// by Melody Taylor
The size of the average U.S. single family home has mushroomed over 35 percent in recent decades, according to U.S. Census Bureau data—from 1,740 square feet in 1980 to 2,392 square feet in 2010.
Despite our love of extra space and stuff, more and more Americans are finding that scaling down can be good for the soul. Even if you aren’t interested in going full-on minimalist, like the owners of the micro dwellings that were on display at the recent Florida Tiny House Festival held in St. Johns County, local designers have tips for tweaks that can maximize your existing space.
Hang it Up
“Hanging racks or baskets on the backs of doors or inside cabinet doors is a great way to create additional storage for detergents, spices [and other space hogs] using existing areas,” says Jenni Edwards, owner and designer at Norsk Tiny Houses, based in Atlantic Beach. A professional builder and designer, Edwards downsized from a 3,600-square-foot home to several progressively smaller homes of her own before designing and building a tiny beach cottage in 2016. Her cottage has already been featured in several home festivals. In addition to back-of-door racks, Edwards says she often recommends under-cabinet racks for hanging glass stemware.
“Shelving is amazing. We aren’t necessarily seeing the big built-ins that were used with TVs in the past, but there are all types of floating shelving and configurations available, and they’re a great way to group collections,” says Cyndi Brownlee, principal designer at St. Augustine-based Uniquely Designed Interiors.
Brownlee says her firm’s clientele includes empty-nesters who have moved to smaller homes in Northeast Florida from larger ones in other parts of the country. “They are looking for solutions to maximize every square foot. A lot of them have items from collections that they really don’t want to part with,” she says.
Brownlee recommends hanging racks for pots and pans when cabinet space is minimal, which frees up storage and also serves as a decorative piece. She also recommends mounting bedside lighting to liberate night table space.
Put Furniture to Work
“We, in the tiny house world, say that everything has to have at least two uses for it to be practical in our houses,” says Shorty Robbins, organizer of the 2016 Florida Tiny House Festival and former longtime Jacksonville resident.
When building her own 125-square-foot tiny house, Robbins wanted each piece to also fit into her Victorian design motif, leading her to get extra creative with furniture. A deconstructed piano functions as a decorative piece by day, and converts into a full-size bed at night. She also installed in-floor storage, and built storage drawers behind the stairs to her loft space using old dressers that once belonged to her grandparents. When choosing furniture for clients who are downsizing to smaller homes or condos, Brownlee says she looks for pieces that can work double duty. She recommends storage ottomans that can add bench seating in a small dining space, or using chests or cocktail tables that have drawers for storage as end tables.
In multi-functional space, such as a home office/guest room, Brownlee often recommends a sleeper sofa or chair. “Depending on the amount of space, it’s there as an option to be a guest room when needed, and then can be an office, craft space or TV space the rest of the time,” she says.
See the Light
Since window treatments should be scaled to the space and allow natural light, Brownlee says valances and shades are good to consider. “You want to avoid anything that is very heavy. In a lot of cases, draw draperies would not be the answer because of the stack they need to have when open and the amount of space they take up—literally and also visually in a room,” she says.
Edwards and Brownlee both say that ceiling height and lighting can impact space perception, and should be a design consideration for a compact space.
Edwards’ tiny home plans are designed with vaulted ceilings in the main entry area, with lofts and other vertical visual clutter toward the back or perimeter. “Ceiling height makes a huge difference, along with light colors,” she says. “I like to choose a really soft blue, off-gray or off-white, and paint all areas the same color to make the space look larger.” u