written by:
October 10, 2015
Our upcoming November 2015 Small Spaces issue explores some of the worlds best homes, all sized 970 to 55 square feet. We've asked the architects behind those houses to help us think big and design small: what were their big takeaways learned from first-hand experience?
norwegian prefab cabin exterior

Andrew Simpson of WireDog Architecture designed an eco-friendly (and budget-friendly) New Zealand home with stirring views; he begins his advice to small space designers with this idea: "Borrowed space. When defining individual spaces be aware of opportunities to borrow perceived space from other areas and the exterior." WireDog's 538 square foot house appears in Dwell's November 2015 Small Spaces issue.

Originally appeared in A Prefab Cabin in Norway
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A guesthouse conversion in San Francisco

Simpson's second tip: "Verticality. Variations in ceiling heights can help make smaller spaces seem generous and add interest."

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Originally appeared in A Compact Three-Story Brick Loft in San Francisco
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Interior of a backyard addition at a Massachusetts home

Simpson's last thought: "Small does not equal minimal. Inhabit your space."

Originally appeared in One Family's Backyard Becomes Their Own Tiny Retreat
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Microshelters Funky Guesthouse

Father and son architectural duo Bill and Don Yudchitz designed and built a serene family getaway—only 9x10x12 feet in size—that appears in our upcoming November issue. They told us about their design proceess: "[First]: you have to realize that you can experiment at a 1 inch equals 1 inch study model where it is very difficult to do that on a project of bigger scale. [Second]: design every inch visualizing the end before you start. A very simple principal but very hard to do. [Third]: it is very satisfying and challenging to have the opportunity to control all phases of the design and construction process."

Originally appeared in These Incredibly Tiny Cabins, Tree Houses, and Mobile Dwellings Are All Less Than 182 Square Feet
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Interior of a Seattle backyard studio

"The last thing I would say...[is] go slow and don't be in a rush, because it is small and you can finish it in a short period of time and with smaller amounts of resources," say Bill and Don. "You actually have to think more on a smaller scale project than on a bigger one, there is no room for error. IT IS A GAME OF INCHES. But above all make it fun and look at your accomplishments as you complete them."

Courtesy of 
First Lamp
Originally appeared in Tiny Backyard Studio in Seattle Filled with Midcentury Finds
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Galley-style kitchen opens up into the modern living space.

"I was pleasantly surprised to find that a 4 by 10 foot space could feel much more gracious than expected if given the right amount of light and a bright white interior finish" says architect Nicholas Hunt, who designed a 5 by 11 foot minimalist studio nestled in a Brooklyn backyard. "Even a very low sloping ceiling seemed more than comfortable once all the light poured in through the skylight. The 'Backyard Garden Studio' is all about what you see from the inside and I think that is critical in designing a small space. Openings and views were restricted to the grass, garden, and sky; this way the small space felt more like it was sited in an open field than a city backyard." The studio is featured in our November 2015 issue.

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Originally appeared in This Home is Clean, Comfortable, and Only 196 Square Feet
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Jaanus Orgusaar NOA Cabin

Jack Ryan of 3SIXØ Architects designed "Cottage in the Forest," a one-room retreat that connected its resident with nature, that appears in our upcoming November issue. He offered us this advice: "Intentionally only a few materials are used on the cottage project. One single material covers the walls and ceiling of the interior—for this we used painted center matched tongue and groove pine boards.... The single material feels makes the space read as both singular and expansive. The clear finish douglas fir flooring with its warm tones and graining is a counterpoint to the walls and ceiling.... In a similar way, the exterior roof and walls are covered with a single material, Alaska yellow cedar shakes."

