When Deb Brown moved back to Brunswick from North Carolina to pursue her dream of tiny house living, she knew some serious downsizing was in order.
“I am coming from a 2,500-square-foot house that I sold to come back to Maine,” Brown said. “So I have a lot of stuff to get rid of, including a king-sized beds [because] generally speaking, tiny homes are not designed for king-sized beds.”
Brown is in the planning stage of her 350-square-foot tiny house project and is chronicling her process on her website and blog Tiny Maine Living.
“Based on the plans I am using, my tiny house is designed in such a way I can fit an 81-inch-wide couch,” she said. “I have no need for a fancy dining room set or a lot of formal stuff, but I do need to have a comfy couch or sectional and that is why I am going with the plans I selected.”
But it turns out going tiny does not mean going without.
“A lot of it is managing expectations,” said Katie Jackson, New England regional director of the the American Tiny House Association and a designer with B&B Micromanufacturing. “We have a lot people come to us say, ‘I want a large kitchen because I have a lot of cookware, and I want a large bedroom with a full-size walk-closet and I want it all in 180-square-feet,’ and I tell them, ‘OK, let’s sit down and talk about it.’”
In Brown’s case, she is planning to reduce her living space by nearly five times, going from her 2,500-square-foot home down to around 350-square-feet of living space.
“It is absolutely important to make every inch count,” Brown said. “And it needs to be done in a way so all of my junk can be hidden without me having to build a separate outbuilding.”
Last month fans of the tiny house movement in Maine celebrated an addition to the state’s building codes rules creating the first statewide construction guidelines for the dwellings.
The new standards include defining a tiny house in Maine as a dwelling less than 400 square feet, allowing sleeping lofts, permitting ladder access to lofts and approving skylights as points of emergency egress.
Having an idea of definite wants versus areas of compromise is an important step when it comes to configuring tiny spaces, Jackson said.
That, and being creative.
“People will look at our designs and say they want more cabinet space,” Jackson said. “So we look for ways to build it in like drawers under the bed or finding clever places in even the smallest nooks to build cabinets.”
In one instance, she said, she designed a tiny cabinet to fit next to the space for the built-in water heater.
“Every little space you can use for storage really helps,” Jackson said.
Despite the fact that the much of the tiny house movement is about minimalist living, Jackson said people are often resistant to giving up small, treasured items that can clutter a small space.
“Everyone in the world seems to own a lot of small objects,” she said with a laugh. “So we suggest building enclosed cabinets below the chair rails and display shelving up higher [because] that helps ‘visualize’ clutter and that helps keeping it to a minimum.”
In fact, Jackson suggests reducing what she calls “horizontal” surfaces as much as possible, as they are magnets for knick-knacks and household detritus.
“We really try to make having a clean, open living space foolproof,” she said.
Brown is ready to jettison some of her stuff but some has to live with her in her tiny home.
“I’m a hobbyist, so I need space for my gear,” the photographer and videographer said. “So my plans have two lofts — one for sleeping and one for storage.”
Brown also plans to install a built-in desk that will act as a table for entertaining, as well.
“It is really changing the whole concept of how I will live,” Brown said. “Most things are going to need to be multifunctional and easily tucked away.”
That idea of “multifunctional furniture” is key, according to Jackson — to a point.
“A lot of people in the tiny house world are into multipurpose furnishings and that’s great as far as it goes,” Jackson said. “For example, people love the idea of Murphy Beds, but someone I work with has one in his tiny house, but never puts it up.”
People need to be honest with themselves as to what level of daily reconfiguring they are willing to commit to, Jackson said.
“There are simple, fold-out tables that people really like,” she said. “And we can do beds that pull out and are even working on one that lowers down from the ceiling on rails.”
Anything that can be built to include storage space is a good idea, Jackson said.
As for furnishing a tiny house, Jackson said many major furniture and appliance retailers carry so-called “apartment” sized items, which are smaller than standard furnishings. Another idea is checking things sold for RVs as campers and recreational vehicles need to make use of every inch of space.
“You can find bathroom mini sinks that are maybe 4- to 5-inches deep,” Jackson said. Standard sinks are between 5- and 8-inches deep. “Tiny house bathrooms are often really teeny-tiny things with a shower to the left, the toilet to the right and the sink straight ahead.”
But if having a larger bathroom with a full tub is important, Jackson said a tiny house can include that — at the expense of space that is less crucial to the owner.
Brown said she has been looking at furniture and items sold by IKEA, as she likes the clean lines of their furniture and the fact she can find things that will fit into her planned tiny home.
Brown believes the tiny house movement is here to stay.
“People want to live simply,” Brown said. “They want efficiency and space that makes sense to them.”