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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.

Product Review: Haier Space-Saving Portable Compact Electronic 1 Cubic Foot Top Load Washer HLP21N


For a unit with an incredibly long name, this is a super small unit with a great deal of ‘oomph’ to it. It fits into our kitchen right next to the refrigerator and underneath the shelving where we keep plates and our oven. It’s top loading and you can actually fit much more than a shirt or two in there. I routinely wash a pair of jeans or two with undies, socks, and a few tee shirts. No problems. The bathroom rug throws it off balance and usually needs to be shaken a bit before it goes through its cycle, but sometimes it does just fine. You can wash a reasonable amount of clothing at a time and what is best of all about this unit is that it functions like most of the HE models that are on the market these days. It spins out a tremendous amount of the washing water. And you can set it to run small, medium or large loads and can also adjust for normal, light, or heavy soil levels/wash times.

The unit is somewhat noisy, but really no more so than a regular front loading washer. It doesn’t bounce around (unless badly overbalanced, and that’s human error rather than machine dysfunction). Clothing comes out clean and well laundered. I do not use a dryer but this particular model comes with a matching dryer. Both units run on a 110, which is very handy for a number of reasons. I really like this washer. I’ve used HE front loading washers at two of the last homes we’ve lived in, one by GE and one by Frigidaire, and liked both. I find this one to be in some senses even better in terms of the amount of water spun out. It’s a great little machine. I would recommend the dryer if you have the space, especially if you don’t have space or the time to air dry. We live in a rainy climate and there are times a dryer would be very handy. So far, this hasn’t been a big problem, but consider your needs when designing.

For air-drying you might consider an accordion-style drying rack for, say, a tiny bathroom or utility room, even a porch. Also, the IKEA octopus is an inexpensive (about $6) way to dry socks, diapers, undies and more.

I would highly recommend Haier’s little washer. We chose it over all-in-one units (the combo washer/dryer) based on an abundance of negative reviews we’ve seen regarding units like that. I don’t have any first hand experience with units that combine both washing and drying, but if you share that concern, this Haier model is another very impressive, very space saving unit. Our unit is completely installed but the unit comes on casters and can actually be wheeled in and out of closets, if needed.

Product Review: The LG Refrigerator #LRBP1031W


Don’t be fooled by the romantic name of this fridge. The LRBP1031W is a fantastic fridge and a small one at that. We really debated refrigerators. We do a huge amount of gardening, so a lot of our food is coming fresh out of the garden. In that sense, we don’t need a huge fridge. We couldn’t fit one in if we wanted to, anyway. On the other hand, we cook from scratch, eat mostly at home, and need a real refrigerator. No matter how much you grow in the garden, a fridge is an important part of the kitchen. A small dorm style unit would have been very space conserving but just wouldn’t have suited our needs. We chose this one after seeing it “in person” at a friend’s beach cabin. It’s tall and narrow with a bottom freezer. The freezer has three deep drawers which are very convenient for stacking and storing. We have a ton of berries in the freezer right now and there’s still room for many other things as the cubic storage seems to really save on space. There’s also a quick freeze drawer at the top where we keep ice packs and ice trays. For ice cream fans (and I only mention this because it’s SO important), the freezer drawer will fit the Kitchen Aid ice cream bowl. You have to tilt and jostle it a bit, but what matters is that in the end, you can store it in there!

The top refrigerator section is spacious. It has three drawers, three shelves and the door has ample space for tall things (including wine bottles), a butter (or whatever) box, egg tray, and little shelves ranged in size for storage of smaller items. I’ve found this a great size fridge. It’s not too small for anything. And the unit itself is not humongous, so we are able to tuck it into the kitchen and it really works!

Another thing that I love about this refrigerator is that it’s incredibly quiet. If, for you, the sound of a humming refrigerator is at all annoying, imagine what a problem this could become in a very small space. The LG is truly quiet. I rarely if ever register its sound. I love this refrigerator. Great purchase.

If I can also plug a bit for LG’s customer service, I feel compelled to do so. When we unpacked this refrigerator and installed it, the seal around the door had been wrinkled in transit and wasn’t sealing the fridge door. After waiting a week or so without success to see if the seal would uncoil itself and work properly, we called LG to ask them to please send a new seal out to us. This they could not do. However, they sent a whole new refrigeratorout to us, no charge, no questions asked! They merely asked us to send in the sticker on the side of the unit with the model and serial numbers. We thought the response was excessive but obviously more than satisfactory. I would have preferred, truthfully, that they just send the seal, since it was all that was required, but in terms of good responses and willingness to fix a mistake, LG really impressed me with their commitment to customer service. Having done a fair amount of building and remodeling over the years has given me a certain (over) familiarity with the process of sometimes needing manufacturers to honor warranties. LG is far and away the most honorable company I’ve worked with in that regard. I’ll definitely recommend them.

All told, the refrigerator speaks for itself, anyway: It’s quiet, very well designed, attractive, and super functional, all in a smaller package that doesn’t skimp on quality. This is a great refrigerator. By the way, it comes in white and a stainless style finish.

