Live Well in Less than 1,000 Square Feet: Living in Small Homes

Meet your needs, emphasize quality and delight, and discover how less stuff leads to true wealth. Three very different houses show how.

| November/December 2010

  • Jay Shafer's Tumbleweed home features convertible, built-in furniture such as a pull-out dining table for one that also functions as a desk.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • When Jay Shafer's first home didn't meet the minimum size requirement for an Iowa home, he put it on wheels and called it a trailer.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • The cottage includes a small shower and portable composting toilet
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • A mini wood-burning stove can easily heat Shafer's tiny home, and built-in cabinets and drawers provide ample storage.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • A quaint dining area is perfectly sized for two.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • Outdoor living spaces surround Michael Ann Brown's home, allowing for a comfortable spot outside nearly any time of year.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • Serial archways in Michael Ann Brown's home lead the eye through the living space and to the French doors leading outside, creating a feeling of expansiveness.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • A partial wall or cut-out defines separate rooms without cutting off the long views that make a space feel large.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • The enclosed porch on the east is wrapped in windows and glass for a strong indoor-outdoor feeling.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • This 450-square-foot British Columbia cabin is so comfortable its owners decided to make it their full-time home rather than a vacation retreat.
    Photo By Stuart Bish
  • Architect Henry Yorke Mann used tall ceilings, skylights and lots of glass to make the living space feel larger, while a sloping ceiling defines the kitchen.
    Photo By Stuart Bish
  • A cozy sleeping loft topped with skylights offers views of the trees and sky above.
    Photo By Stuart Bish
  • A narrow stairway is made navigable with ladderlike steps and double handrails.
    Photo By Stuart Bish

During the past 60 years, the size of American homes has exploded, but the trend is now moving in the opposite direction, proving once more that bigger isn’t always better. In 1950 the average American home size was 983 square feet; by 2009 the average home was 2,343 square feet—even as family size shrank. Finally, it appears people are rethinking housing size. In 2010, average home size is down 9 percent, and many communities—such as California’s Marin County and Georgia’s DeKalbe County—have enacted laws limiting new home size. 

A moment’s thought yields a multitude of reasons to consider living in less than 1,000 square feet. Smaller homes generally cost less and require less maintenance than larger ones. A small house consumes fewer natural resources in construction and requires less energy for heating and cooling. But perhaps the most compelling reason for going small is that it feels good. People who live in small, well-designed houses say their homes feel cozier, and they love having everything they need within reach.

Design makes all the difference. A poorly designed 900-square-foot house can feel smaller than a well-designed 400-square-foot house. Homes feel cramped when they have small, dark rooms and insufficient storage space. Well-designed small spaces feel open, efficient and cozy. As architect and small-space specialist Henry Yorke Mann proves in his homes, living in a cozy space doesn’t mean sacrificing convenience or livability. “You don’t want to get too mean about things,” he says.

The Spirit of the Sea 

Keith and Judy Scott loved the 450-square-foot cabin Mann designed for them on their British Columbia property so much that they moved out of their main house and now live happily in the small home. “We never thought we could live in 450 square feet,” Keith says. “The home we’d lived in was 5,000 square feet. But the spaces just work right. They’re not too big, and they’re not too small.”

How did the architect do it? “Anyone who’s lived on a boat knows that there are lots of things you can do to save space,” Mann says. He hid storage everywhere, including under the stairs, and he didn’t skimp on quality. The materials are beautiful and earthy. The kitchen and bathroom are efficient and luxurious. Keith calls the sleeping loft “a really comfortable nest.” The vaulted ceiling is expansive, and thoughtfully placed glass embraces the sky, trees, birds and water.

6/21/2014 4:21:42 PM

We live on a ridge on an island in The Philippines. Our house has 3 bedrooms and a kitchen, our living room is our porch. We are 3 and live in 303 square feet. High ceilings are a must and plenty of windows (no glass here, only wood doors to close the windows to bad weather).

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