Where do you find inspiration?

columbiascApril 10, 2012

Although I have been enamored with smaller homes for as long as I can remember, I simply can't see myself living in a Tiny Home. By Tiny I mean less than 200 square feet. Some may find these design studies adequate but even as a lone dweller, I need a little more space. Space for an overnight guest or two, space for a reasonable, four season wardrobe, space for the outdoors gear I prefer to store indoors when not in use.

I will eventually build my own little piece of paradise but until then, I would like to see more examples of smaller homes, not tiny homes. Although it mostly featured apartments, not single family detached homes, the HGTV series Small Space Big Style was a great program that was not renewed and so far I haven't found anything similar. I have searched for Blogs and can find many based on Tiny Home living but I can't find any Blogs featuring more appropriately sized, free standing homes of say 500 square feet to maybe 1,000.

I have been through everything my Public Library has available on the topic so re-reading those is simply re-reading. Without seeing the finished product I asked for and received Lloyd Kahn's latest book, Tiny Homes - Simple Shelter for my birthday and was terribly disappointed. I was hoping for some interesting eye candy and design suggestions but found it somewhere between a rehash of things I have already seen in other publications and third world hovels.

I sometimes drop by our "Other Public Library", also known as Barnes & Noble, and flip through the magazine Dwell but find the homes they typically feature to be much more modern and too sterile for my taste. Not to mention the featured homes are typically very expensive and mostly pre-fab.

So other than this forum, where do you go to satisfy your small home cravings?


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I like to search through house plan designs. Like this one. I know what you mean about the tiny houses. They are fun to look at once in awhile, but I couldn't seriously live in one for the rest of my life. Vacation home, yes. But I'm like you, and want to be able to entertain, and quite frankly, have enough space to be alone somewhere.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 9:36PM
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I was surprised to see 100 house plans between 500 and 1000 sq ft on that link.

Scott, I have never had the opportunity to think about building a small house from scratch, as it were, but I have had lots of fun making the small homes I have lived in more user friendly. My advice is to think like a boat builder. Look for nooks and crannies in which to build storage. Think about the space above a staircase. Can you squeeze a closet, cabinet, or bookcase above the place where the staircase ends? My last house had a big cedar closet there that you entered by opening a bookcase in the living room. You needed a stepstool to get in, but it extended into the attic at the top. It was worth having to duck your head when you got to the bottom of the basement stairs.

Another place we found room in that house was in a 10 x 10 room off the kitchen. It was once a back porch, and had a vaulted ceiling. It was too small for a dining room, since a staircase for 6 steps had to be worked into the design. On the opposite wall, smack in the middle, was the back door. On the end where the ceiling was highest, I designed a platform only 45" deep, going the 10 ft length of the room. It was level with the kitchen floor on one end, a butted right up to the molding of the back door at the other end. We had enough room on that platform to put a stack of drawers and small counter, two 3 ft wide 12 inch deep pantry cabinets, and a blind-corner utility cabinet in an "L" at the end. A railing separated this section of the room from the next section, which was the stairway going down the 30-some inches to the floor of the old porch. Bench seating under the windows there was storage space, and we even installed doors so you could get under the platform of the pantry galley for more storage. My builder laid indoor-outdoor carpet there to crawl on. Yes, we had a basement, but this storage was just off the kitchen, so worked well for roasters, soup pots and other big kitchen stuff. Our rain gear, boots, and dog supplies went into the benches, which were right near the back door.

When I designed the kitchen remodel, the first two contractors I showed my diagrams to showed no interest. One told me that there was not enough space to build a platform for the pantry and room to walk in front of the cabinets. The other did not even do a bid. The third guy showed interest, took out his tape rule, and said that it would work. That, my small homers, is how I met Jim, my contractor for every project ever since. When putting the kitchen together, he added two knick-knack shelves in places that I had not considered. He worked around room contours that made for strange cabinet sizes, but since we had a local cabinet company, they could make the odd sizes at no extra cost. Just like Eatrealfood did in her kitchen design, you just work around things and be grateful when you get half a cabinet's worth of usable storage!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 11:15PM
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I just had to add this inspiration photo:

Actually, the site mentioned in that pic is one of my favorites. The plans are inexpensive, small, and doable, and the associated forum is a great bunch of folks with a strong DIY component.

Much of my inspiration comes from homes I've seen, either in person. or on websites and in magazines. For example: My mother lived in a very small house on 3 beautiful acres. About 1/3 of the barn was finished inside, with heat and A/C, and was perfect for expansion space for bigger get-togethers or overnight guests. Since it wasn't considered a 'dwelling', there was little impact on the property taxes, and of course, you only ran the heat when actually in use. The one drawback was that the town wouldn't let her put in a bathroom. I'm doing the exact same thing on our property; small house with a big barn. Part of the barn will be partioned off and 'civilized' for guest use. Luckily, SC doesn't care if you put a bathroom in a barn, so I installed a full bath.

One book I like is 'A Pattern Language', by Christopher Alexander. It's a strange book, with some odd and sometimes contradictory ideas, but it could help you re-think the importance, or lack thereof, of different spaces in the home. If I were single, I would have incorporated some of the ideas in the book, but my wife wants a traditional home.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 7:04AM
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Scott, so glad to see you back posting again. I know what you mean about not TINY homes. Have you done a search for KATRINA COTTAGES? I think they are around 500 + sq ft, maybe more.

Jay, PATTERN LANGUAGE is a book I have also. I just went to reading another one, WHAT YOUR CONTRACTOR CAN'T TELL YOU:ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO BUILDING & RENOVATING. by Amy Johnston and it has a 5 star rating and 45 reviews. If I remember correctly, this young woman was active in the Katrina Cottage concept.

Our Teahouse could not have a bathroom either. It does not have an "occupancy" permit from the city. I've wondered if I might be able to have a composting toilet, sort of a companion to my outdoor shower which has hot/cold water.

The importance of different spaces....yes, that is something we don't examine critically, we just go ahead and put in a dining room and a family room, etc. However, some of the most pleasurable spaces can be a large closet with space for out of season woolens or extra-care clothing; for pantries with space for big pots and vases and an adequate supply of stuff you like, or maybe if you're into survival, some room for storage of those items, and then your hobbies or avocations, the garden tools, the wood working or metal working. Heck, your barn is a godsend, Jay.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 11:30PM
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