Originally appeared in Estonian Designer’s Tiny Geometric Cabin
7 / 22
Microshelters Steam Studio

To design the cottage, Ryan says, "A cubic mass was conceptually carved away in response to programmatic needs—a pitched roof to shed water, a covered entry, a chimney, etc. The result is a crystalline form with a diagonally oriented gable roof that is absent of familiar traditional design elements (such as roof overhangs, window trim) to reveal the project’s exact scale. The windows were intentionally slightly oversized (8’ height) and there is no distinction between wall and roof material. The result is an ambiguity of scale that changes ones impression as the project is experienced. From some angles the cottage looks very petite and from other angles it looks surprisingly large. "

Originally appeared in These Incredibly Tiny Cabins, Tree Houses, and Mobile Dwellings Are All Less Than 182 Square Feet
8 / 22
compact three story home in san francisco interior bedroom

Ryan adds one last thought: "One benefit of a small space is that it can be designed in such a way that the totality interior space can be easily comprehended. Understanding the limits of a space can have a calming effect on inhabitants. The interior main room of the cottage is bound by four exterior walls and a roof – meaning that connection to the exterior from the main room can be made in all five directions."

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Originally appeared in A Compact Three-Story Brick Loft in San Francisco
9 / 22
MIcroshelters Pico-Dwelling

"The main challenge was...how to get as much as possible from such a small space, which after all was meant to be a living space," says architect Jolanta Janiszewska. Her multifunctional and minimalist renovation of a 500 square foot Warsaw apartment appears in the Novemeber issue. Her design "had to satisfy all the expectations towards the place which was to become a person's home. It had to have a functional kitchen, a living/dining room, bedroom, and also the kid's area. I didn't want to compromise on any of them. Because of the client's profession the space had to sometimes also become a home office. So many features would normally create the feeling of a very tight space."

Originally appeared in These Incredibly Tiny Cabins, Tree Houses, and Mobile Dwellings Are All Less Than 182 Square Feet
10 / 22
Bigwin Island Bunkie Yoga Studio rear showing rustic beams

For Janiszewska the stakes were high: "Every day we spent a lot of time in suffocating spaces, like our cars, buses, cubicles at our offices, shops of all kinds, where we constantly need to watch our steps and movements so that we don't break something or, worse, get injured. While all of us are used to it, I think these reservations should not apply to where we live, otherwise such living places become very unhomely, not allowing us to be ourselves in our most intimate space."

Courtesy of 
Jorge Torres
Originally appeared in High-Tech Prefab Outbuilding is a Surprisingly Peaceful Retreat
11 / 22
Perforated screen in Manhattan apartment

"The best tip for architects designing small spaces is, in my opinion, to exercise some empathy towards the persons who will be spending a significant part of their day in that space" says Janiszewska. "It's literally 'thinking out of box' or rather 'thinking out of the cubicle'. Thus, I would never look for ready-made furniture. Small spaces usually require own solutions. Obviously, it takes more time to design every piece and have it made to order, but it's worth it. It allows to make the space as functional as it can be. And unique, giving room to others to be able to express their own uniqueness in the space we designed for them."   

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Originally appeared in Space-Efficient Renovation in New York
12 / 22
Woody the Trailer cedar exterior

Brian and Joni Buzarde, whose cedar-clad 236-square-foot mobile home appears in our November issue, offered five nuggets of wisdom: "1. You do not always save money by doing it yourself. Research, learning and applying your newfound knowledge requires a lot of focused time. When you each have a full time job and you're simultaneously building your own home, time is precious. Redoing your DIY tasks is costly and time consuming. Hire a skilled professional from the beginning. Then, watch and learn exactly how they do it. You'll learn the correct way and save yourself time and money in the long run."

 

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Woody the Trailer Milgard sliding door

"2. Think outside the living space. Do you really need a designated reading nook taking up valuable real estate in your small space? Hang a hammock outside or visit your local library or park. Keep it simple and leave the space as open as possible."

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Woody the Trailer Samsung Smart TV

"3. Think of ways to combine functions. A dining table can also be desk or a place to fold laundry. Put it on wheels to move it where you need it—inside or outside. Your couch can serve as dining chairs or an extra bed."

