The freedom and simplicity of tiny home living is becoming more popular with homeowners seeking an affordable and sustainable lifestyle. However, proper planning to design is crucial to your comfort and happiness.
With a tight footprint that is typically smaller than 400 square feet, each design and décor decision carries more weight than in a larger home. If there is something that isn’t functional for your lifestyle, or makes your tiny home feel smaller, the effect is going to be felt more profoundly.
When designing and decorating your tiny home, here are some mistakes you’ll want to avoid. Meanwhile, if you’re more of a visual thinker you can find some great examples here.
Assuming that a tiny home is the same as a traditional home, just smaller
“It’s really important not to build a tiny home like you would a regular home,” says Ben Rawson, founder of Zen Tiny Homes
You need to consider the way in which you actually use rooms or zones and make sure that the available space will support those activities. If not, you will have to alter your lifestyle in order to live in your home. You can avoid this frustration by doing a room-by-room inventory defined by function and expectation.
For example, in a traditional home, where a bedroom occupies more square footage and has higher ceilings, you might be used to getting dressed beside your bed, or maybe exercising or practicing yoga. But in many tiny homes, a bedroom is a loft.
The loft bedroom space in a tiny home is condensed and is meant to accommodate vertical space as opposed to horizontal, which means that you would have to move your previous bedside routine elsewhere.
You need to make sure that other rooms in the house provide the space to facilitate your routine comfortably.
Many tiny homes are portable, giving you the freedom to move wherever it suits you. The same thinking is useful with your interior design features as well; you can change your living environment easily if your lifestyle changes, or if you determine that something isn’t working after you’ve lived with it for a while.
Erin Card, lead designer with Tumbleweed Tiny House Company says, “In a tiny house you need to have mobility, which is why we make many items in our homes moveable or removeable.”
This helps when “clients realize that a piece of furniture or setup doesn’t work with their lifestyle and they want to change things to make their lives easier.”
Joe Pollon, president of Central Coast Tiny Homes, urges people considering downsizing to a tiny home to spend time getting acquainted with the scale in a hands-on way.
“It’s really important to spend time in small spaces and see what it feels like,” he says.
He recommends carrying a tape measure and measuring spaces to figure out your comfort level.
Closing in your space
When you have a small space, building too many walls or creating visual interference with furniture and structures will make your home feel small and cramped. Having an open concept is preferable and much of that has to do with sightlines and the perception of space.
“The more the eye lands on distant points (across the room or outside) the bigger it will feel,” says Pollon. “Keep things out of the way and try not to break up spaces with walls, cabinets or corners.”
Moving walls or cabinetry even a few inches can create better sightlines, especially around corners, which will make everything feel larger.
Pollon says that distributing focal points strategically can be helpful, as their placement will either “amplify or reduce the sense of space.”
“Putting visually interesting features at a distance helps, so accent walls should be at the end of the room, rather than in the middle or up high,” he says.
When picking light fixtures, opt for sconces, flush mounts, or if you are going for a larger fixture, choose clear, cage or translucent styles that allows the free flow of light, air and sight. Avoid big, bulky shades.
Another smart design feature is high ceilings. Even if your square footage is small underfoot, building up will make your home feel much bigger.
Picking busy patterns
While patterns are funky and add undeniable style, especially when it comes to wallpaper and tile, be mindful of including aggressive or busy patterns in your tiny home.
While loud patterns make a statement, they are inherently overwhelming to the eye, and the effect is usually balanced with neutrally styled space nearby, where the eye can rest. This is harder to achieve in a tiny home, because there’s less wall space.
Patterns can work in a tiny home but be “smart about which patterns and make sure to intermix them with solid colors. For wallpaper, maybe do one statement wall and not the entire house,” says Tiny House Giant Journey vlogger Jenna Kausal.
Underestimating the power of linear decor
It’s a basic rule of design: vertical lines will draw the eye in, up and out – which sends a spacious message, while horizontal lines tend to collapse inward visually, drawing the eye down.
This is important when applying patterns to your walls, but even the way in which you install your floors can draw the eye in or push it out. For example, a tongue-and-groove pine laid vertically on the floor and up the wall will bring the eye in the right direction. Tiles should be set in vertical patterns too.
Having too few or too many windows
Windows not only support the free flow of light and air that contribute to a sense of space, they help to extend sightlines, as long as they are strategically positioned. Nothing makes a space feel smaller than darkness, which is why ample artificial light should be included in addition windows.
However, having too many windows isn’t good. For one thing, too many windows (or skylights) can create problems keeping your home warm or cool, depending on where you are located and the season.
You also need window treatments for privacy, especially if your tiny home is in a populated area, so if you have lots of windows, you will need multiple coverings. One solution is to position more windows high, so that they still let light in, but don’t need to be covered for privacy.
Rawson says you are better to have large door that slides open than a bank of windows. If you can open a wall – at least partially – with a door, you greatly increase your living space.
“You need to have a set of doors that opens up completely… A lot of our designs have a big accordion window or accordion door or big sliding glass doors on one side.”
Being able to fuse indoor and outdoor space extends sightlines, which goes a long way to making your home feel larger.
Too much clutter
“Clutter is the enemy of the tiny home,” says Kausal.
When a space is cluttered, not only does it detract from usability (think bumping into everything, or not being able to find what you need easily), it makes your available space look and feel a lot smaller.
