Here are 10 ways we designed our small house to maximize every square inch.
Our Michigan Tree House isn’t large. Including the sleeping loft, it clocks in right around 850 sq. ft. To us, though, it feels much larger than the modest footprint suggests. We (and our Airbnb guests, we hope!) think the home has everything it needs and nothing it doesn’t.
Maximizing a Small Space
For us, living in a small space doesn’t mean going without! While the home isn’t large, it features a generous primary bedroom, a large mudroom with laundry, and a bathroom with a double sink. Instead of wanting more space, we planned for a better use of the space we have. Here are some of our favorite ways that we’ve maximized the space.
1| We Built a Custom Banquette with Storage
One of the most impactful changes we made was the construction of the built-in banquette. The custom structure was designed to provide hidden storage and fixed seating for the dining table. In conjunction with the L-shaped sectional sofa, it defines and opens up the living area. While the home has sleeping space for 6 or 7 people, we can comfortably seat about a dozen people in the living/dining space thanks to the banquette. We also gained a small closet-worth of hidden storage inside the seats themselves. More on that later!
2| We Eliminated a Closet to Improve Room Layout
When we first purchased the home, the guest bedroom had an awkwardly placed closet that ate up valuable square footage in the adjacent bathroom. It also severely limited our bed placement options. Removing the closet in favor of a floating clothing rack (similar) allowed the bed to be centered in the room and keeps the corner feeling open and airy.
3| We Modernized the Sleeping Loft
Tree House’s loft is kind of its secret weapon. It only boasts around 120 sq. ft. but it packs a whole lot of additional space and function into the tiny footprint. It functions as a combination bedroom/playroom/reading nook/quiet space depending on the day. When we purchased the home, it felt cramped and underutilized, with a third twin bed sandwiched between the two existing antique beds. Once the middle bed was removed, we laid down a plush wall-to-wall area rug that softened things up nicely. The ceilings were painted crisp white and playful wallpaper was installed on the window wall. We also motorized the built-in ladder to preserve space down below and had a sturdy custom modern railing fabricated. While the loft is located directly above the living room, it feels like a completely separate space!
Side note – Yes, you read that right! We loved the two beds in the photo above so much that we negotiated with the former owners so they would be included in the home transaction.
4| We Created Multi-Functional Spaces
Since Tree House’s floor plan is too restricted to include both a mudroom and a laundry room, we created what we thing is the perfect multi-purpose welcome space! The previous layout of the mudroom featured a large, inefficient wall of utility closets and a washer + dryer that consumed a huge amount of space. The fresh configuration and wall of cabinets allowed us to utilize vertical space more efficiently. The upper cabinets store tools, surplus paper products and the welcome gifts for our Airbnb guests. We even placed the home’s pantry (with microwave hidden inside!) in this kitchen-adjacent space.
We spend the majority of our time in Michigan outdoors, so sandy clothes, muddy boots and tracked-in snow are all a part of the adventure. To help keep the rest of the home clean and tidy, we’ve utilized washable outdoor rugs and often toss dirty items right into the washing machine as we enter. This combination mudroom/laundry room/pantry/storage area packs tons of functionality into a tiny space!
5| We Nixed the Coffee Table…
Speaking of multi-functional spaces… when we were laying out the flow of the living/dining area, we realized early on that a coffee table in front of the sofa would seriously disrupt things. The living area also acts a a pass-through space that allows access to the bathroom, loft and backyard so we needed to keep the center as clear as possible. People do, however, need a place to set their drinks, phones and books while lounging on the sectional. The solution came to us fairly quickly and we designed a slim behind-the-sofa console bookshelf to suit our very specific needs. The fully-custom design allowed us to maximize every inch of space and also provide some shelving on the ends for records and books. We loved the look and functionality so much that we even integrated a similar design into our primary home in Chicago!
6| …And The Media Console
As we mentioned above, inside the banquette are two large open storage compartments that hide dozens of board games and puzzles, as well as the control box for the Frame TV. Since there are no ‘proper’ closets in the common areas of the home, we needed somewhere to hide essentials that don’t necessarily look great out on a shelf. The frame TV’s ‘one connect’ box is hidden inside and we installed a behind-the-wall wiring kit for a truly seamless look. As with most of our integrated storage, we intentionally created more room than we’d initially need in case our needs change down the road.
7| We Built a Semi-Custom Closet Organization System
The closet in the primary bedroom is generous, but lacked any sort of organization when we purchased our Tree House. We went back and forth on the best organization system since we knew we wouldn’t be storing more than a week’s worth of clothes at any given time. For this space, general storage is far more valuable more than hanging clothing storage. This closet kit was the perfect solution! The central ‘stack’ of the kit can be customized with additional drawers (we added two) and shelves can be added to customize the kit for any space. Installation was simple and we’re able to store a huge amount inside the average-sized closet while leaving lots of open space for our guests.
8| We Went Tankless
Originally, the home’s water heater was tucked into one of the closets in the mudroom. This ate up a huge amount of space and it seemed incredibly wasteful to keep hot water at the ready when the house might not be occupied for weeks at a time during the off-season. Our HVAC/plumbing contractor recommended a tankless water heater in the bathroom linen closet as a cost-effective and space-saving option and we couldn’t be happier with our decision!
Once the water heater was installed, we framed around it and added access panels for a clean and tidy look. We then added custom shelving throughout the rest of the closet to utilize every single inch of storage space. As with every storage space in the home, we packed a huge amount of utility into a tiny footprint!
9| We Considered Every Detail in Our Only Bathroom
Without a home addition of some sort (which we definitely considered), Tree House only has room for one bathroom. That said, once we eliminated the guest bedroom closet that was formerly behind the door, the space turned out to be surprisingly generous! We’d always wanted to integrate a Kohler Brockway double sink into a design, and this bathroom was 100% designed around it. Every aspect and proportion allowed the sink to be the star of the show. It was mounted so the door could swing fully open past it. The custom shelf height was determined to rest just above the sink’s backsplash. We were sure to leave space for tiny step stools below it.
We considered every other detail in the space after we were sure the sink would work! The complimentary tile goes all the way to the ceiling for durability and easy cleaning. The green tile plays beautifully with the sink’s black and white hues and the heating elements underneath keep the space cozy on the coldest winter mornings. This room packs a big punch and suits our family of three perfectly. If you can only have one bathroom, it should be special, right?
10| We Extended Living Spaces to the Outdoors
For us, spending time at Tree House is centered around being outdoors, so it was important to us that the homes’ outdoor space serve our needs. The grilling and outdoor dining area is adjacent to the pantry and near the kitchen and the kitchen window can serve as a passthrough when the screen is removed. When designing the backyard fire pit, we centered it perfectly between the French doors at the back of the house to draw folks outside.
The spacious extended front deck is the perfect place to watch the world go by over morning coffee or evening cocktails. The indoor spaces are cozy and inviting, but the outdoor spaces are where memories are made!
The buildout of this home was two years of blood, sweat and tears but we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. We’re halfway through our third season of short term rentals and it makes our hearts so happy to see the same families returning to make their own memories year after year. Every single decision was considered and our intent is all for your delight!
PS – As you might have gathered, we love small spaces! Here are our thoughts on tiny condo living, why we eventually sold our condo, our experience as landlords of a small apartment, our little guest room, and even our musings on how moving walls can shift small spaces!