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Small House Design and Why We Chose Small Over Tiny

We have been living in our well designed, lovely small house for about 10 months now. There are very few things we would change about it. Perhaps I would want the sconces rotated down, a change that would require all of 5 minutes per light fixture. And perhaps I would have gone with a different paint color inside the bathroom; another change that is simple and easy to fix. Our success lies in the fact that we took our time before building and ironed out everything that was important in our small house design. This process took some time, occurred before we started our blog and is detailed in our new book, Big to Tiny to Small: Selling it All, Moving Away & Buying Land for the Perfect Small House.

We were aware of how bothersome it could be to always have the dogs underfoot. During our small house design stage, we made sure there was floor space available for each dog to be stretched out and for the big bird cage.

Existing Tiny House Options vs. Small House Design

I periodically come across articles on the internet which describe how couples upgraded after living in their tiny house for a short while (less than a year). [Single people build tiny houses too but as most examples are of couples, I will just use ‘couples’ going forward.] They quoted reasons such as too little space, not feeling like they had privacy from each other (one room floor plan) and having to park too far from work (because their tiny houses are rarely legal as a stand-alone structure in town).

While one would assume they would have figured all of that out prior to investing the time and money into such a structure, I think the ‘mistake’ or life lesson happens because people look at couples on the internet, parading around their joy and debt-free bliss in a cute-as-heck tiny house and think, “They look so awesomely happy. We should do that.”

Then they order their tiny house plans from a manufacturer or use the guide laid out on a tiny house blog and they build their own super cute tiny house. After a year of building – because it seems to rarely be the case that it can be done quicker on a nights & weekends sort of schedule – the couple joyfully sell their house or move out of their rental and embark on the tiny house living plan. I think couples doing this can greatly increase their chances of success by doing one thing differently.

Small House Design

I think if each person or couple considering a lifestyle change to a (much) smaller structure went through the entire design process, they would find that a small house would be a more suitable fit than a tiny house. There are of course, plenty of exceptions. This process is something we describe extensively in our book, Big to Tiny to Small.

When we were working through floor plans, we tried to squeeze ourselves into as tiny of a space as possible. Our thinking was less about cost concerns and more about a sort of crazy, slightly demented mentality of “lets just get as small as possible!”

When we discovered that we should be optimizing for the size of plywood (building in multiples of 4’s because a sheet of plywood is 4’x8′) instead of going as small as possible, our minds started to open. When we added the activity of using a yardstick to walk around our (big) house and really visualize what a particular dimension meant for our bodies being in it, we further broadened our definition of a ‘tiny house’.

I consider myself a woman with big hips. And I have wide, athletic shoulders. I ain’t no dainty lady. Being in an emotional place where I actually like myself, the last thing I want to do is live in a space where I bump furniture, knock things over and can’t bend over without looking both ways first. The yardstick game really opened my eyes to where my body could physically fit comfortably. Sure, I could navigate a narrower hallway by turning sideways and shuffling along, but did I want to. Nope.

Small House Design from the Ground Up

We went through dozens of floor plan iterations before we settled on 20’x24′ (with our various specific design features) as the final draft. In Big to Tiny to Small, we dedicate a whole chapter to describing the evolution of our floor plans. Every time we changed the building exterior (i.e. double-stud walls to SIPS), the interior had to respond. When we decided to have a 2×6 plumbing wall over a 2×4 plumbing wall (to allow for easier installation of our plumbing components), the kitchen had to shift slightly because of the loss in square footage.

When you design from scratch, not only do you get to customize the space exactly as desired for the future occupants (you and your family), but you do tons of preliminary research about the actual build process. You learn about materials, tools, timelines, etc – all of which greatly increase the ease of the building process.  Even if you end up buying a kit, we cannot stress enough the value of completing this research stage.

While we did experience some contractor troubles with our Arched Cabin kit install, it has not taken away from the enjoyment we now feel living in our perfect small house.

If you would like to learn more about how we considered and eliminated a tiny house as an option and all the research we did prior to purchasing land, please check out our book, Big to Tiny to Small: Selling it All, Moving Away & Buying Land for the Perfect Small House.

Small House Design in Big to Tiny to Small: Selling it All, Moving Away & Buying Land for the Perfect Small House


  1. I have been following this blog from the beginning , and have really enjoyed your journey , I hope you find some time to add follow ups , I just bought your book and am looking forward to the read, Hope you sell a million ,,,

    • Thank you for following and for the support! We will be more engaged with the blog soon. I hope to finish up the second book – the build book – sometime this month and then we’ll be back to adventures and the blog. Brian is doing extensive research on solar stuff right now so that will likely be an upcoming project.

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