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?