Small Houses & the Great Outdoors

Porches can be an extension of a house, be sure to give your outdoor space some careful planning and inviting design elements.

Porches can be an extension of a house, be sure to give your outdoor space some careful planning and inviting design elements.

Think Outside...

...the box. That's a hackneyed phrase to be sure. But in this case it makes sense. Homes are, at their very basic level just boxes or containers for our things and to keep us sheltered from the elements. Many of us want our homes to do more than the basics though, and reflect our personalities, styles, or provide a space to pursue and take care of the things we value most. Having worked on designing small, functional spaces that meet code (not always easy, especially where stairs are involved!) and also satisfy an aesthetic, bringing the outdoors in has been a sturdy ally. Not only that, gardening and the outdoors represent a great love of ours that has only grown through the years, so it's no surprise at all that we should want to look out as much as possible. If you are in the midst of designing a small space (especially, but any space can experience this) you have probably noticed that rooms can feel too narrow, or even when able to accommodate furnishings etc. that are needed, can still seem too small to do so. If you're having that issue, try incorporating windows. Even in very small homes, having an open corridor that looks through the house can lend a strong sense of spaciousness, inviting the eye to go long without interruption - and if in the looking through a window, you can carry on your distance even further, so much the better. 

The Beekeeper's Bungalow was a roughly 760 square foot home with two bedrooms and a turning staircase in the middle. The first floor had a bedroom on it as well, so you can imagine that there wasn't a huge amount of space leftover for the living room. One of the ways that we made the living room space feel more effective, rather than cramped, was to have big windows facing west - looking over a covered porch and garden to the immediate west and taking in an expansive westward view across a large field across the street from us. Our eyes were almost always directed out these windows as you just never knew what might be going on outside. Consequently, less time was directed to the interior and the entire sense of spaciousness was amplified despite the fact that the square footage was not large. Facing east, we employed another eye guiding technique. At the end of the galley kitchen visible from the living room, we installed a full glass door that opened onto the back deck and overlooked a garden path that wound eventually to the back of the lot where a greenhouse and shed were. Thus, again, the eye was guided ever onwards, despite the fact that the entire footprint of the home was just 18 by 32. 

Let the Outdoors Be a Friend Even While You're Inside

open up your indoor space to the outside with tall windows.jpg

I'm a firm believer that getting outdoors is good for us, even when we're inside and it's just coming in through a window. Obviously, not every view to the wider world is superb, and there may be times when this doesn't work as well because the view is just not soothing. In cases like this, the outdoors can still be borrowed from effectively by locating windows higher on the wall but to the same effect...even some sky or trees or the sight of a lamp post coming inside does a lot for expanding a small space. Another option is to try utilizing mirrors in locations where windows are impractical. I have seen some fantastic tricks of the eye played on small spaces thanks to great mirror placement, effectively doubling space and brightening spaces when combined with natural light or bright paint. In a case like this, you aren't bringing the outdoors in, but you're still capitalizing on the idea of expanding space sensorily while keeping your footprint small. These techniques work in new builds and remodels alike. 

Time to Head Out to the Patio

Pavers are an inexpensive way to expand your living space (Ithaca House, Point Roberts, WA)

Pavers are an inexpensive way to expand your living space (Ithaca House, Point Roberts, WA)

Another great way to make your space larger is to invite the eye to travel to outdoor spaces like patios, decks and porches. Regardless of your foundation style, there's a solution in that mix. Even condos and apartments are made more spacious with decks and balconies, especially as the outdoor space itself is typically paired with a large glass door leading there. I find some of the most satisfying times of year those when I can stop looking outside and fully incorporate it into the home by throwing open the windows (Shawn would interject that here in the Pacific Northwest that only happens about 3 times a year...but that's a different discussion). Anyway, don't forget to consider your outdoor hardscape as part of your strategy for keeping a small space feeling larger. It works! Pergolas are outdoor structures that can still attach to the home (or be freestanding) and they too employ stretching visual and functional space in a way that encourages a sense of spaciousness. One can extend the sense of a living room, kitchen, etc. by including pergolas or pergola like structures in garden/hardscape design.

Next time you are designing and encounter a tricky small space, try emphasizing view corridors and extending into the outdoors via window mirror, deck, patio or pergola placement. Look at your site and figure out how you might include these patio or porch spaces that literally open up the indoors to the outside. Even cool climates benefit from this outdoor living space part of the year! Just the exercise of seeing where your eyes travel in your home is useful for practicing the effect and learning it, and once you're in the habit of looking in this way, you'll see the trick employed everywhere you turn. I think it is especially functional when dealing with small spaces, and who doesn't like to feel like a magician sometimes?