Design Inspiration from the Tiny House Movement

Over the last ten years a growing number of Americans have been looking to escape the financial strain of the modern housing market by relocating to more affordable ‘tiny houses’. The tiny house movement might well have started as a trend, but after nearly a decade of growth it is quickly becoming something more. An increasing number of people are choosing to reject the traditional ideas of a large living space in favour of a more modest arrangement. But is it really feasible to live comfortably in confined quarters, and where on earth would you put all your stuff?

We spoke to a few key figures in the tiny house movement to find out more about the practicalities of living in a tiny home.

interior of tiny home

The interior of the 130-square foot tiny house built by Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller. Image by Merete Mueller.

The benefits of living tiny

With the average tiny house costing over ten times less than an average American home, the appeal of the tiny house movement for those looking to free themselves of debt is clear. However, few of the people we spoke to seemed concerned about the financial merits of tiny homes and spoke instead of improvements in their lifestyle.

Beth Ann Norgard spent the last year building her very own home designed by tiny home company Four Lights, where she is now an employee. Like many in the movement her house is built on wheels, however, at just 80 square feet her living space is a bit cosier than the average.  She says the decision to move to a smaller space is different for everybody:

“I think the population who is interested in living tiny does so for a variety of reasons; some people are just tired of the rat race and want a simpler life. Some folks want to reduce their cost of living. And for some it’s a moral decision to have a smaller footprint.”

 Beth’s tiny home attracted the attention of the local press.

Beth lists a few of the benefits she has discovered for herself since moving into her tiny home:

  • “I can hand vacuum my house in 75 seconds.
  • When I move I get to take my house with me!
  • I know where each of my possessions came from, who made them, and each one has personal value to me.
  • I have more free time because I have less home and possession maintenance to attend to.”

With so many appealing benefits, it’s no wonder that the movement is gathering enough of a following to be labelled by some as the ‘tiny home revolution’.

A new approach to living space

Top tiny home blogger and founder of popular movement website Tiny r(E), Andrew Odom believes that the movement is encouraging people to reconsider the difference between a house and a home:

“A house is simply a structure to protect you from the elements. It is a habitat like any other. A home is one filled with relationship, love, interaction, passion, etc. To have a thriving home you NEED nothing other than the human capacity to co-exist.

However, the essentials of a house are relatively small. You need shelter: check. You need food: buy a fridge or a cooler. You need water: you can tap into city water, have a well dug, buy your water from the market, or even filter it from rain water. Those are the essentials. Everything else is icing on the cake. I truly believe that.”

tiny housers

Catherine Allen and Pacifico Limo pose in front of their tiny house in Healdsburg, California. Image by Merete Mueller.

While Andrew feels that the tiny life might be a great option for some people, he believes some others are not ready for such a drastic change:

“When a child is raised wanting more and more and more it is next to impossible to get them to adopt a more minimal approach, so the psychology of smaller living may actually be lost. Imagine raising a child on all chocolate and then asking them one day to give it up just for apple sauce. That is a tough sell!”

Merete and Christopher’s story

merete and christopher in front of their tiny home

In 2013 Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith made the acclaimed film Tiny: A  Story About Living Small which charted their journey to build and inhabit their very own tiny home. A year on and Merete still feels that downsizing was a good idea:

“There’s less to clean and much less to pay for, so you can spend more of your time and energy on the things that really matter to you, like spending time with family and friends, starting a business or working on creative projects, travelling, things like that.”


Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller install the roof trim on their tiny house. Image by Kevin Hoth.
hammering down the flooring
Christopher installs the hardwood flooring in his 130-square foot tiny house. Image by Merete Mueller.

She believes that downsizing has led her to understand the simplicity of all the basic things humans need to live comfortably. This is why the movement is continuing to appeal to an increasingly diverse range of people:

“No matter what kind of ideals they have, people wouldn’t be doing this if it didn’t make sense for them on a practical level. Our modern lives are so complicated and busy that having such a manageable space appeals to people.”

