Tiny House Photo

Tiny House Photo

Friday, March 29, 2013


You've heard for years about McMansions and supersizing. Now, I would like you to be open to the thought of just having what is actually a "need" (not a want, or a desire). Look at that list you made of your "Have To's".  Is everything on your list a need?

Do you really need that extra bed for company? How often will it be used? Is it worth giving up the space for something only used occasionally?

Do you really need 15 pair of shoes? When was the last time you wore all of them? You only have 2 feet! Shoes take up valuable real-estate.

What about the 20 pair of jeans? I am betting you have your favorite 3 pair that you wear all the time and the rest hang in the closet.

I do agree that if you still dress for a job you will need to accommodate for more clothes but even work clothes can be paired down the the items you love and fit you well. I was surprised just how many clothes I didn't wear that still took up space in my closet.

Newly built storage shed matching my tiny house.
And you men with your electronic gadgets! You need to minimize as well. A 60" TV will not work in your tiny house. I have seen pictures of one tiny house with a drop down screen but when the screen was down no one could move, as it blocked the kitchen and bathroom.

Same goes for tools. I have built a small shed to house the tools I need on a frequent basis. The rest had to go. You could also use a deck box to house some items that can be stored outside.

Inside of shed with plastic shelving for organization.

Now that you have reassessed your list of "Have To's" you can start to think about your floor plan and how much space needs to be allocated to each function.

Here are a few dimensions that appear to be a standard for a typical "tiny house".

Street legal (in most states) is 8'6" wide, 13'6" tall and up to 40' long. If you build over the wheel wells you can keep the 8'6" width but you will have to give up on some height and the overhang from the roof. If you go to something 30-40' long you end up with a skinny mobile home. If you are willing to give up the wheels you can go wider and build a stationary home on a foundation or perhaps a "park model" which requires a special permit and driver to move. For this conversation we are sticking with the typical 8'6" wide x 13'6" tall and customary 16-24' length. This will give you an finished interior space of 6'10" wide x 19'6" long (for a 20 trailer).

Your next project should be to sketch out several floor plans with your "Have To's" in mind. Remember a typical hallway is 4' (mine is about 3'). Typical depth of a kitchen counter 25 1/2", my closet is 25" (at least 18" to accommodate hangers).

One of my first floor plan drawings. I reworked this many times before the final draft.

Now take some blue painters tape and tape out the parameters of your "tiny house". Hopefully, you can do this within your current location, say in the living room or bedroom. To simulate walls, use 2 of the rooms existing walls as 2 walls of your "tiny house" and perhaps furniture or cardboard for the other 2 walls. Just using tape on the floor does not stop your eye from thinking you have more space.

Tape out where your door opening is and the swing of the door. I have a 28" door in the Ynez which is larger than most "tiny houses". I wanted to make sure that if I needed to get my washer out or bring a comfy chair in, it would fit through the door.

Tape off where you want your windows (don't forget to include 3-4" of trim). Windows are important for light and the feeling of open space. I have 12 and it is nice and bright inside!

Ok, now the fixed items. Tape off the kitchen counter, the shower and toilet, the walls for bathroom and closet. It's getting tight isn't it?

Live with this house fort for a few days and see if you want to make changes to your floor plan. I lived with mine for several months moving pieces around to get just the right configuration.

Because I wanted to leave the living area open as much as possible I choose not to have any built-ins. This allows me to change furniture as my needs change. If I am working on a project that needs a table then the table is put up. If I am having people over I will bring in the chairs from the porch.

By not having built-ins I have more versatility. Say I have the flu and don't want to climb the ladder. I can sleep on the bench or put up a mattress on the floor. If I need something more long term I could bring in a single bed or cot and remove what is currently there. Remember normal chairs and sofas are quite deep. Measure or place these furniture pieces in your house fort to see if they will be too large and inhibit walking through your tiny house. Less is more with a tiny house. Try to leave open space. Open legs on a bench or chair will give the illusion of more space. Chunky or bulky furniture will make it feel claustrophobic. Multi-functional items work the best. A ottoman that stores the extra sheets, a bench that stores folded clothes and blanket. The chair and table that fold and can be stored elsewhere.

My mother's old refinished cedar chest.

Open cedar chest filled with clothes, jewelry & blankets.

Small ottoman foot stool & room heater.

Open ottoman filled with sheets & blanket.
Apothecary chest refurbished for storage.
All food storage for me, my dog & bird.

Next time, let's talk about lofts or no lofts, porches and utility areas.

I would love to hear your comments or questions.


  1. The floor plan you posted looks great! I'm interested in what changes you made for your final design.

    1. Anonymous,

      I made several changes which you can see in the pictures on the blog. You can also go to "oregoncottagecompany.net" to see the builders pictures. He also includes a sketch of the floor plan.

      If I needed to eliminate the loft this would have been my plan. In the effort to keep the length at 20' I kept the loft.

      Send me a scan of your floor plan, I would love to see it!

  2. Nancy, I love the painter's tape idea. I have it all ready to go, as soon as I can clear out my living/dining area.
    I had already made out my list of 'must have' items, including a soaking tub (a green plastic stock tank) a composting toilet (a cabinet/pop-up seat with arms and covered pot combination from the 1920's), beams across the great room so I can hang a swing, and as few built-ins as possible so I can rearrange things if I don't like them. I've not been a fan of tight sleeping lofts, and lengthwise couches, so I designed a French door on the long side of the house. Rather than a gable, I think I might go with a shed roof, like the Alsek design, I'm keeping my very comfy couch and putting it across the end so I can open the bed.
    I don't want a regular washer/dryer on board, and I eventually want stairs to the loft, if I decide I like sleeping there. Otherwise, it will be the attic storage!
    You certainly have worked out so many clever details. Do you find that you have enough food storage, and prep room? My kitchen/pantry design has grown in length and complexity.