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  • Writer's pictureKaren

Designing Small Homes to Live Large

Much of the focus of my career, has been designing homes and spaces that to some may be considered small. While tiny houses are all the rage right now, I am talking more in the 500SF-1000SF range. The following are just a few key factors or design patterns that are important in designing a small home to help it live larger than what the square footage might declare.

As with all design projects, the siting of a home is a crucial first step. Balancing a home’s openness with our need of privacy is critical in any home designed within a city.

With this 530 SF attached accessory dwelling unit, I placed the building as far north on the property to allow for a larger south yard. The majority of view windows are on the south side and in the corners to allow for longer diagonal views. This dining nook faces the garden as well as a busy Seattle street.

Room sized front porches or back decks go a long way in making a small house feel larger. The indoor outdoor connection extends the living space outdoors. You also have this semi-private space that creates an important transition between the public space and the interior of the home.

To me, living in the Pacific Northwest, it’s all about the light. Even on our typical gray days, if there are enough windows and their placement is right, any home can be filled with light which will make it feel more expansive.

Ways to bring in light while maintaining privacy, are the use of obscure glass and skylights. A design trick I have used is placing windows close to a wall to allow the light to reflect off the wall or placing a skylight close to the wall so the light washes down from above.

It is also important to balance the light with windows on as many sides as possible. Below is a 540 SF attached ADU above a 2-car garage in Columbia City and was my home 8 years with my husband. There are windows on all 4 sides which allows for balanced light and natural cross ventilation.

Another design feature was the use of the center storage cabinet. This allowed for separation between our living room and bedroom, but kept the visual openness of the space above 5’.

This is not just a room divider, but a very useful storage unit.

With bookcases and drawers on one side and TV on the other. With the use of sliding panels, we were able to close off the TV and open up the desk area. My husband who was also the builder, incorporated a spinning platform that the TV actually could be swung around and watched from the bedroom.

These design features help to make a small home feel larger, but really can be incorporated in any size project.



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