Plans, Drafting & Design

tiny house living

Right Sizing Your Home

Jamie's MusingsJamie
BIG, Small, tiny...what's a good house size? 

BIG, Small, tiny...what's a good house size? 

Some time ago a woman making a comment on our site mentioned “right sizing” her life. I thought that was an apt phrase. We always hear about down sizing and super sizing (and even super down sizing!) but we don’t necessarily hear much about right sizing, which implies a great deal of consideration. It’s easy to go big…what can’t be fit into 3500 square feet?  It’s even easy to go tiny, in many ways. You just put everything into storage or "get rid of things". But what if you fall somewhere in between and want to make a conscientious choice that meets your current and foreseeable needs?

People considering building or buying a home are all totally different in terms of needs and really have to consider these issues carefully. It’s not an easy task, actually. It can be problematic to build or buy a tiny or small home and then find you actually do need more space. It can be equally problematic to find that you thought you needed more than you did and are now dealing with all that extra space. Personally, I’ve experienced both sides of this coin. Both have associated problems. 

So as a piece of advice to people planning to build at some point or are currently in process, I offer the following thoughts on design. Consider your needs carefully and thoughtfully and honestly. Try not to make your decisions based on what you think is cute, or works for other people (and therefore “should” work for you) or is somehow the “only” right thing to do. Sometimes all of these things coincide, but definitely consider your needs so that you can make a choice that will ensure a home that works for you for a long time to come.

  • Do you have a big family? Small?
  • Are you planning to have kids? 
  • Do you live alone?
  • Is your family still subject to expansion or are members just about to leave the nest?  
  • Do you do a lot at home in terms of business, hobbies, cooking, entertaining or do you prefer to be out and about, traveling often or eating out regularly?  
  • Do you live in a climate that has extremes that might make being indoors necessary for a good chunk of the year?  
  • Do you like cozy spaces or do they disconcert you?  
  • When you look around your current space, what problems do you see?  
  • Are the problems you seek to avoid replicating layout issues or do you actually have too much or too little space?  
  • How much can you afford and how much do you want to pay for in dollars, time, expenses, etc?  

I think there are probably a lot of other issues in there as well, but having a good solid question and answer session can be illuminating and might help to guide your design process so that you can come up with a small home that is the right size for your specific needs. Putting in the thought in advance can save you a bundle of time, energy and money down the line. Believe it or not, we have heard from people who have houses both too big and too small. Seeking a balance is a worthy challenge for prospective home builders as it makes it far more likely that your project will be rewarding to yourself and others for many, many decades to come.


CNN: A Landmark Experience


Originally Appeared on CNN’s Living in Small Spaces  |  July 16, 2012  |  Point Roberts, Washington

CNN PRODUCER NOTE:  Jamie Dehner shares this photo of her 200 square foot home in Point Roberts, Washington. “It puts us back in touch with our fundamental desires, which is to build, to create, and to have shelter,” she says. “There’s a wonderful coziness about it. You are all tucked in with the things you need and use the most.” 

My husband Shawn, a designer-drafter for THE small HOUSE CATALOG, and I currently live in about 200 square feet. We designed and built the house ourselves to live in as a builder’s cottage while we decided what and whether to build on our lot. Far from being too cramped or oppressive, this has been the best experience! We’ve met just about all our neighbors (and maybe even our whole town). We never would have met so many people here otherwise. We’ve even become a landmark…”turn left just after that cute little orange house” is apparently a commonly offered direction!

People love the tiny house. It was a simple, fun building project that solved an immediate need by providing us with clean and comfortable shelter. Furthermore, it saved us a ton of money as we were able to say goodbye to our rental and keep $1000.00 a month in our pocket. But is it too small? No way. We do all our cooking from scratch, including harvesting, cooking and preserving from a big garden that provides most of our produce all year round. We bake all our sourdough bread from scratch here, even grinding the wheat in our little kitchen. We extracted our first ever honey harvest from our bee hives at this house! (We extracted outside and did all the bottling inside). Even in a tiny kitchen (about 4×8) with tiny appliances, the food comes out beautifully and tastes even better for being so cozy! We have a three point bathroom with sink, RV sized tub (people LOVED this!) and shower and toilet. We built the little house with a vaulted ceiling in the living room and it never seems cramped. In fact, people are always stunned when they come in. “This is perfect! Do you mean to tell me this isn’t even 200 square feet?” A ladder leads to a sleeping loft where we have a queen sized mattress. The cat has learned to climb up and down the stairs and we were sure to build windowsills in wide enough for her to sit on. We included plenty of gorgeous windows in our floor plan to take advantage of abundant sunshine, and as a result, we make the outdoors part of our indoors – giving us a spacious feel that is superb!!

Holidays are really fun in a tiny home. A couple of little pumpkins sit on the porch, a few strings of lights illuminates the whole front at Christmas time. We’ve always had a Christmas tree here (this will be our third Christmas coming up). The first was tall and fit into a corner nicely. Last year’s was a real gem as we found a downed pine and took a four foot top off it. It was chubby and sweet and filled out the corner perfectly, with room for presents underneath!

We’ve decided at last to build a house, but not without some sadness at leaving our tiny house. Code restrictions in our area require us to build within two years (our local code enforcement has been generous in allowing us to stay without hassle…and who could blame them? We’re hooked up to water, septic, phone, electricity and internet, plus we’ve had numerous requests by people in town to build one for them!). But as a result of spending a couple of years in 200 square feet, we’ve realized that our “big house” is going to be plenty of room for us no matter how we expand at just under 700 feet (we’re considering resale in building this big a house. Seems huge!).

I would highly recommend living in a space like this. You learn what you need and don’t need. You learn how amazing it can be to try something totally new. You learn how much these tiny spaces appeal to ALL sorts of people. You will be trying something that is really so simple that you won’t even feel you’ve given anything up. You’ll learn something about yourself and your partner. You’ll learn that bigger isn’t necessarily or even close to better. You’ll also learn what you’d like more of and what you can do without. It’s a fantastically liberating experience to live in a small space that is also hugely fun and entertaining, not just for you as the builder and occupant, but for others who pass by and just want to peek inside. And whether you stay in a tiny house permanently or end up building, you’ve got a perfect guest cottage that you can share with friends, family, sell or rent out. I think that this experience of living in a small space has taught us a great deal about ingenuity. We love it. We’ll miss living here full time…good thing our little house will be right next door! Before they see it in person, people often say things like “Oh, it’s too small, no one can live in a space like that.” After they’ve seen it in person, they change their tune. “Wow, this has everything you need! This place is PERFECT!”

This article appears as part CNN’s Living in Small Spaces report. You can read the original article, A Landmark Experience, here.