THE SMALL HOUSE CATALOG, PT. 1

There’s a new housing trend sweeping the country, and we’ve found ourselves completely intrigued by it.  The Tiny (or Small) House Movement is all about living with less – less house, less stuff, less financial burden, less environmental impact. It may not be the right choice or lifestyle for everyone, but there’s still plenty to learn from the movement itself. And some of the small houses we’re seeing built now are big on style, efficiency, and custom features, which are qualities even the largest of homes could use!

For some inside perspective, we spoke with Jamie Purnell and Shawn Dehner, founders of The small House Catalog, a small and tiny-house drafting and design company and online catalog focused on building “long-lasting, well-crafted, high quality houses, with a sustainable use of natural resources.”

Jamie and Shawn hand-built their first small house together in Belfast, Maine from 2007-2009. Since then, they’ve built two other homes in the Pacific Northwest (they’re currently hard at work on a third), and have helped countless people join the small-house movement, either directly through their business or via the free house plan catalog available on their site. Jamie says, “The free catalog is part of what we've always enjoyed doing, i.e. sharing ideas, and it seems fitting since so much of what we do today is a result of having been educated by others - often at little to no charge.” In fact, the free plans in the catalog are provided by clients, who like the idea of sharing something and agree to make their house plans public for a 10% discount on Shawn’s work. It all seems very in line with the small-house movement itself, which is about “right sizing” your life, according to a reader comment left on their blog, and living in a more efficient and, ideally, eco-friendly, home that has the perfect amount of space and storage to support the lifestyle you wish to live.

While not all of our clients or readers live in or are interested in building their own small homes (and many live in urban apartments where renovations aren’t always easy or possible to make), the insight and suggestions that Jamie & Shawn offer can help anybody in any home, big or small, incorporate some eco-friendly practices and start living a more right-sized life overall. 

Q.  When building a smaller home, how do you address the issue of storage and conserving valuable living space? Tips and tricks? Built-in compartments? (I love the computer nook in the Beekeeper’s Bungalow!)

A. For smaller homes, having storage and not letting it take up all of your living floorspace is vital. It’s tricky to do sometimes. However, smaller houses can actually have as much or more storage than larger ones if designed correctly. We have found that taking advantage of every space is the key. We’ve made the effort to double utilize almost all spaces - so a hallway leading to the bathroom can become a really clever game, in a sense. In one house we built, we tucked a laundry space under the stair well. By closing off the stairwell, we were able to include a laundry space in the hallway, an under stair closet in the dining room, and a computer nook in the living room. Having storage spaces that are placed in the actual high traffic areas makes them exceedingly useful.

Built ins are ideal for small homes. We love old bungalow designs because they feature these so strongly. Dining rooms have wonderful cabinets built right in. In between rooms, in a pass through space, bookshelves and/or curio cabinets can be built right in. Not only beautiful, but useful, plus it’s a great use of space.

Incorporating long lines of visuals is helpful too. It’s nice to line things up so that even though a space is small, you can see through the length of a place, especially if you can incorporate a view to the outside into that lineal view. That doesn’t actually change your square footage, but it allows a smaller space to feel larger than it is, which lends a positive psychological effect. Key…good design in the first place and lots of built ins. 

Q. A lot of our clients live in smaller apartments in big cities. Do you have any furniture/appliance/décor companies or resources you recommend who make space-saving or double-duty products to help conserve space?

A. It seems to be that appliance companies are really clueing in to the fact that many of us live in urban areas that are being renewed and have these smaller spaces for people to work with. LG is a brand I’ve seen a lot of great compact items from. We’ve used their compact, energy efficient three quarter sized fridges in our spaces to great effect.

Bosch is a company I’m leaning toward for small, well made kitchen ranges and wall ovens. They offer wall ovens not only in double sets, etc, but as single units. You can more sensibly determine your needs that way. Not everyone needs a gigantic wall oven set that has room to bake bread and baste turkey sized items at the same time. Bosch has a wall oven with steam injection. It’s pricey, but I’m impressed because that’s a double duty wall oven. You can steam cook vegetables and also use the convection for all of your baking, etc.

Another great idea for people is to check out combined washer dryer units. They’ve come a long way and are becoming easier to find in the US. They are commonly used in Europe but I think until recently, we’ve had access to mainly badly functioning ones in the US. That is definitely changing. Fridges, dishwashers, ranges etc. are all becoming far easier to find in much more narrow sized and compact sized units that don’t sacrifice in terms of their abilities

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with Jamie & Shawn!  And for more information on this inspiring company and their mission, visit The small House Catalog