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Posts Tagged Design

Determining The Needs Of Your Space

Understanding what you do in your home and work is an important step to designing any space for the perfect place for you.  The greatest thing about living The Tiny Life is that you get to design your space and your life from the ground up.  Today we’re going to focus on our physical space, what do we need in a built environment that sets the stage for our best life.

Determining

In some cases understanding your needs will show you that all you need to do is tweak a few things in the space you’re already in.  It may be the case that more drastic changes or starting from scratch may be require.  You may also be looking towards building a new space anyway so it’s time to consider what that design will be.  It’s important to understand that to live The Tiny Life, you don’t necessarily need to live in a tiny house and what you have right now may be adapted.

room-trackingThe first step in understanding what your space needs to have in it, you need to understand how you actually use it already.  We often have ideas of what we would do if… or if only I had ____ I do more of this one thing.  It can be easy to fall into the trap of future planning so let’s focus on what you do right now.

To do this I use my Room Tracking method: to start, gather a bunch of pens and some post-it notes.    Go around to each of your rooms in your house or apartment and close every door.  Put a post-it note on the door and a pen on top of the door frame of each door.  Now when you go into a room, mark down what you are going into that room for and estimate how long it will take.  On your front door (or your main door) put a post it note on it and write things down that you leave your house to do with time estimates.  Do this for a week.

What this will do is create a comprehensive list of what you actually do in your home, not just what you think you do in your home.  You can even re-purpose this exercise for your work space.  Take all the post-it notes and combined them into a list.

I put together this free worksheet to help, click here.

Once you’ve compiled a list of what you do and how long you do it, start estimating the amount of space you’ll need to do that one thing.  You can even rank your activities by which you do the longest and ask yourself, are the things I spend the most time on the most important to me?  Just think about that.

What can you outsource?

With your list consider things that could happen outside the home.  A gym membership is one example.  Instead of having a home gym, would a gym work just as well or even better?  Or have you not stepped foot in your home gym in several months, do you even need it at all?  For me I realized while I was effective at working from home, it was lonely; I then started working at a coworking space.

What things can your cut out all together?

For me I realized that I really didn’t read a book twice, so keeping books was often a waste of space.  It was then that I replaced my bookshelf with a kindle.  I did keep about 10 books that were more reference books, but the rest went.

What things can pull double duty?

Think about things that are on your list that can happen in a single area or what things are important enough to have a dedicated space.  For me I knew I wanted a work space that was just for work, but my living room could serve as a place to read, to watch TV, to hang out with friends, and to setup a table for meals.

Whittling down the list

Consider the above questions and think critically about what you really do need.  Avoid what you “hope” to do, but focus on what you actually do.  With this you can come up with a solid list of activities that can help you design your space more effectively.

Your Turn!

  • What was your most important activity in your house?
  • What other tricks have you used to determine your true needs?

Five Things To Do Before You Build Your Tiny House

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It’s the final countdown, folks.

I’ve made the executive decision to begin building my tiny house in the spring of 2017.

While that decision is exciting, I realize that I need to get my butt in gear and accomplish a whole slew of tasks before I’m ready to buy a trailer. Today I’m sharing my to do list with you, and I hope it can help you prepare for your build too – whether you’re starting next week or next year. This is part one of a two-part post – so stay tuned!

Step Zero: Be Sure It’s What You Want

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Me, on the porch of Jay Shafer’s original tiny house, wearing unflattering pants.

This seems like a given, but there’s more at work here. If you want a tiny house because you think they’re cute, you might need to do a little more soul searching. If you want a tiny house because it’s the logical next step in creating a more intentional way of living, well…now we’re getting somewhere.

How do I know a tiny house is right for me? Well…

  • I’ve wanted to build my own house since I was eight years old.
  • I love small, cozy, confined spaces.
  • I’ve always been passionate about good design and creating homes full of personality.
  • I want to learn new things, because it improves my life and makes me a better person.
  • I want to feel the pride that comes with tackling a big project.
  • I care about my impact on the environment.
  • It does not make sense for me to buy a traditional home because I don’t know where I’ll end up settling down someday.
  • I’m a tiny person (5’2″) with very little stuff and few worldly needs.

Your reasons might be different. Be honest with yourself and trust your gut! You know yourself and your own motivations.

Tips:

  • If you are going into a tiny house build with your partner or family, agree going in that if anyone decides they’re done with the tiny house life, that you’ll both/all find another living solution. Not feeling trapped will work wonders when it comes to living peacefully together in a tiny house.
  • If you’re on the fence, there are other ways to live smaller without building a tiny house. Even just downsizing to a small house or apartment can dramatically change your outlook.
  • At the end of the day, a tiny house is just an object, and objects don’t change your life for the better. Only you have the power to do that.

