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Whether you live in a studio apartment or single-family home, you’ve probably found yourself tight on space at one point or another. Small house designs are a great way to bring organization to your living space, even if you don’t plan to go out and build your own tiny house. By bringing versatile pieces of furniture, hidden storage, and multi-use spaces into your home design, you can make your home feel twice as big. And if you do dream of one day building your own small or tiny house, then these small house designs should help inspire you along the way.
The tiny house movement continues to grow, even as the United States housing market recovers from the financial crisis of a couple of years ago. When most people think of tiny homes, they think of HGTV-esque, idyllic shacks in the wilderness surrounded by solar panels and sustainable gardens. Yet small houses, a close cousin of the tiny home, are often found nestled in suburban neighborhoods and urban streets. But what exactly is a small house?
What Is a Small House?
The term “small house” is somewhat interchangeable with the terms tiny house or microhouse. But there are some important distinctions. Small houses are a bit bigger than their tiny and micro counterparts. While there’s no set size limit, small houses can reach up to 1,000 square feet. Most tiny houses only get as big as 400 square feet. And the smallest ones, reaching as small as 50 square feet, are sometimes colloquially called micro houses.
While tiny houses often sit atop trailer bases or other non-permanent foundations, small houses are generally permanent. That is an important fact when it comes to financing a small house. Since mortgages don’t work for living structures that are non-permanent, many tiny and micro homes don’t qualify for these loans. And since luxury models of tiny and micro homes can easily surpass $100,000, this means some enthusiasts can’t afford the tiny home of their dreams. But small houses almost always qualify for mortgages, making it easier to get approved for a loan. Insurance companies are also much more willing to work with small houses than tiny houses.
Many small houses can seem quite spacious compared to a tiny house. But they’re still a far cry from the average American home, which is around 2,600 square feet. This difference in size means the space-saving design is essential to keeping a small house organized and livable. The stresses of living in a small house, especially with a partner or family members, aren’t quite as dramatic as those of living in a tiny house. But without the proper design techniques, things can quickly become cluttered, cramped, and unenjoyable.
Important Elements of Small House Design
When adding elements to your home, whether it be basic architecture or furniture, there are some questions you should ask yourself. Small house designs rely on meeting specific criteria to maintain organization and save space. Some of the most important questions you can ask about a new home element are: Does it save space? Is it multi-use? And, does it use every available inch?
Of course, absolutely everything in your home doesn’t need to meet these criteria. There are some essentials that simply don’t achieve any of these goals. But when you stop to think about your home design choices, you’ll be surprised by how much these small house designs can help transform your living space for the better.
Is it multi-use?
Some kitchens in tiny or small houses include a cover for the sink, which matches the kitchen counter and expands the available space for food preparation and cooking. You can also use furniture and design elements to clearly designate multiple functions in one space. Little details like these are essential when working with only a few hundred square feet. And they can also transform the way a space functions in a traditionally sized home.
Furniture that utilizes unused space for storage can help lighten the load on your closets and other traditional storage areas. And it can help maintain an organized, streamlined look to your home in general. Hiding away unneeded objects and furniture that is already serving a purpose, rather than in extra tubs or baskets, is more visually appealing and helps save space.
Does it save space?
Pieces of furniture that are collapsible or nest together are common in small house designs. These pieces can tuck away when unused and are great for transforming a single room from an office to a dining room, to a living room, to a guest room. Those living in tiny homes also often find ways to hang up or otherwise tuck away unused furniture.
Wherever you can opt to mount shelves, desks, or tables on a wall is also a great place to save valuable floor space. Many tiny homes feature high shelving that frees up room below for furniture and open floor space. And hanging, fold-out desks or tables allow for quick space changes.
Does it use every available inch?
One of the most common examples of this in tiny and small homes is a lofted bed. Most tiny homes are single-level, and many small houses are as well. But elevating the bedroom on a loft allows for extra floor space below — especially since a bed takes up so much valuable, unused space during the day. Of course, you can place other spaces on a loft, like a home office. But bedrooms are the most popular choice because you can put them only a few feet away from the ceiling and still be able to use the space as it was intended.
Another element popular in small house designs is hanging pieces of furniture. By hanging a small side table or chair, you can free up the floor space underneath. That doesn’t always work for tiny portable homes built on trailer bases. But permanent small houses can use this technique without worry.
Our Favorite Small House Designs
While small house designs aren’t limited to actual small houses, they are the best examples. With the quaint aesthetic of most tiny and small houses, you can find plenty of gorgeous examples on television, social media, and more. So if you’re looking for design inspiration, tiny and small homes are a great place to start.
