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Making small spaces work

My last article was on why small houses make sense. Here are a few tips to help you make the most out of a small house.

1) Make sure your walls have a very smooth finish. This will make it comfortable to be close to the wall. Abrasive, textured finishes are not nice to be close to, and thus work best for over-sized houses.

2) Round corners as much as you can. Corners are often useless spaces to begin with and actually make a room feel smaller.

3) Make sure that the spaces where you are relatively passive (desks, sitting spaces, reading corners, sleeping spaces) are all dead ends. Avoid at all costs that these spaces become corridors or hallways. In fact, most of the time you will be able to design or re-design a house without needing hallways at all, through the strategic placement of the entrance, kitchen, and low pony-walls to divide spaces. Cob is an ideal material for building these low walls.

4) Use built-in furniture as much as you can. It will save you lots of money, cleaning time, and space. Behind couches and tables there is often a dusty, wasted space. Wooden or cob benches, high and low, can provide great seating arrangements with the help of a few comfortable pillows. A great way to pick up ideas on built-in furniture is to look in boats and RV’s.

5) Pick and choose appliances wisely. Avoid a TV all together, use a laptop computer, and limit kitchen appliances. A good knife and some practice can replace most of them. If possible, stay away from refrigerators and freezers. They are noisy, ugly, and use a lot of energy. A vegetarian diet and a simple garden can eliminate most refrigeration needs. If you can’t live without one, put it outside under a shed roof.

6) Don’t be a pack-rat. If you feel you can’t get rid of stuff, keep it out of the house. Build or rent a small storage shed and look critically at all the stuff in your house. What do you really use, what do you really want to have around? Keeping things outside your house is many times cheaper (and more peaceful!) then getting a bigger house.

7) Make sure your house is bright through the use of many small, well-placed windows, skylights and task lights. Avoid ceiling lamps that light up the whole space.

8) Create outdoor rooms. These are places outside your house, bordered on 2 or 3 sides by buildings, garden walls, plants, hedges or other outdoor structures. Porches also fall into this category. Make sure that your outdoor rooms are easy to get to and furnish them with comfortable tables and chairs, fire rings, blankets and pillows, fountains, planters, shade, etc.

9) A bed doesn’t have to sit in the middle of the room. Put it in the corner by a window and use the rest of the space for something else. Bedrooms are a big waste of space. My bedroom is essentially a closet in the attic with a beautiful window at the level of the bed and just enough space to step out of the bed. All our clothes are in the bathroom, where we usually change.

10) Speaking of bathrooms, stick with just one. Even for a family of four or five, one bathroom will suffice. For most of the day it will be empty, and when it’s in high demand (usually wake-up and bed-time), you’ll be encouraged to cooperate and communicate with your family. The multiple-bathroom concept now so popular may be a result of a lifestyle too rushed, too disconnected and too much focused on how we look and smell rather than who we really are.

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