Reducing clutter is partly about mindset and partly about having appropriate storage to house your belongings out of sight.
“Be aware of what you are bringing in. If you bring something in, you should already have a place in mind for it. And there’s a rule bring one thing and get rid of two if you can,” says Kausal.
Find out-of-sight areas to stash items. Even if they aren’t completely out of sight, they don’t interrupt your vision and the flow so they won’t clutter your space. For example, create storage up and away by building out the framing in the ceiling.
Look for other places that might offer hidden storage, such as in the kickplates in the kitchen or beneath a staircase “We put doors and drawers in our stairs that go up to our sleeping lofts,” says Card, strategically maximizing built-in, out of sight storage.
Another helpful hint is to have artwork that lifts and has storage behind it.
Meanwhile, open shelving is a double-edged sword. It’s a great place to display items and contribute to your decor, but if not done strategically and maintained regularly, an open shelf stacked with stuff will be part of the clutter problem.
One upside with having open shelving is that items in view are items that you are more likely to use.
Going too dark with the color palette
While dark colors aren’t necessarily taboo, they are harder to use deftly in a small space without visually restricting the space.
It is more common in tiny homes to use a neutral color palette, as white, grey and beige catch and reflect the light effectively, amplifying the sense of space. It’s a better idea to integrate bolder colors into your decor with accents, because accents are more subtle, but highly visible. You can also change up the aesthetic more easily.
Mixing lighter colors with more textured materials, like warm woods, is an effective decor strategy too. Not only does it create visual interest, but it also makes your home feel cozier.
If you really yearn for bright or dark colors, consider using them on your home’s exterior. You still get to experience them, but they won’t make your interior feel small and closed in.
Picking the wrong furniture
Furnishing your tiny home is important functionally but is also important in establishing your decor. If your pieces aren’t appropriately sized, they will swallow space – literally and visually.
Because of the premium on space, you need to select furniture that fits perfectly and ultimately does double duty. In other words, your furniture needs to do more for you then provide somewhere to sit, dine or work.
A sofa with drawers underneath can provide storage. An ottoman can provide extra seating for guests and if it has a lifting lid it can serve as extra storage in addition to being a regular ottoman. A platform bed with drawers underneath provides more storage, or you can even accommodate a trundle bed within the platform for a guest bed. A futon can be your bed or your sofa, depending on the time of day.
Or if your furniture isn’t serving several purposes, ensure that it is convertible, so that the space around it is maximally usable when the furniture isn’t in use. A murphy bed, or a foldable desk or table can be pulled down when needed and tucked away when not in use. Dropleaf tables work well too. A kitchen island with space inside to store stools when not in use is a good idea.
Built-in furniture is very popular and will ensure that your pieces fit well in the available space.
Making the bathroom too small
Obviously, a bathroom is a very utilitarian space in any home, but in a tiny home you need to really consider the size of the space and whether it can reasonably and comfortably accommodate your daily use.
Rawson says people often underestimate their bathrooms and make them too small.
“You don’t want to minimize your bathroom. It’s the space that you’re going to find yourself in often and you need to think through how it is going to feel,” he says.
He advises taking necessary space from other rooms, if necessary, in order to have a functional and comfortable bathroom.
A cramped design, with a small shower enclosure immediately next to the toilet with no clearance is going to feel restrictive at best and claustrophobic at worst. Another mistake that people often make is to opt for a narrow shower and no tub.
Many lifestyles require the multi-functionality of a tub at some point in time for soaking things, or bathing pets or children. If any of these apply to you, you will find the absence of a tub inconvenient.
Not providing enough prep space in the kitchen
Every inch counts in the kitchen, where your configuration will either facilitate your daily cooking, or invite a constant state of consternation. The success of your tiny kitchen is about the detail in the design, and not the size of the space, so thorough planning with a critical eye is important.
Think about what you’d like to do in your kitchen. Do you love to cook? Are you a baker? This will dictate the number and kind of appliances you have. Some people might get away with a two-burner stove, but some may need more appliance power.
According to Kausal, small appliances are smart in a tiny home kitchen because of their multi-purpose features, but also because they can be stored away out of sight when not in use. The two most popular in the tiny home community include “the Instant Pot and an air fryer,” says Kausal.
Card suggests making your appliances multi-functional to increase your functional space. “If you’ve got a cooktop or an oven on a range, either have a glass top for it or some other sort of rubber, that way it can double as prep space.”
It’s good to have a sink with a lip that can hold a cutting board or strainer. Card recommends an over-counter or over-range microwave, which will also help for ventilation. And many microwaves now offer convection or air fryer features, increasing their range of function.
With limited counter space, it is important to keep it as clear as possible, so make use of sidewalls and backsplash with magnetic knife holders and decorative spice racks.
Not choosing the right location
Many tiny homes are parked in mobile home or RV parks or backyards which is convenient, but ideally a tiny home should be in wide-open space. With ample space, there is the opportunity to extend your space with a deck, landscaping and outbuildings.
Being established in a high-density environment can make you feel closed in when stepping outside or looking out your windows, whereas if your tiny home is placed on a large piece of land, it just feels larger.
“Having enough land around you is having a blank canvas,” says Rawson, whether that means building out structures, or even connecting multiple tiny homes together in a staggered or L-formation, creating more room for a family, which is becoming more popular.