Living in a tiny house has a lot of promise: low building costs, a more sustainable way of life, and of course, the ability to drive to another location if you ever get tired of waking up to the same vista.
It was all of these things and more that drew Lisa Tranter, a tiny home enthusiast, and her partner Matt Hobbs, a dedicated builder, to plan, design, and build their very own tiny home.
“We decided to downsize because we realized we didn’t really need much — somewhere to sleep, a bathroom, and a kitchen — everything else is just a bonus,” says Lisa. “We also wanted to lower our personal carbon footprint, and a small house means we use fewer resources.”
On YouTube, an episode of series Living Big in a Tiny House featuring their home gained over 13 million views. There’s a lot to love about this tiny place, which is set on a 16-acre property among the pristine Blue Mountains in Australia and features stunning marble finishes, a full-sized kitchen, and an impressive outdoor entertaining area.
Here are seven real life lessons Lisa and Matt learned while building their dream tiny home, and the tips you can apply when designing and planning your own.
1. Prioritize what’s important to you.
“The best advice I can give,” says Lisa, is to “figure out what’s important to you in your house and prioritize them when in your design.”
In other words, if you love to watch TV while lying on the couch at the end of the day, then a full-sized sofa may be an essential item to plan your build around. Likewise, if you’re a keen cook, then you probably won’t be happy using a compact oven or a two-hob stove.
“We wanted a real kitchen, so we made sure we had enough space for full sized appliances,” says Lisa.
Another important factor for the design of Lisa and Matt’s home was to be able to stand comfortably, even in the bedroom. “Crawling in and out of bed after a gym session just wasn’t appealing,” says Lisa.
2. Don’t skimp on storage.
Think creatively when it comes to the storage in your tiny home. Lisa and Matt chose mirrored bathroom cabinets with face-level storage, a custom sofa with drawers for their living area, and a few sneaky cabinets hidden beneath the staircase.
Ladders, for example, are one of the easiest ways to connect the levels of a tiny home. But while they may be fun at first, the novelty of a ladder will soon wear off. Building a set of stairs may be more costly at the outset, but they provide another storage opportunity in a space that might otherwise be underutilized.
3. Don’t be afraid to revise your floor plan.
During the planning stage of building a tiny home, don’t rush to set the floor plan in stone. “The final layout [of our tiny home] is the product of about six to seven different drawings,” says Lisa. “As we worked, we came up with better ideas, or found out that the layout we had just wasn’t going to work. The wooden frame made it easy to change as we went.”
As you build, it’s likely you’ll get more of a sense of how the space will function. Some decisions made on paper may not translate into real life. That’s why it’s important to be flexible with the design and seek out as much advice from people who have joined the tiny house movement. You could also stay in a tiny home for a weekend to try the lifestyle before you buy.
4. There are no doors, so zoning is essential.
Unlike a regular-sized home, tiny houses often lack internal doors (save for the bathroom, of course). This may not suit everybody’s lifestyle, warns Lisa.
“If either of us wants to go to bed and the other doesn’t, noise and lights can be disturbing. When I want to study and Matt wants to watch TV, we struggle with that.”
For Lisa and Matt, communication is key. “We’re working with it and as long as we communicate then it’s never going to be a huge issue.”
The pair have done their best to create zones where they can each relax and unwind and get a bit of “me time.” While one may be cooking up a storm in the kitchen, the other can kick back with a book in the living area. And weather permitting, the spacious outdoor deck is another place to retreat. When all else fails, though, “noise-cancelling headphones are great!”
5. Make the most of outdoor spaces.
Part of the success of Lisa and Matt’s tiny home design is its connection to the outdoors. The outdoor space, which is decked out with an outdoor lounge, a barbecue, and sweeping mountain views is a perfect place for friends to gather on special occasions.
On rainy days, however, entertaining indoors is difficult. “One thing that we’ve found annoying as we get comfortable are the big double doors at one end. Although impressive, they could have been just a window, which would have allowed us to build an L-shaped couch, better for when we have people over and we can’t be outside on the deck,” says Lisa.
6. Beware the high cost of height.
At over 15-feet tall, Lisa and Matt’s tiny home is comparatively large. With great height, however, came great challenges.
“Bracing was an issue because of the height being double that of the base.” Getting around this issue took a lot of extra work and careful planning.
“We installed extra footings, which we concreted to the ground and bolted to the trailer frame. We also added extra bracing to the frame. The color-bond steel cladding also braced everything and brought it all together.”
Finding ways to make the height of their home work turned out to be worth it in the end, as the pair really revel in their ability to stand up in their bedroom.
7. Start minimizing now.
Lisa says that joining the tiny house movement can be a bit of a shock if you don’t prepare. “Once you’ve made the decision to go tiny, start minimizing your stuff before the move, that way it won’t seem so epic.”
She also recommends questioning each and every purchase. “Do you really need all those things you have in your basket or cart?”
“The only reason people are afraid of downsizing is they think they’re going to miss something that their regular house had,” says Lisa. “But with a cleverly designed tiny, you will never miss anything.”