Small but mighty: it’s not about how many square feet your home has, it’s what you do with it that counts

KITCHEN CREATIVE Here’s a hot tip: Small square footage doesn’t relegate you to a galley-style kitchen. According to architect Matt Franklin with M.T.N Design, thoughtfully planned L- and U-shaped kitchens can accommodate multiple cooks in cozy quarters.

The “tiny house” movement is everywhere. You can’t turn on a home-improvement channel without stumbling across a show featuring folks designing a “dream home” that’s 200 square feet and costs less to build than the price tag of most cars. It’s an enticing notion, but is this kind of extreme minimalism realistic for the long haul? Probably not.

Actually, the idea of diminutive, efficiently designed homes is far from new. Log home enthusiasts have proclaimed their love of petite floor plans for centuries, but we have more practical, dare we say livable, expectations–not to mention sound approaches to accomplishing our goals.

Four log home experts from across the United States weigh in with their best ideas for designing a home that will let you live large when you design small.


  • 1 Conduct a Self-Audit. “The first step to successfully designing any home (but that’s vital to small home design) is to assess what you can and cannot live without,” says Lynn Gastineau, founder of Gastineau Log Homes in New Bloomfield, Missouri. Lynn should know; in the past 40 years, her company has built homes of every shape and size, including a line of 400-square-foot-and-under, full-log houses called “Cabins 2 Go.”Matt Franklin, a licensed architect for Boise, Idaho-based M.T.N Design, echoes Lynn’s advice. “Ask yourself what you really need in terms of space and amenities,” he says. “For example, giving the toilet its own room within the bathroom is popular for obvious reasons, but building codes require minimum clearances between fixtures and walls. This, plus the framing, adds square footage to a bathroom. If the toilet is out in the open, you can save that space.”Eliminating the bathtub is another big idea when building small. “I was at a trade show and saw a sign that read, ‘Tubs are Dead,'” says Jeremy Bertrand, the outside sales manager for Log Homes of America in Jefferson, North Carolina. “Of course, there are people who prefer a bath; but if you’re a shower person, you can save a lot of space by leaving the tub out.” Jeremy estimates that by sacrificing a standard tub, you can reclaim about 12 square feet to apply to something you would actually use, like a double-sink vanity or a good-sized linen closet.
  • 2 Waste No Space. Over-designing is a common pitfall during the home design process. How many bedrooms and baths do you really need? Is a home office absolutely necessary? If you have frequent overnight company, a dedicated bedroom and bath may make sense. Likewise, if you work from home full time, you’ll probably want a separate office. However, if guests are sporadic and you only need a computer to shop online or monitor your Fantasy team, you can probably combine these functions into one room and opt for a powder room or a compact three-piece bath. It’s also less to dean.Formal entries and hallways are dead space. To make the most of every inch of your small home, take them out of the picture. “Instead of halls, arrange an open layout that circulates, making it easy and logical to get from one room to another. And keep your floor plan simple overall,” Matt advises.ZI-3RYB-2016-APR00-IDSI-35-1Sometimes hallways are necessary. In that case, design them to be multifunctional. “We built a home for a client who needed space for a desk but didn’t want a full home office,” Jeremy explains, “so we designed the end of the hallway to accommodate his desk. The area is compact but efficient.”Kitchen pantries are another amenity you may want to reconsider if you’re building small. “Actually, there’s an trend afoot to do away with walk-in pantries and go back to cabinet pantries,” Matt says. You might spend a little more money on cabinetry, but you can increase your kitchen’s workable square footage substantially.
  • 3 Shuffle the Stairs. When it comes to eating up space, nothing devours it more vigorously than stairs. For example, in an 1,100-square-foot home, a straight-run staircase can require about 42 to 48 square feet. L- and U-shaped stairs require more. Fortunately, there’s even a solution for that, and it doesn’t mean you have to live in a single-story ranch. “As a general rule, it’s more cost effective to build up than out,” according to Lynda Tompkins, a principal with Timberhaven Log Homes in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. “Of course you will need a staircase in a two-story home, but we’ve come up with a concept that removes them from the main living area. Instead, we created a bump-out for the sole purpose of housing the stairs. It boosts the usable square footage inside and gives the exterior a little extra architectural interest, too.”
  • 4 Design Around Appliances. It may seem like putting the cart before the horse, but when planning your kitchen, consider choosing your appliances first and designing around them. “A great way to save space in a small home is opt for apartment-sized refrigerators and stoves,” Lynn suggests.ZI-3RYB-2016-APR00-IDSI-35-2Matt agrees. “Stackable full-size washers and dryers have come a long way. They enable you to install a narrow laundry closet rather than a full-scale laundry room.”Of course the decision to downsize appliances will depend greatly on your lifestyle. If this is your full-time home and you have a large family or entertain often, the idea of going small here may be half baked.
  • 5 Get Out of the Swing. Unless you’re an architect, door-swing clearance is a home-design component that’s not given any thought, but it can add un necessary and unusable square footage to your home’s overall footprint. An alternative? Pocket doors. “They are great space savers!” exclaims Lynn Gastineau. There’s only one problem: In a full-log home, the plumbing, wiring and HVAC ducts are often contained within the interior framed walls to keep the logs pristine. “When you can’t embed a door in the wall because mechanicals are in the way, hang it outside,” Lynn says. “Sliding barn-style doors are perfect substitutes, and they are really hot right now.”
  • 6 Rob Peter to Pay Paul.Utilities and the mechanical equipment that goes with them are necessary components to the function of your home, but it doesn’t mean they need their own room. Lynn offers some creative suggestions to steal back the space they take. “Tankless water heaters give you hot water on demand and take up a lot less space than the traditional variety. And depending on your home’s size, an exterior heat pump maybe a good substitute for a furnace,” she suggests. “They sit entirely outside, like an air conditioner, so you don’t have to make room for a large unit inside.” Minimizing the area mechanicals require enables you to apply that square footage to space you can enjoy.
  • 7 Take it Outside. In a small footprint, the exterior living areabecomes just as important as the interior. The good news is that porches, decks and patios cost a fraction ofconstructingyour loghome. “Covered areas expand your usable entertaining space, regardless of weather, and spending a lot of time outside fits right in with the log home lifestyle,” Jeremy Bertrand says. “I always recommend that our customers incorporate as many as their design and budget will allow. In some cases, their outside square footage is greater than what they have inside.”