Step One: Connect with Tiny House People

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Tiny house people love nothing more than sharing pizza and beer.

Even with the wealth of information available online, you’ll still have questions that can only be answered by people who have gone through the building process. Also, tiny house people are just plain cool and interesting and definitely worth knowing!

I’ve been lucky to meet so many wonderful members of the tiny house movement through my work, but to get here, I had to seek them out myself. As an introvert, this is much easier said than done. In the beginning, I had to do a lot of hunting to find other people who were just as excited about tiny houses as I was.

Tips:

  • Meetup.com is a goldmine. If you’re in a major metropolitan area, chances are high that there is a tiny house enthusiasts meetup nearby. If there isn’t one already, why not start a group yourself?
  • If there isn’t a tiny house meetup group, search for related groups about minimalism, gardening and permaculture, or prepping, and you’re bound to meet other people who are interested in tiny houses!
  • Tiny house events are popping up all over the country, and they’re a great way to meet cool folks. If you’re pretty convinced you’d like to live tiny, the Tiny House Conference is a great place to make friends and ask people your questions.
  • Don’t just hound people on the Internet, begging them for a tour of their tiny house. Form strong give-and-take friendships with tiny house folks just like you would with anyone else.

Step Two: Pare Down Belongings

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I once owned over 300 books. I now own 30.

Paring down your stuff is a huge part of living the tiny life. Last summer, I moved to Charlotte from Boston, and I took the move as an opportunity to bring only the things that could fit in the back of my Honda CRV. I got rid of two thirds of my clothing and 90% of my books – something I thought I could never do – along with decades’ worth of accumulated crap from my school years. It was surprisingly easy to distinguish trash from treasure once I got in to a rhythm. Driving down the highway to my new home, with a trunk full of my most precious possessions, was a liberating feeling.

Tips:

  • “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris
  • For analytical minds: try the box method. Empty the contents of a drawer, closet, etc. into a big cardboard box. Each time you use an item from the box, it can return to the drawer. Whatever remains in the box after three months is something you don’t need in your daily life and you can safely donate it.
  • For intuitive minds: If you have more of an emotional attachment to objects like I do, I highly recommend the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It has gone viral for a reason, and I couldn’t have decluttered without it. That book is worth its own blog post, which I will write soon.
  • Budget enough time for this crucial step. One tiny house family I know took a whole year to declutter.

Step Three: Assess Needs

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Dee Williams’s petite vardo at the 2015 Tiny House Conference.

This is what Dee Williams from Portland Alternative Dwellings calls “playing anthropologist.” A lot of what we think we need in a home is marketed to us through building trends and realtors. A tiny house is a chance to shed the excess and create a home that fits you like a glove. For this step, I wrote a big list to brainstorm all my weird quirks and how they affect my interaction with my living space.

For instance, I noticed that I never use more than two stove burners at a time, but I do use my oven very frequently (roasting vegetables is the most reliable way to trick myself into eating them). For me, an oven would be a necessity.

I find that I spend most of my leisure time lounging around in bed rather than on the couch. Aside from sleeping, I do all my reading, drawing, writing, and music-listening in bed. I’ll probably forgo a lounge space in favor of a dining area, and design a luxurious sleeping loft that will double as my creative haven.

I also dye my hair monthly, so an open shower stall won’t work for me unless I want to flood my whole house as I rinse out the dye. I think a stock tank bathtub would work well for me.

Tips:

  • Try the Post-It Note Method: Stick a Post-It Note next to each doorway in your home. Every time you leave a room, write down what it is that you’re doing in each room. After a month or so, get a glimpse into how you actually use your space.
  • Design for the life you have, not the one you want. This is the equivalent of keeping “skinny pants” in your wardrobe. You want to feel comfortable in your home, not guilty.
  • If you have hobbies or accoutrements that require a lot of space, consider outbuildings or off-site storage, or outsourcing that hobby to a different location (e.g. an artist’s studio).
  • Remember: our needs are surprisingly few and easily met.

Step Four: Figure Out a Floor Plan

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My latest tiny house layout, which I have already overhauled completely.

Right now, I have a folder on my desktop with 39 scanned, hand-drawn floor plans. To be fair, I’m a big nerd and I’ve been drawing these for four straight years. But whether it’s digital or on paper, it’s important to translate your design ideas into a visual medium.

There are lots of great ready-made tiny house floor plans on the market. We’ve reviewed our favorite plans to help you pick the one that’s right for you – click here to check it out. But because everyone’s needs are different, don’t be afraid to modify an existing plan to better suit your lifestyle.

