How-To decorate your tiny house

by andrewodom on March 27, 2011 · 19 comments


Americans spent $343 billion on home enhancement, according to a 2009 study by the Barnard Retail Consulting Group of Upper Montclair, N.J. Some of the more obvious trends to this spending spree is

  • People are changing their decor more often than in the past.
  • Consumers are more style and fashion conscious and want to express their individual taste.
  • People are investing less in decor items.

The trend however is starting to show that because a number of American homeowners and first-time home buyers are transitioning to smaller spaces they are facing some unique design dilemmas that often call for less traditional furniture, more creativity in color, and multi-purposing of appliances and furniture pieces. Face it. With a tiny house you not only have to fit your whole world into tiny rooms (or in our case, just one tiny space) but you also have to make it functional and as uncrowded as possible.  Easier said than done, I am afraid!

In researching on the web and in showrooms, at other people’s homes and even at trade shows, we have come up with a few tips on how to make a small space really work for the family inside it without sacrificing fashion or function!

1.  Multi-purpose furniture.  In a tiny house you are limited on furniture items anyway so it is more important than ever that pieces serve multiple functions. A couch should be a guest bed. A desk chair should also be a dining chair without looking too much like either one. A computer monitor should also be a home theatre system. When your home is small, you want to fill it with things that function in all of your everyday – and not so everyday – situations.

2.  Paint an accent wall. I would discourage anyone living in a tiny house full time to go with the now “traditional” oak wood tongue and groove. I would instead suggest a type of wall like eco-friendly gypsum. And then I would discourage the use of antique white throughout the house. Tempting as the price may be this is a home, not a dorm room the week before freshman move-in. Find light, bright colors that reflect light and make the room appear larger than it is. Then paint an accent wall to give a bit of contrast. The contrast adds depth and makes the room feel larger.  You become less aware of just how close the walls are when you add an accent wall.

3.  Get a little egg in your face. Paint with a little shine makes the room glow instead of feeling dull. Glossier paint is also easier to clean than a matte finish. I would, however, encourage an eggshell finish for durability and the ability to clean with just a moist rag.

4.  Extend the wall with elegance. Our main area will have 3.5′ white, wainscoting, not to cut the wall in half but to allow the upper portion (the painted portion) to look as if it extends higher up. The wainscoting also gives a touch of elegance and cottage charm to an otherwise square room.

5.  Go vertical. When you can’t spread out, reach up.  Don’t be afraid of open shelving that extends up the wall. The open shelving gives an airier feel while the vertical extension makes the wall seem much taller. If you or your spouse is vertically challenged you can simply purchase a folding step stool as well as putting the rarely used items at the top.

6. Use Murphy’s Law. And no, I am not referring to the old adage of “if it can go wrong, it will.” I am referring to William Lawrence Murphy (1876–1959), who owned Design Patent D49,273 for the pulldown bed. Now a generic term a Murphy _________ indicates a piece of furniture that stores up when not in use. We are building a custom Murphy Table that will comfortable seat 4 for dinner and will fold into the wall when not in use.

7.  Don’t design for guests. When we first tell people about Tiny House they immediately ask, “How will you host such-and-such party?” or “What about when you have guests over? Where will they use the restroom?” We are designing Tiny House for us, not the 1.2% of occupants (read: guests). Have chairs that suit your needs.  Don’t buy more.  When guests come, it’s okay to pull out a dining table chair or an “office” chair because the truth is that you’ll spend more time at your house without guests than with them.

8. Have a digital revolution. Have snapshots you want to display? Don’t frame them all. Purchase a high resolution, digital frame, with an adequate-sized hard drive. Wanna watch a movie? Use your computer monitor and a set of inexpensive but good quality computer, surround-sound speakers. If you are interested in a home theatre and ample viewing room, you may want to reconsider living in a small home to begin with. Rent DVDs from online or at the Redbox or a similar vending machine. If you have a laptop or a computer the DVD slot is all the DVD player you will need.

9. Save the art for the museum. Our society no longer views art as a sign of wealth or prominence. In fact, poster art is more akin to cheap beer kept in a wine cellar than it is an homage to fine art. Just because you have walls doesn’t mean you have to fill them. Enjoy the space you have. If you want to see a Picasso consider purchasing a coffee table anthology of his work or a much small version (read: postcard art) of his masterpieces to hang on the wall.