15 / 22
Woody the Trailer bedroom with Velux skylight

"4. Bringing the outside in was extremely important to us, so we have a lot of glazing. Don't get too carried away with storage potential and prioritizing shelves and cabinets over a fantastic view through a window. There should be a balance. To alleviate the storage issue, our advice would be to only bring in what you actually use within a 12 month period. If you don't actually use it, get rid of it or store it elsewhere. Space is valuable and it must be functional. For closet space, we follow a one-in, one-out policy. For every new piece of clothing we bring in, another one goes out or gets donated."

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Woody the Trailer Container Store galvanized steel shelving

"5. Living in a small space frees you from excess consumerism and clutter. It simplifies your life and makes you really conscious of your purchases. You don't have the space to bring home impulse buys from Target. You can't amass plastic cups from various restaurants or sporting events. You don't have room for coffee table books. You have exactly 4 towels, 6 glasses and a library card. Just one extra glass would completely throw off the balance! "

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Modern linden plywood and ash staircase cabinet

Architect Greg Dufner carefully devised his own Greenwich Village apartment's interior; he used multiple strategies to carve several spaces within its single main room. He says "I think our main take away when designing a small space has always been 'creative built-ins.'  This means eliminating sheet rock walls when possible and creating built-in cabinetry as room dividers.  It also means, there is no such thing as 'left over space.' Every space should be built-out with custom sized built-ins to maximize storage. It's like detailing a luxury yacht."

Courtesy of 
Copyright:ave
18 / 22
black box home in Japan open glass doors

Our November issue also features a striking loft-like retreat in the Berkshires designed by R D Gentzler of Framework Architeecture; Gentzler says first "make spaces do more than one thing.  For example, our client thought that they may want a screened-in porch. Instead, we used four large sliding patio doors in the living room.  When those doors are open, the living room doubles as a screened-in porch."

Photo by 
Originally appeared in Simply Sustainable
19 / 22
puzzle loft kitchen view hallway

He adds "Keep the space open. If the rooms are open to one another (by using open lofts, large sliding doors, etc.) a small house can feel rather large."

Originally appeared in A Look Into 5 New York Apartments
20 / 22
Jon Ahrens of <a href="http://madroneldc.com/">Madrone Landscaping</a>, who layed out the plantings around the container, implemented a green roof on a drip watering system. The cantilevered overhang at rear is planted with cacti.

Gentzler concludes: "Use the outdoors. If the outdoors is an extension of the indoors, the space doesn't feel small. In fact, it is much easier to create a great relationship with the outdoors with a small house. In a small house, you are always close to the envelope of the building. If the windows are large and well placed, a small house doesn't feel constraining, it feels connected with nature."

Photo by 
Originally appeared in Smaller in Texas
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Bruce and Kirsty are obsessively tidy, so copious storage was a must. An entire wall in their bathroom opens to reveal a cabinet that is exactly the depth of a fat roll of toilet paper, and one of their kitchen cupboards was specially fireproofed in order

British designer Jonathan Tuckney transformed half of 17th-century apline home into its own 970-square-foot home; architect Peter Youthed of Tuckeny Design offered us this advice: "It’s quite a common tip to use mirrors to cheat a little in small spaces and give an extra sense of scale in tight situations; but we’ve also sometimes teamed mirrors with other materials like brass or steel sheet to give the mirror something to interact with—sometimes the metal sheet is reflected or full of light but sometimes it’s appears very dark next to the fully reflective mirror—this makes for quite an active interaction between the materials and a changing sense of depth which can work well in a small space." Tuckney's modern-yet-rustic Swiss home appears in our November issue. 

 

Photo by 
Originally appeared in Composite Index
22 / 22
norwegian prefab cabin exterior

Andrew Simpson of WireDog Architecture designed an eco-friendly (and budget-friendly) New Zealand home with stirring views; he begins his advice to small space designers with this idea: "Borrowed space. When defining individual spaces be aware of opportunities to borrow perceived space from other areas and the exterior." WireDog's 538 square foot house appears in Dwell's November 2015 Small Spaces issue.

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