my outdoor storage with patio storage benches that weren't too expensive, and some outdoor cabinets for my carport (my house came without a shed, which is kind of annoying).
posted by BlueJae at 7:04 PM on January 18, 2015 [9 favorites]

We are a family of four and only use 1100 of our 1600 square feet of living space. The kids are limited to a 4 square Ikea Expedit each for personal toys and family toys and games are rotated in and out of storage when we remember/get bored. They currently each have a four drawer dresser but I am seriously considering cutting them down to one dresser because the empty bottom drawers tend to attract random clutter. It's All Too Much is a great book to help you get your head around living in your space.
posted by a22lamia at 7:06 PM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

The masters at organizing a small space are sailboat designers. A lot of their ideas can be adapted to shore living.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:57 PM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

We downsized from a typical newer suburban home (three bedrooms, full basement, two car garage... to a 1,000 sq. foot renovated cottage... The answer was purging unneeded "stuff"... It wasn't us that needed the space, it was the "stuff".....
posted by HuronBob at 9:06 PM on January 18, 2015

One tip from me, which may help with financial stuff as well: You NEED to buy small-footprint furniture. Not the modern huge-sectionals, probably not even the sprawling 1950s ranch style stuff. Lots of modern furniture is frankly oversized and made to fit in huge McMansions. I have a 600 sq ft apartment* (shared with husband), and have found the most luck buying antique furniture on Craigslist--cheaper than regular furniture stores, not as cheap as IKEA.

So I would consider looking at vintage items on Craigslist and Ebay, making sure to view ones with listed dimensions, and then checking those measurements with a tape measure. That way you can get an idea of what size a comfortable armchair, for instance, can "really" be.

When you make a transition in to your new home, you will know exactly what furniture works there, so please don't buy large furniture as an "investment" if you are currently renting a huge place.

*When we were shown the apartment, the current tenants had crammed a three-seater and a two-seater sofa into the tiny living room. In order to fit them, they had completely blocked off one set of doors, and there was no room to maneuver around in the living room. But they weren't considered huge by modern standards; they'd just obviously been built and purchased with today's "normal houses" in mind.
posted by Hypatia at 9:15 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

My family of three humans + three dogs + buncha cats lives in a 860 sq ft house. For us, what made it doable was looking at the things we owned and asking if we really needed to have it, or if we were just holding onto it because we might want it someday, or because it was a gift, or whatever. We got rid of a ton of stuff when we moved here, and I'm fairly good about not accumulating new stuff.

Also, embrace digital media. At one point, we owned thousands of books (we both work in publishing), plus probably several hundred DVDs. There were basically two rooms at the old house that just served as holding spaces for media. Now we have two waist-high bookshelves, and the rest of our media lives on a server in the living room. Deciding that we didn't need to have a television in the living room gave us a lot of space, too, since it meant we could arrange the room to maximize open space, not to focus on a television.
posted by MeghanC at 11:43 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

This seems to be hot in TV design shows lately so you've got Tiny House Nation, where they typically build something new but go through ways to REALLY pare down, figure out what functions are actually needed in the house and come up with cool multi-purpose furniture; Tiny House Hunting, where they look for something already existing, and then sometimes renovate or just pare down; and then last (and kind of least) Tiny House Hunters which is mostly looking at places but might give you some ideas nonetheless.
posted by grapesaresour at 12:39 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a 750 square foot house. It doesn't have a brilliant layout as the kitchen is tiny and the bathroom leads directly off the kitchen. But really, this would be only just on the small side for a family of 3 in the UK. So I'd suggest looking at British (or European or Japanese) sources of inspiration as this size of property for a small family is more 'normal'.

In terms of actual tips, I'd say you want comfortable seating for all of you in the living space, plus a separate table to eat at (that doesn't interfere with the comfortable seating space), plus at least two bedrooms. If you like to cook at all, prioritise the kitchen. If you are extroverts and entertain at home prioritise outdoor space (for the summer) and open plan living space so you have room for guests. If you are introverts prioritise separate non-bedrooms for each adult. Reducing the number of items you have is key, but so is sensible storage space.
posted by plonkee at 3:32 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Keep the bedrooms small and the common space large, unless there you expect frequent times when two or more people will be doing inside-only, space-and-noise-intensive activities. Like, for most people, one person can read/play computer games in the bedroom while another does yoga in the living room and a third makes lunch in the adjacent kitchen.
posted by mskyle at 5:09 AM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

My house is @ 1,00 sq. ft, but poorly laid out and with low ceilings. The kitchen is a decent size. The living/dining room is impossible, and the upstairs is all eaves. But it has big decks front and back and a nice view, which makes it manageable. My next door neighbors have essentially the same house, where they raised 5 kids. Small bedrooms, at least 2 baths/ showers.
posted by theora55 at 1:12 PM on January 19, 2015

Just to offer some possibly applicable subreddits: minimalism, declutter, simpleliving, TinyHouses, frugal, and this multireddit.
posted by WCityMike at 1:39 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ikea is pretty good for small houses, as they are European based. I have a lift up bed from them that is brilliant for storage.

Cupboards should go to the ceiling.

Use the outdoor space. Stick a covered veranda out the back and a second dining table or seating area. Build a cubby house for the kid. Have a hammock. Build a garden shed.

If possible, have the toilet separate to the bathroom.

Do they have garages? Because that can make a huge difference. Also, look into the attic for storage options.
posted by kjs4 at 2:36 PM on January 19, 2015

Some of the stuff that I subscribe to on this topic:

The Tiny Life
Kirsten Dirksen's YouTube channel
posted by kejadlen at 9:04 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

My husband and I are renovating a 1000 sq ft cottage, downsizing from three stories where we've lived for decades. I'm doing most of the general contracting. I expect we'll finish the build and make the move late in the fall. One of our biggest inspirations is thinking about how much lower our utilities costs will be. Our design incorporates "aging in place" and lots of reused building supplies. I saved a fortune buying a complete kitchen from Building Value, a nonprofit that salvages building supplies.
posted by tizzie at 8:50 AM on January 20, 2015

When my house was still 850 sqft and I had a one-drawer kitchen, I put open shelving out in the garage and used it as a pantry. All my serving ware, multiples of canned goods, etc went out there.

Even so, when we remodeled and doubled the size of the house we still went through a major purge (and in fact, we did two more after that, without having accumulated much stuff in the meantime). It's the stuff that takes up so much room. Not only does it clutter your house but having to navigate around it clutters your mind (everytime you walk through a room you're thinking "oh, I have to get to that, oh, I have to do that, oh, that reminds I need to...").

The only other tough thing about being in a small space is carving out some space to be alone when you need to be. This is where having an outdoor space can come in handy.
posted by vignettist at 12:11 PM on January 20, 2015

« Older We need a motto. It should be in Latin so it can...   |   Any ideas on how to fix my modem's T3 & T4... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.