Product Review: The Breville Smart Oven


I actually got this deluxe toaster oven after three failed attempts at a Kitchen Aid toaster. The Kitchen Aid toaster was the first “fancy” toaster I ever bought, and it was terrible. It broke three times, from the same defect, in a three year period and after the third replacement, I decided to let Kitchen Aid keep its overpriced, defective toaster and opted to try something new. Knowing we were about to move into a smaller space and being keen on having the ability to use a smaller oven for smaller portions anyway, I looked into toaster ovens and eventually settled on the Breville Smart Oven. It toasts bread (and bagels!), roasts, broils, bakes, has a pizza setting and a few other settings as well. You can easily adjust all the functions and it has a convection setting that can be turned off and on depending on what you are baking. I am an avid cook and baker and bake all my own breads.I was walking the other day and started thinking about how homes listed for sale are described in print. I was specifically thinking of the way that you sometimes see homes listed as including Five Appliances. (Sometimes you see numeric variations on this theme, but five is a number I see a lot). Anyway, I began thinking about our home and what appliances it contains…since it’s a home under 200 square feet, I was considering which of our appliances have made it a resoundingly pleasant 200 square feet to live in. To celebrate the end of our first year in our little house, which coincides nicely with the end of 2011, I’ve compiled a list of the Five Appliances that I think have contributed to a successful year living in a small space. If you are considering outfitting a small space, be it house, travel trailer, in-law apartment, or just a smaller sized kitchen, I hope you will find this useful.

We also routinely bake pizzas in this oven. The pizza function is nice. I have a thirteen inch baking stone that I like to bake pizzas on and this stone does fit into this oven. Barely, but it does if I want it to, and the door closes fully. Wow. That’s amazing! You can also choose to bake on the pizza pan that comes included with the oven. The pizza setting includes subsettings for frozen or fresh dough/pizzas and has an inbuilt time and temperature suggestion for each variety that you can easily adjust according to your own preferences.My biggest concern about moving into a small space was being limited to a large toaster oven for all my baking needs. But I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by the Breville. I can fit two two pound loaves of sourdough bread into the oven at a time to bake (though they come out more perfectly shaped when I cook them one at a time). The oven can hold 450 degrees beautifully, and while the baking space is indeed snug for two big loaves, they bake evenly and turn out beautifully. There’s no steam injection, but tossing a bit of water in the base works well to give me a lovely, caramelized crust and I’ve been really happy with the way this oven has performed.

Broiling works beautifully as does baking and roasting. The bagel setting I have not used, but I use the toast setting every day. I like that you can choose to toast 2-6 slices at a range of darkness, depending on what you like. You can adjust the oven rack to various heights inside the oven, which is handy if you are baking bread or other tall items like whole squash. I can’t say much against this little workhorse. It’s much more pricey than a toaster oven, but in this case, you aren’t buying a toaster oven so much as a small oven. This has been an excellent investment. It functions beautifully on every setting, it’s quiet and small and attractive with a stainless finish. It’s sturdily built and in a year and a half of at least once daily usage, I haven’t had a single problem with the machine.

I give this gem a five star rating. I think the Breville Smart Oven would suit a variety of people’s needs and can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Ergo- and Eco-nomics of Small

Jamie's MusingsJamieComment

I've been giving some thought to what "small" means lately and it would appear that it's a pretty relative term. It's much more relative, to my thinking, than what "large" means. Right now my husband, my cat and myself are all living in a "small" house of 160 feet plus a loft area for sleeping. I occasionally have friends ask when we're going to build our house (our "big" house? our "real" house?). Some can't believe we haven't killed each other living in so "small" a space. Others totally understand the appeal and a surprising mix of people alternate between disbelief that we live full time in our little home and a desire to come inside and see how things are laid out...then come a fairly frequent number of comments along the lines of, "Wow, this has really got everything you need in it!" "This isn't really very small at all!" "I love it, it's so cute!"

While we originally built a tiny house as a builder's cottage intending to begin building a small house within about 6 months, we've come to like the tiny house very much. We're not quite ready to leave it yet. It's wonderfully spacious (thanks to high ceilings over the living room and plenty of windows) while also cozy and comfortable. It's got most of what we need and not too many drawbacks. When I consider all the places I've lived in my days, I can always recall certain things about those spaces that were drawbacks so this home doesn't seem to be any different than others in that regard.

What do I consider the biggest drawback? I'm a scratch cook, so sometimes I'd like a little more space in the kitchen. But I've been able to do it all (really!) even in a kitchen smaller than most bathrooms (and I mean I bake all my own breads, process honey from our bees, can, freeze and dry foods for winter use, make 95% of our meals at home, and do all the dishes to boot!). And I'd have to say that it is more difficult to have friends for dinner in close quarters. But one or two visitors for afternoon tea or a talk are no problem at all!

So why all the random thoughts attached to this one little word, "small?" I guess I'm mulling it over because as we develop new home plans and consider our own future desires, the thought is reinforced that much of what makes a place not just satisfactory but also pleasing is a personal feeling about the structural surroundings that make up our homes. What do people often desire from their housing? Shelter and safety, of course. Also we want something well laid out, comfortable, a refuge from things outside when we need it to be, a place we can be comfortable and share time with loved ones. We need places that are reasonable to heat, cool and maintain, laid out so that things are where they need to be and useful without being too much or too many and places that offer enough clean, comfortable space for all the people living under its rooflines. A home should provide the space you need to do what you need and like to do in a method that is appealing aesthetically and also allows one to be unstressed financially. These kind of things make a home a home and in that sense, size is somewhat irrelevant.