Here are some of our favorite examples of multi-use, space-saving, and efficient small house designs. While these homes range from tiny to small, you can bring their design elements into homes of all sizes. Hopefully, you’ll find some inspiration for your own home, whatever size it may be.
The Shoreline Cottage
The Shoreline Cottage is a set of small house building plans. This cottage has a hefty 930 square feet of space and plenty of small house designs to make that space feel even bigger than it is. While this home is large for a tiny or small house, it is still quite small. Yet the designers managed to fit three full bedrooms inside with two on the ground floor and one lofted.
The living room, dining room, and kitchen are all technically in one space. But an island is strategically placed to divide up this one room into multiple uses. There is built-in storage throughout this home, including underneath the window seats. Since small house designs are often built on minimalist principles, utilizing outdoor space is a necessity. And the large, wraparound deck makes up for the lack of space inside when entertaining or seeking some privacy.
The Shoreline Cottage building plans are available from Southern Living, as well as many other small house designs. A set of building plans run for around $900 to $1,000, and a full, customizable PDF version runs for about $1,000 to $1,500. Of course, if you want to build this quaint small house, you will also need to account for supply and labor costs.
The Tiny Tack House
The Tack home is not a small house, but a tiny house with only 140 square feet. But you can translate its design elements to your own traditional or small home designs. This home has plenty of high shelves for storage without getting in the way, as well as a lofted bed above the bathroom and kitchen. The bench seating, taking the place of a full sofa, also includes storage underneath the cushions. In the narrow kitchen, floor-to-ceiling shelves serve as a pantry, dishrack, and more.
With such little space and even less storage space, being able to transform a room by temporarily adding and removing furniture is a game changer for this home’s owners. A work desk folds out of a small, built-in bookshelf and a dining table folds out from under the television. While all of these elements are in the main living space, the ability to fold them out and away allows for this room to transform from one use to another seamlessly.
The price to build this tiny home ranges from $15,000 to $20,000. But you can buy the plans for $150 to $200.
The River Road small house was built in 2012, serving as one of Nir Pealson’s many small house designs. This home includes 800 interior square feet plus a large, partially-covered porch. This porch works great as an outdoor workspace, living room, or dining room, expanding this home’s functional living space to the great outdoors. This home uses sustainability in its design, featuring built-in solar panels and heavy insulation.
This home uses open, unrestricted interior architecture to make the space feel more substantial than it actually is. The kitchen, dining room, and living room all flow together as one. And the window seats feature built-in hidden storage. There are two bedrooms inside this home, but they’re not as cramped as some tiny and small house designs. Unlike many small house designs, these rooms feel just as big as traditional homes’ bedrooms. And with the large porch connecting to the master bedroom, you have privacy without feeling claustrophobic.
Little House in Little Rock
The Little House in Little Rock is a customized Tumbleweed Whidbey small house building plan. This home is only 600 square feet. But with the inclusion of tons of clever small house designs, this space is more than enough. The kitchen and living room, like in most small house designs, is all one space. But a kitchen island with castor wheels divides the area and allows for customization depending on how you use the space at any given time. The dining room features a built-in corner bench and table, reminiscent of vintage breakfast nooks.
There are two bedrooms on the ground floor, and one more bedroom in the loft. This loft is only accessible by ladder, which saves space but can be a big drawback for anyone with mobility issues. The master bedroom sacrifices floor space for a larger closet, which helps keep everything organized and prevents clutter. And the bathroom features recessed cabinets to avoid wasting valuable space. While this home doesn’t include anything more than a small porch outside, it would seamlessly blend into any suburban neighborhood.
Finding Inspiration in Small House Design
Hopefully, the design elements found in these impressive tiny and small homes have served as inspiration for your own home design. And, with a little creativity, these elements are translatable to any scale. For instance, you might not build an entire lofted bedroom in your home. But a loft-style bed can open up valuable square footage for a desk, vanity, and more. And these homes can serve as a reminder to use all of the outdoor space available to us, no matter how much space we have inside.
While these homes mostly utilize small house designs out of necessity, these elements are a great addition to any living space. One of the beneficial side effects of these small house designs is organization. And organization, forced or otherwise, is shown to benefit our mental health. By giving yourself the resources in your space to stay organized, many of which are present in small house design, you can take advantage of these benefits. Even if your interpretation of these small house design is a rather loose one, you’re sure to enjoy your new, more efficient space.