As a filmmaker, Chris has found  that living in a smaller space has led to him spending less time “working to make money to get by” and more time pursuing the things he enjoys. However, he admits that living in such a confined space has its drawbacks:

“Because I work as a filmmaker, I have a lot of camera gear which takes up space in my Tiny House, It’s also hard to have over house guests, but it’s great to offer to people when I am gone on a trip! I do want to stretch out more, but then I just go on a walk or run and it seems to help.”


Merete and Christopher install the lighting. Image by Kevin Hoth.

the finished home

Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller in front of their 130-square foot tiny house, built from scratch in the Colorado mountains. Image by Kevin Hoth.

As space is so limited it is of great importance that the interior design of every tiny home is as innovative as it can be to allow for maximum storage.

The importance of good interior design to the tiny home movement

Innovation in interior design has been one of the true success stories of the tiny home movement and Merete believes that the architecture and interior design of the homes is crucial to sustaining the movement’s popularity. As the planet as a whole is also running out of space, Merete thinks we would be wise to start adopting more of the space saving design principles of the tiny home movement:

“A lot of Tiny Houses use multi-purpose spaces, where a table is used for dining and also working, or a couch folds into a bed – that type of thing. And then there are all of the intangible things that go into a home – the people and textures, smells, memories that make us feel that we belong in a place. They don’t take up much space at all.”

Tiny house people

Ann Holley and Darren Macca, two of the characters in TINY: A Story About Living Small, in their tiny house in Longmont, Colorado. Image by Merete Mueller.

Merete uses her skills in interior design to make her home aesthetically pleasing as well as practical:

“The key with the Tiny House interior design is to display practical and useful objects like artwork, and to capitalize on the texture of the wood, on architectural details so that you don’t need to rely on knick-knacks to dress up a space. Everything must be both useful and beautiful.

“It’s all about quality over quantity and maximizing light and air flow to make such a small space feel as open and big as possible.”

Storage, storage, storage

With just 100 square feet to wash, cook, clean, sleep and eat in, a little invention is required in order to find any space to put things. Merete says that one way that is not often utilised in bigger spaces, is to employ the use of vertical space for storage:

“One couple that we filmed in Portland, Oregon stored the food bowls for their two cats way up on a shelf that was probably about eight feet off the ground. The cats had learned how to climb the ladder into the loft and then walk along a shelf to reach the food bowls.”

cat in window of tiny home

Even cats can learn to love living in a tiny home. Image by Merete Mueller.

Christopher agrees that storage was one of the main concerns when it came to designing their home and the couple had to come up with inventive solutions of their own:

“Our Tiny Home uses storage stools at our desk, which increase storage options. It also features a little spice shelf built into the space between the studs in the wall between the kitchen and bathroom. We hang our pans and knives, have a shelf above the potty, and lots of storage shelves and cabinets built in!”

Andrew also believes that storage is key to the success of any tiny home and has seen some inventive uses of space in his time running Tiny r(E)volution:

“Drawers in the toe-kicks of base cabinets are pretty awesome. Cargo nets (for storage) that raise to the ceiling and then lower when needed via a simple nautical pulley is quite cool. Magnetic bars on the wall for spices and knives is a good one. And lastly, a trap door in the floor that can be filled with extra linens and bedding. Oh, and that cavity needs no insulation as when filled with quilts and such they act as the insulation.”

Watch this space

By looking at this year’s interior design trends it would appear that the tiny house movement has led to some design ideas being adopted in living spaces in homes across the world. Drawers under the stairs and flexi-rooms seem to be ideas that stem from the thinking behind living in a tiny space. There has been a lot already said about the tiny house movement from a social viewpoint, but there is a lot still to be said about the impact the movement will have on the world of architecture and interior design. While maximising space may have been a selling point of home design initiatives long before the tiny house movement, there has never been such a concentrated effort for innovation in storage and space saving techniques before. As the tiny house revolution continues to grow, we could well see its influence becoming increasingly incorporated into mainstream architecture and interior design practice.

Christopher and Merete’s documentary is available to view on Vimeo on Demand or to buy on DVD.

Find out more about studying online for a BA (Hons) in Interior Architecture and Design.

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