Tips:

  • Carry a measuring tape with you wherever you go. Measure chair heights, counter widths, the rises and runs of stair steps – it’s important to know common dimensions of different elements so you can accurately plan for them.
  • Measure yourself! Know how much space you need to feel comfortable. My needs as a 5’2″, 130 lb. woman will differ from the needs of a 6’3″ 275 lb. man.
  • Don’t forget to design space for your clothes hamper, kitchen trash can, recycling and compost bins, suitcases, bulk paper goods storage, brooms, and other cleaning implements.
  • Include empty storage space in your design. Because you’re alive, you’ll probably still acquire new things after you move into your tiny house. Give yourself some wiggle room.
  • Strive for an excellent design, not a perfect one. If you stress too much about getting things absolutely perfect, you’ll never get off the ground.

Step Four-and-a-Half: Work with an Expert

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Great ideas always begin on a napkin.

Optional, but highly worth it. Even if you have a pretty strong grasp on what you’re doing in terms of your design, it never hurts to have an expert offer their advice. At the Tiny House Conference after party, I hungrily listened to Lina Menard and Ethan Waldman as they gave me feedback on my tiny house design, which I drew on a napkin in pink pen. I’m currently collaborating with a professional plan designer and draftsman to hash out a solid layout and set of building plans, which is terribly exciting!

Tips:

  • Try to find experts who have experience building tiny houses. It’s important for folks to have the skill of translating theoretical designs into tangible structures.
  • If you can’t afford a consultation, buy or borrow a copy of A Pattern Language. It’s a great manual for learning the psychology of vernacular architecture (a.k.a. how to build a house you feel good in).

Step Five: Create a Budget

Christian and Alexis of Tiny House Expedition made their dollars stretch during their tiny house build.

Christian and Alexis of Tiny House Expedition made their dollars stretch during their tiny house build.

Ideally, if you’re ready to build within a year, you should have enough funds saved up to at least get started. If you’re not careful, a tiny house can become a money pit if you don’t budget and track your expenditures.

My plan is to build in stages. I’ll first finish the exterior, so that the unfinished inside is safe from the elements. I can then take my time finishing the interior and saving up for some nicer appliances. Since I live in Charlotte and it’s pretty warm here, I might even move in early and live in the house while I’m still working on it to pour even more money into the build. I’m planning for the build to take a long time, but I know I’ll have a more rewarding learning experience that way.

In terms of saving money, it’s important to have a savings account just for your tiny house so that your funds don’t get mixed up and accidentally spent. I know that I’m the kind of person that will spend all my savings if they’re accessible and unallocated. I use SmartyPig.com to keep my tiny house savings separate, which is free and easy to use and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Tips:

 

So what are the next steps as I move toward building my tiny house? Tune in next time for part two of this topic!

Your Turn!

  • Which step will be the easiest for you?
  • Which step will be more challenging?

Introducing our Tiny House Plans Guide

Tiny House Plans

Today, we’re officially unveiling a new feature of The Tiny Life that we’re super excited about. If you listen to our podcast, Tiny House Chat, you’ve probably heard our latest episode about our new tiny house plans review page. It’s high time for us to write a blog post about this new resource, and we’re eager to share it with you.

If you’re going to build a tiny house, one of the most important steps happens way before you ever wield a chop saw: choosing a house plan. There are hundreds of tiny house plans on the market, and they’re scattered all over the Internet, and you can’t know for certain what you’re going to get for your money. Ryan and I wanted to help put an end to all the confusion.

We rounded up our favorite tried-and-true tiny house plans and gathered them in one place to help you find the plan that’s best for you. The houses come in all shapes and sizes, but we they all have these two criteria in common:

  1. The house has to be on wheels.
  2. The house has to have been built and lived in before.

The second point above is how we know a plan can succeed as a safe and comfortable home. You can create conceptual 3D tiny house models all day long, but until they exist and function as both a solid structure and a full-time home in the real world, there’s no way to know how well a design will actually work.

We then collected the plans and pored over them for hours, inspecting all the details that a newbie builder would need to consider – and all the ones that you wouldn’t have thought about either!

Here’s what you can find on the tiny house plans page:

  • Sixteen main criteria to help you know what to look for in tiny house plans
  • A detailed at-a-glance comparison grid to quickly compare all seven tiny house plans
  • Our recommendations for different plans based on your needs
  • A free “How to Read House Plans” guide
  • Thorough reviews of every house plan
  • Photos and screenshots of the plans so you know what to expect when you buy
  • A “new builder friendly” ranking for each plan
  • In-depth interviews with the plan designers to gain more insight into each design

We hope that this resource will simplify and streamline the process of choosing a house plan for your own future tiny home. The tiny house plans we picked to review are the cream of the crop for what is available for sale, so we feel confident recommending them to you.

