There’s more to tiny houses than what meets the eye.
They may be small – generally defined as less than 400 square feet – but they’re bigger than they look if you get savvy with the space.
Four people who traded their homes for minimalism shared with Business Insider their best tips and tricks on maximizing and utilizing a tiny house.
They love multifunctional furniture – think a bathroom door that doubles as a ladder to a loft or a bench that folds out into a guest bed. And, of course, tiny living requires creativity with storage. One couple installed floor cubbies in their bedroom to hold miscellaneous items, while another uses magnets to keep kitchen accessories on the walls.
But making the most of a tiny house is about more than purpose and organization. Some make their space seem bigger by designing big picture windows to let natural light in or using an off-white paint to create the illusion of openness. And many expand their space by bringing the outdoors in, from building a deck to installing an accordion window.
Here’s how tiny house dwellers make living tiny work for them.
Bela and Spencer Fishbeyn live in a 300-square foot tiny house in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains.
They told Business Insider they aimed to design their tiny house without any compromises — they wanted it to have everything a traditional home would.
“We’ve learned that most of our storage and multi-functional space ‘tricks’ haven’t actually worked out as intended,” they said.
They found the trick to living in a small space is to make it perfect for what you actually do on a daily basis. “Try to create your space exactly around your life,” they said.
Most tiny houses use a full-sized loft, which maximizes square footage, but Bela and Spencer said it limits the space’s usefulness and expansiveness.
They put their master bedroom over the tiny house’s fifth wheel hitch, which gives them full standing room. A giant picture window “opens it to the outdoors and makes it feel expansive.”
They added giant windows all throughout their tiny house to break down wall barriers and bring in the outdoors, they said.
For their daughter’s room, they used an L-shaped loft to create a more private space and a natural play area in front of her bed.
“The biggest thing about a tiny house that you cannot possibly change is that you’re forced to think about the outdoors from the very beginning,” they said.
“Remember that your small space isn’t in a vacuum,” they said. “People who live in small spaces often have access to lots of outdoor space.”
They took advantage of their outdoor space by building a 300-square-foot deck, complete with a canvas tent to add on a complete extra room.
“Our tiny house really doesn’t feel like a tiny house at all,” they said. “We can always open it up to the outdoors and the indoors and have everything you’d expect from a traditional home.”
Tim and Sam of Tiffany the Tiny Home in Florida bought their 270-square-foot tiny house, but have learned how to make the most of a small space they didn’t design from scratch.
Their storage space is hard to come by — every inch needs to be maximized, and that means getting inventive with DIY shelving.
“We have organizers everywhere that allow us to organize drawers and cabinets to stack our items vertically,” they told Business Insider.
They also have built-in storage everywhere in their home, thanks in large part to shelving.
To avoid accumulating extra stuff, they said they borrow items they rarely need from friends instead of buying them.
They love to travel but avoid buying souvenirs. “We compromised by sending ourselves postcards and keeping them in a small album in our bookshelf.”
Their leaflet dining room table, which collapses to leave more room when not in use, also “makes a huge difference,” they said.
So does the custom cat litter compartment they designed for their cat. They keep it tucked behind a door under their staircase over the tankless water heater.
But their favorite tiny hack was putting a projector in their loft — no need for a TV here. “This totally makes up for the small couch in our home,” they said.
But maximizing space in a tiny house isn’t just about storage — lighting should also be strategic. “There’s such a thing as too much light and the size of the bulb should be considered based on your fixture,” Tim said.
They also found that the small size of their bathroom soaks up more moisture. A vent leading directly outside for the exhaust fan makes it easier for moisture to get in.
Like the Fishbeyns, they utilize their outdoor space for things that may be limited by their small indoor space. They said they have a space for yoga, a hammock, and “crafting and tinkering.”
Joshua and Shelley Engberg also utilize the outdoors to maximize space. The California residents live in a 374-square-foot tiny house they designed.
They told Business Insider they were practical with what they needed for day-to-day living, deciding on a 28-foot trailer frame — the largest they’d seen used for a tiny house at that time.
To open up space, the Engbergs brought the outdoors in by installing an eight-foot accordion bi-fold window. “It really makes all the difference in our design,” they said.
Inside, they find that hidden storage makes the most of a small space — like the floor cubbies surround their king-sized mattress in their sleeping loft.
In the kitchen, they designed custom cabinets with unique storage features to help make the most of space.
They kept their kitchen and bath on opposite ends of the house, which they said helps separate smells, opens space, and works with entertaining.
Since small bathrooms can lead to big smells and moisture, they opted for a urine-diverting composting toilet with an internal fan to curb both of these problems.
They also do their laundry in the bathroom. Instead of having a “big, bulky, and white monolith of an appliance,” they chose a ventless washer-dryer combo.
They recommend a standard house-sized shower over a small 20-inch one cramped in the corner of the bathroom. “Life in a small space will feel more normal and easily approachable.”
The bathroom door doubles as a ladder to a lofted closet above the bathroom. It has 66 feet of hanging space and four small storage drawers for their clothes.
They were also deliberate with long, slim windows high on the walls. “They bring in diffused natural light without dominating the space and adding unwanted heat in the summer months,” they said.
They recommend traditional-sized furniture for couches or chairs versus building your own: “When you use something every day, it should feel normal and that’s a big key to making tiny living successful.”
Jenna Spesard built her 165-square-foot tiny house, currently parked in Whidbey Island In Washington, from scratch.
When it comes to utilizing space, “Every inch counts,” Spesard told Business Insider. “I measure everything before I bring it into my tiny home.”
That’s because she thinks about every single item she brings in. “Often, when I’m deciding between two things I choose the one that weighs the least.”
She opted for open shelving in the kitchen, which she said can help the area feel larger.
Spesard also uses magnets to keep kitchen accessories on the walls, such as spices and knives.
“Utilizing the space in between rafters and in the corners of the room for storage is also a good idea,” she added.
Clothing storage has proved more of a challenge for her, “but if you use the Marie Kondo folding method you can fit a lot of clothes into a tiny space,” she said.
A few years after building the tiny house, Spesard realized she wanted a downstairs bed option for guests. She and her husband decided to DIY their own futon.
She also created a folding table that, when not in use, looks like a chalkboard on the wall.
Another “space saver” was putting her bedroom in a loft.
For her dog, she included a small bathtub for doggy baths and extended her loft just enough for a dog bed at the foot.
And because her house is made of wood, Spesard painted her walls in off-white to brighten it up and make the space seem larger. Sometimes, maximizing a tiny space is all about the power of illusion.