In recent years, the tiny house movement has taken the nation by storm with a high demand for tiny house shows on major TV networks. But while many singles, couples and even families with children have been diving into tiny living with open arms — whether to create a more intimate family environment or to save up for other big-ticket expenses — many urban dwellers are forced into the situation by way of their small city spaces. But it doesn’t have to be all that bad. Before you turn your nose up at small living, you might be surprised at some ingenious ways you can make even a 400-square-foot apartment look good (starting with our favorite DIY tips here). So don’t cry a river over small-living, take inspiration from these tiny house owners who will have you livin’ large in no time.
1. Custom-Build Your Furniture
The concept of DIY furniture probably seems daunting, but it’s worth it when store-bought pieces take up too much space. Tiny house owner and writer Melissa Dohmen and her fiancé Carson Vaughan came across this issue in their 120-square-foot camper. So they decided to build almost every piece of furniture they own.
“Furniture becomes clunky or impractical when it’s not relevant to your personal habits,” Dohmen says.
“So we built pieces we knew we’d use and built them to our own specifications. For example, we both needed a desk to write on, but we don’t often store things on our desk when not using it. So, to save that space when we’re not writing, we built the desk with hinges so that it could fold down and flat against the wall when not in use.”
Blogger Kim Kasl, who also lives in a tiny home with her family, notes that while they “have a great lack of furniture,” they were able to make their own bookshelf to fit their specific needs.
“The shelving we have — it can’t be a shelf that has too much depth because it intrudes on the space if it’s too big,” Kasl says.
Additionally, Kasl’s family shares the laundry bin, a custom-built piece her husband made that’s stored on the porch and disguised thanks to its beautiful, wooden exterior. How’s that for creativity?
2. Take Advantage of Wall Space
Though it might require a little extra work, taking advantage of your walls will really transform your apartment without taking up floor space. Sure, it might be easier to simply place a bookshelf on the ground rather than mounting one on the wall, but it’s a waste of precious space in a small home.
“Open storage is key,” says Tenecia Harris, an interior designer whose work has been featured on HGTV and Travel Channel. “Closed storage only encloses a room and makes it feel like the walls are closing in. Open storage (hooks, shelves, pegs) allows you to see where the walls are and gives more depth. If you can also wall mount collectibles, it’s artwork and storage in one.”
Dohmen and Vaughan make use of this tip in their kitchen, a room easily prone to clutter no matter what size. To ensure things aren’t left out on the counters they use magnets to organize “everything from our kitchen knives and scissors to spice containers that stick to the side of our oven hood,” according to Dohmen.
Kasl makes the most of her wall space by using hooks — and not always in the conventional sense.
“There are hooks everywhere,” Kasl says. “Our hooks hold clothes, necklaces, jackets. I hang scissors on the hooks. One holds the fish tank. The tank is almost like a cookie jar with a handle, and the handle hooks onto the wall hook. Vertical space is so important.”
3. Remember: Smaller Pieces Are Not Always Better
Clunky furniture can often overwhelm an already cramped space, leading many renters and homeowners to assume that smaller furniture is the best solution. But that’s not always the case either, according to these experts.
“Choosing small furniture is the biggest mistake most people make,” Harris says. “The thinking is generally small furniture allows for more ‘space’ around the pieces. While you would think large furniture will make a space feel small, small furniture emphasizes just how tiny a place can be. Our eyes read the negative space created by the small furniture, and it just seems off. Ultimately the same rule applies to a small space as a large one: Proportion is king.”
However, when it comes to decor and home goods, don’t feel obligated to go large.
“We have all the dishes we own in one drawer,” Kasl says. “We only keep four of everything and we don’t have big plates, just the small ones.”
4. Break Away From Traditional Decor Rules
If you live in a one-bedroom apartment, an apartment with a loft, or even a studio, finding ways to be creative is important. While there may not be a separate room for the office you’ve always dreamed of, or your bedroom shares the same space as your kitchen and living room, there’s an easy fix. For instance, if you don’t have a dedicated space for a home office, Harris recommends using non-traditional office pieces that will still give you what you want but create a unified appearance.
“A console table for a desk, an accent chair instead of a rolling chair,” Harris said. “With today’s technology, the printer can be in a closet instead of out. Ultimately the key to making a small space feel large is to continually emphasize the depth of the space. Lighting and mirrors are tricks of the trade to create depth and seeing the wall space behind furniture is a simple way anyone can maximize visual.”
Similar to this, Dohmen uses her bed area as a dining room when inviting company over for dinner, creating two spaces in one.
“We’d simply need to fold up the bedding, fold up the table underneath and rearrange the cushions to have a full functioning dinner table setup,” she says.
5. Make or Buy Multipurpose Items
Unfortunately, you can’t have everything you want in a tiny home. Whether that means sacrificing a full dining set and resorting to roommate dinners on the couch, you’ll have to relinquish some of the luxuries a large space typically provides. While you can’t have it all, finding furniture with multiple uses will help maximize your options. In their tiny home, Dohmen and her fiancé have a floor cabinet they use as storage for books and their printer, while also hiding the trailer’s wheel well. Additionally, the top of the cabinet can be used as a kitchen counter for cooking preparation and as an office workspace of sorts.
“The bottom drawer in our kitchen also pulls out into an eating area for our dog, Costello,” Dohmen says. “The back (or front, in our case) of the bathroom door doubles as an organizer and hat rack. We added a copper bar and some S-rings that we use to hang our calendar, hats, light jackets, etcetera. We added a chalkboard sticker underneath it to write reminders and notes.”
If necessary, use an ottoman as a table, seat, and storage in one. Buy a mirror or cupboard that also doubles as an ironing board. Or, like in Kasl’s case, use the ottoman to iron clothes and spare stools as tables to eat on. Likewise, invest in a sectional couch with hidden storage space that can also be converted into a guest bed. And if you have a furry friend like Dohmen and Vaughan? Find or build an end table with a built-in bed for your pet underneath. The possibilities are endless!