To see the full tiny house plans page, click here or click the “Plans” tab in the menu at the top of the page. Happy hunting!

Sketchup Coming The 2015 Tiny House Conference

I am really excited to share some big news, the makers of Sketchup are going to be sending a team of folks to the Tiny House Conference to help run training sessions at the conference!  The 2015 Conference will be in Portland, OR April 18-19th 2015 (details here). For those of you who don’t know, Sketchup is a free 3D design program that is perfect for designing your tiny house.  Many people already know about it, but for those of you who don’t, it’s a tool you need to learn.  It will be your go to tool in designing your tiny house.

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So at the conference we are having two sessions on Sketchup.  The first will be run in conjunction with one of our speakers, James, he is a master with Sketchup having helped draw up Macy Miller’s very popular tiny house and plans.

The next session is going to be a bonus session that I haven’t had a chance to announce, it just got put on the calendar.  This will be with the experts from Sketchup, showing you how to do things, answering questions and getting hands on with the software to design a tiny house.

For those who are new, check out Michael’s video from Tiny House Design

 

Come Join Us in Portland, OR April 18-19th 2015

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Tiny House Plans For Families

As more and more people join the tiny house movement we are getting a lot of folks looking to make the leap with families.  I get the question a lot: “how do I live in a tiny house with a family?”  People want to know how they can enjoy the family life and set up houses for tiny house families.

Tiny House Families

There are a few approaches to this:

  1. Choose a small house that has enough room for the family, but the per person square footage is reasonable
  2. Build a slightly bigger, tiny house; maybe expanding to 10 foot wide and up to 40 feet long.
  3. Start with a small house when your kids are small, then add on or move to a bigger house later
  4. Build multiple tiny houses: adult’s/kids houses, sleeping house/living and kitchen house, other arrangements

The point here is to not get tied up in what a tiny house is supposed to be, but what works for you and your family.  I have people email me all the time who feel that they have to live in a traditional tiny house that’s 150ish square feet. Nope!  Forget that unless it’s right for your situation.  Tiny houses have thrived because they are flexible housing solutions, not some rigid definition.

Some of my most popular posts of families who live in small spaces are:

I also have posted some small houses that I think could lend themselves to being used for a family or adapted:

When it comes to designing a tiny house for a family I thing there some important things to think about when it comes to the layout, storage, number of rooms etc.

First step is to create a list of needs.  What does your family need to function or put another way, what does a house need to provide you with to live your life?  I like to think of this room by room, I’ll go around the person’s current space and look at what function or activity takes place in each space.  So on our list we will put for the kitchen: pantry storage (10 cubic feet), food prepping area (sink, 6 square feet counter top, trash can, cutting board, knife), washing dishes (4 square feet for dish drying rack, place to hang towel, soap, sink)

You can see the idea here.  We are trying to operationalize everything in our house, making sure to only write down the core functions, our true needs and the minimum that we need to achieve them.

Here is a video of two parents that have designed and lived in their tiny house for a few years now with two young kids:

 

I think the two biggest challenges when it comes to designing a tiny house for a family is storage, larger food prep/eating area and extra bedrooms.  For storage realize that not all your possessions have to be crammed into your tiny house.  You can read about my extra storage space which is a cargo trailer here; families could easily do something similar, maybe even have the trailer sub-divided into compartments for each person.  Also think about rotating wardrobes, for many people they have a winter set of clothes and a summer set of clothes, try to have another place to put the out of seasons clothes.

For extra cooking space for bigger meals, design the kitchen around what your needs are.  If you freeze a lot of things, have a space for a freezer.  If you supplement with canned vegetables, build in a can rack.  Here is a pinterest board that I’ve made up of great space saving storage ideas for tiny houses:

Follow The Tiny Life’s board Tiny House Storage on Pinterest.

The biggest challenge for tiny houses for families is the extra bedding spaces.  I think there are two approaches to this: 1) have bedrooms for every person or parents, boys, girls.   Or 2) have spaces that convert to a bedroom.

First here are some small house designs that have multiple bedrooms that might work.  Please note, these are just floor plans, there are now building plans for them.

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source: http://www.tinyhousedesign.com/books/

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The next major option for beds for you children might be having convertible spaces such as having some of these ideas below in your living room, at night it would become the kid’s bedroom.

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A futon that lays flat to become a bed, then a trundle comes out for another bed.

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This is a trundle bed, but I liked they made a tent which would be fun for kids, but also allow them to close the flap and afford them some privacy or alone time.

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Here is a elevated trundle that has two beds and storage.

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A standard trundle bed

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A double bed, bunk bed Murphy style

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two bedrooms in a small space.

 

Your Turn!

  • What did I miss?  What else would you need for your family?
  • What will your tiny family house look like?
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