Places that Work: Some Small Homes

If certain criteria are met, living in a small space can be a great experience

I dropped by to visit the “Making Room” show at the Museum of the City of New York, which features a mock-up of a 325 square foot apartment. I was curious to see the “micro-studio” with its handy tuck-away dining table and chair that turns into a ladder to reach high-up storage and fold-down to a full size Murphy bed that fills the space otherwise taken up by the couch. The visit confirmed, at least for me that living in a small space can be a good experience, if certain criteria are met.  I took these photos at the exhibit.


What makes a tiny home a good, or at least acceptable, place to live?

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  • Residents have to choose to want to live in the small space that forces humans to live in with less (“small” being defined by their expectations).  Many choose micro-studios because of their relatively low rents/prices or the parity of their price with a shared space. A well-selected small space can become an oasis.
  • Environmental control is important for a successful small home experience. People who live in small homes need to be able to exercise that freedom. Those who live in micro-studios generally have the option of sharing a public space with others. But this sharing means that you have less say in how clean the kitchen is kept, what music is played as residents sit down to dinner, the light levels while the TV is on. You see where this is going.  When we have control of our environment, or think we have control, we feel comfortable. Period. Part of having control is being able to be alone when we want to be alone. When we’re by ourselves we sort through all of the recent events in our lives and make sense of them. When people don’t have the opportunity for alone time, the tension that builds in their veins can wreck as much havoc as an active volcano.
  • The tiny homes have to be large enough to serve basic human needs to be desirable places to live. For example, the shower does have to be large enough for the resident to fit into comfortably.
  • Living in a tiny place can be satisfying to people with particular personality traits. Some of us need to do things that few others are doing, and, at least for now, small homes are indeed distinctive. Fitting all the things that we feel are required to live a modern life into a micro-studio can be a puzzle. But some of us love to solve puzzles. Living in a small home can also be a reflection of an environmentally responsible life; being green is an important component of many people’s self-identity.
  • To avoid feeling claustrophobic, tiny interiors need to feature light, cool colors, and windows that let in lots of sunlight. Sunlight is a magic mood booster.  Cabinets with solid (not transparent or translucent) doors need to hide all the stuff packed into storage spaces, or visual clutter will make you tense.

If you’re thinking of a tiny home, evaluate it in the context of the other housing options available, as well as the lifestyles and values of those living there. Under the right conditions, a small home can be quite a desirable place to hang your hat.

Sally Augustin, PhD, is a principal at Design with Science . She is also the editor of Research Design Connections and the author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture (Wiley, 2009). She can be reached at [email protected] This post is part of a series of Places that Work.

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