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Compact Living

Last update: 26 April 2006

You know you have achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Thats what I aim for, but still have a way to go. The core of my house (the insulated part without the greenhouse and wrap-around shed) is about 11' x 11' on the outside. It contains everything I need on a daily basis. There are also a few sheds, but much of what I have stored away I can do without, and most of it will be sold or given away. Possessions can be a millstone. In a small dwelling it is necessary to make use of all available space, be fairly organized, and very ruthless about possessions. A small house (or mobile structure) has many advantages too, it is very cheap to establish, more ecological than a big structure, easier and cheaper to maintain, heat and clean. In the gallery you can see a few tricks I used to get as much as I could into the small house, without making it feel too cramped. Good sources for inspiration are boats, caravans and canal boats.

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Bath with wardrobe on ceiling track (sliding door fittings) above. When the bath is in use, the wardrobe is slid over the bed.

Bed with wardrobe on ceiling track (sliding door fittings) over bath. When the bed is in use, the wardrobe is slid over the bed.

The desk is a large board which can be pulled out from below the sink drain board.

The two ring gas cooker can cook many a dish. The sink also doubles as a wash basin.

Shelves across the window give extra storage, and the juicer and seed mill are clamped to a shelf across the drain board.

My new bedroom in daytime mode. I extended the building by another 18" or so out the back and put the bed on castors into this alcove. There are now fixed shelves, drawers and a clothes hanging rack above the bed, and now the bed is moved for use. There are more drawers and shelves each end of the bed forming the alcove together with the 'extension'.

My new bedroom in night mode where I pull it out from under the shelves.

Truth picture. Its not always as tidy as I would like it to be. Here is a pile of material from my current project scattered on the floor. The shelf on the left above the bed is fixed at the back, and has drawers at the front which are old freezer cabinet drawers. In the middle is the hanging rack for clothes.

I took out the long sink/drainer as it was just too big for this small cabin. In its place I have a single sink, a drip tray as drainer, a counter, and in the corner a cosy seating area which is also my manual office. Under the sink is my personal HiFi and some other bits and bobs.

My new office. The desk unit is made from an old wardrobe which had the front panels and door removed, and shelving added and a pull-out surface for the keyboard and for note taking, made from an old dresser top. The computer is an Asus laptop with a low power consuming Celeron M processor. I am still in the process of setting up my new office, and have not organised the various shelves and racks yet. To the left of the computer is a small carousel for computer related mini files. The small table on the left is an old nesting table with drawers added for computer and other electronic things, a printer/scanner and paper, music CD shelf above. On the right is my manual office with an organiser carousel and another nesting table with drawers added for all the things I need at my finger tips - reference filing rack, office essentials, tickler file and more. The small Ikea drawer unit above holds more little bits and bobs.

The cosy seating corner/manual office. Here I have most things I need at my fingertips in the carousel and drawers. I also converted a wooden storage box to hold hanging files. Above I place the project lap desks (seen on seat). The little shelf above holds the telephone and a headset hangs on the wall (allows me to do things which don't require much concentration whilst on the phone).

The small shelf under the left window is attached with small cabinet hanging brackets. There is another set of brackets at the back of the seat,facing. When I sit with my back to the big cushion (cosy mode) I can put the shelf on the other hooks. I intend to make some fabric pockets to attach to the shelf for project material, inbox and such like.

Watch a video of Jay's Tiny House Tour (3 minutes). To reduce page load time the video is only loaded on demand and will appear in the frame below the button.


Before looking for a bigger house or planning a new extension, see if you can find better ways to utilise the space you already have, and what things you can do without. Clutter has far more negative impact on us than just the physical space it occupies. Here are a few ideas about how you can make use of what you already have.

Maximise space through:

Layering - where headroom is not critical, vertical space can be shared, e.g. shelves over a bed or sideboard

Sharing access space - a movable partition can allow the same floor space to be used for access to two or more separate areas

Nesting - e.g. a seat containing storage underneath

Pull-out - multi tool style fold/roll-away furniture, e.g. a pull-out table/desk under a counter top, archive library style shelving units on casters or tracks

Dedicated storage rooms - use as much floorspace as you can in a room which is used for storage only, by creating supermarket like isles, rather than using only the outer walls for shelves and cupboards. This space could be divided or partitioned off an existing room.

External Links

Veggie van (internet archive link)
conversion of a van to living quarters
excelent article about living in a small space

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