10. Your idea here! Did I miss something? Do tell. Do tell. What is your tip for decorating a small space?

 

  • Nebraska Dave

    Drew, these are all great ideas even for a traditional house such as mine. I am in process just simplify what I alredy have. Some day I will get there but for now I’m still in process. There’s still a lot of stuff to go out the door. We as a society have always planned for worse case senerio such as your friends describe with friends over instead of ordinary daily living which is most of the time. I learned that lesson with a personal 15 passenger van purchase that was going to be used for oh so many things of great value and ministry but ended up 90 percent of the time being driven around with one person in it. If there ever was an unwise purchase that was one of them. I’m glad to see some of the younger generation like yourself that have a much better grasp on what’s of value in life.

    Have a great Tiny House Day.

  • http://twitter.com/ohsweetie ohsweetie

    I just have to say that if you’re like us and have people over ALL the time, then accounting for guests and out of town visitors is a must for us when figuring out how much space we need. Having a leaf for our table to make it bigger, or an extra fold away table, and even a stack of extra chairs has been helpful when we’ve had 20 people in our little flat for dinner.

    That being said they’re standing in the kitchen eating, sitting in the play area eating, at the dining table eating and still all in the same room! hahahaah.

    • anotherkindofdrew

      Well, we aren’t like y’all. Because we live in a rural community going over to someone’s house for a few hours is much more of an ordeal than you can probably imagine. Our friends and peers live anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours away in any direction. As for guests and out of town visitors? Not an issue either. Being a southern family there are two things at play.

      1) Family gatherings here are held always at the matriarchs home. Everyone goes there without exception.
      2) Out of town visitors (which are primarily family members) travel with their RVs in which we have ample room to accomodate that.

      We just don’t live in a world of even casual dinner gatherings. Perhaps 10 years ago when we were in our 20s and in New York we would have had such dinner parties but in our world today, it simply doesn’t happen. However, being Southern we LOVE a good barbeque so having a deck and some sort of outdoor seating is a MUST. Crank up the grill, throw a few in the cooler, and we are off to the races – with or without friends. HAHAHAHAHA

  • Moonsabie
  • http://livemadisonoaks.com/ Mie Jensen

    Hmmm… there are times that old decors can be used to transform a room. To reuse those in creative way, you need lots of patience. You should try reading blogs about room makeover or home makeover. I’m sure you’ll get a brilliant idea out of it.

  • Caboose1909

    I live in 337 sq. ft. railroad caboose, and one of the things I have learned is to build in as much as possible and keep chachkeys to a minimum. As with most tiny living spaces, multi-function is a must.

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    When the new place, Lee
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  • http://www.spacify.com/home.asp Quality Furniture

    Even if you do view your job as just a job, if you decorate and re-energize your work space, it can make a big impact on how you feel being

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     Thank you so much for speaking up Anna. My wife and I just aren’t real
    “art on the walls” sort of people although we have a huge and healthy
    appreciation for artists and the arts. We don’t have art on the walls
    now. I am sure this will change with the birth of our child though. I’ll
    hang some kindergarten art now! hhahahahaha

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  • Rhiardrouillard

    I say less is more. Choose display items carefully to represent your interests and/or talents.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carrie-Larsen-Caverly/682169736 Carrie Larsen Caverly

    I agree with the “less is more” statement below.  Texture of any kind will make the walls move in on you in your Tiny House.  Any material change creates a detail that draws your eye toward it, so the smoother the better in my opinion.  Even a color change will attract your attention, and in a small space you don’t want too many details competing for your attention.  White, lighter colors recede.  Dark, deep colors move toward you.  So white lighter colors will make a space feel bigger, dark colors will make it feel smaller.  Warm colors create a feeling of heat (obviously…) and will move in on you… cool colors create calm and move away from you.  My husband and I have just started to design and build tiny houses and are building a Tiny House for ourselves right now!  (http://clotheslinetinyhomes.com) We’ve chosen a smooth, white color palette with natural pine accents and a darker stained wood floor so the floor is grounded and the walls and ceilings move up and away, creating the illusion of more space.

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  • Kacey

    I like the Murphy table idea. I am thinking of making a Murphy kitchen counter-top/table out of an old over-the-door ironing board I found lying around the house.

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    Good job.Any updates coming soon?

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