My tiny house project: an extra foot makes a difference


I’ve often noticed that very small differences in dimensions can make a big difference in personal comfort. For example, any sink will feel uncomfortable to use without that little 10 or 15 centimeter kickspace at the bottom of the sink cabinet. Any obstruction to the eye or body can translate into a claustrophobic feeling, no matter how big the room.

The flip side of this is that if such obstructions can be reduced, even a small space can feel generous. If I may modestly offer my own office setup (not part of my tiny house project, though there is more about that later in this post) as an example:

picture of my office
This photo (taken from the building’s hall through the door) shows nearly the entire place, which is maybe 7 by 11 feet, except for the cot that occasionally occupies the unseen wall to the right.

Sure, to function as an office it could be smaller but my point is this is a relatively small space that feels roomy. I think it is partly because I’ve designed the desk (it’s a piece of birch plywood with a routered edge) in a shape that allows both the eye and the body to move unobstructed into the middle of the room. Once there, the shape encourages the eye to travel out the window.

I was feeling proud of this little design when I saw how a real pro architect had done a similar thing in our garage-to-granny-house conversion. Before, the garage had a rectangular footprint with exterior dimensions 14×20 feet. Here’s an exterior view that shows that rectilinearity:

exterior of garage/granny house november 29 2006

Now the architect didn’t change that much. Basically the doorway shown above is going away and re-oriented slightly so it angles off a bit. You can see the shape of the new front wall in the forms for the additions to the foundation:

side view of new angled front wall november 29 2006

But the difference is really obvious when you look from the inside:

interior view of garage/granny house showing effect of new front wall
The extra foot or two on one side will be welcome in the tiny living area (where those boards are leaning up against the wall). But more important this slight change in the wall draws attention in a more favorable direction, towards a local park (not visible here but home to many wonderful creatures). The new slanted wall will be mostly glass, so in a way this is a realistic picture of the winter north light in the place.

With some skylights and lighter-colored walls, I’m hoping the daytime living area will not require electric lights for reading, even in the Pacific Northwest winter. With a highly efficient fire blazing a few feet away (over in the right hand corner of the photo above) the floor plan should be downright cozy.

My formula for house, I told the architect, is “a window by a fire,” and I’m glad to see he really understood me.

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