“Begin with the end in mind,” said Stephen Covey, famed author and co-founder of FranklinCovey. That’s excellent advice as you’re planning a log home that functions with ease, and smart storage is a key component. So while you’re designing, look at your floor plan, identify all the places where you can add storage and let clutter be a thing of the past.

BUILT-INS ARE YOUR BEST FRIEND. Take advantage of what would otherwise be dead space. Install built-in dressers in the low area beneath a steeply pitched roof. Insert shelving for books and collectibles within knee walls and along hallways. Make better use of a bump-out by integrating a storage bench. But one of the smartest places to add built-ins is beneath a staircase. From large closets to cubbyholes, this is an area begging to be better utilized, and you’ll be surprised how much it will hold and how attractive it can be.

CLEVER CABINETRY. Kitchens are full of gadgets. Whether it’s an appliance that gets daily use or specialty items that only come out at the holidays, you need places to stash your stuff. Corner cabinets can swallow your equipment up, so consider a “super Susan” so you can easily access the equipment in the back and use the cabinet to the max. And whether you are planning a walk-in pantry or the cabinet variety, shelves, pullout baskets and drawers will keep everything more organized.

RAISE IT UP. If space is at a premium, try elevating your storage options. Space between the roof and a ceiling can be converted to a mini-attic, accessed by a small door inside. You can do the same with the extra clearance in the garage. In a dining room, stash surplus seating off the floor by installing a Shaker-style chair rail beneath the ceiling.


KITCHEN CREATIVE Here’s a hot tip: Small square footage doesn’t relegate you to a galley-style kitchen. According to architect Matt Franklin with M.T.N Design, thoughtfully planned L- and U-shaped kitchens can accommodate multiple cooks in cozy quarters.



When selecting a design pro, you have options. Learn more:

Positioning the stairs outside of your main living area can save 42 square feet or more in your overall floor plan


The median size of a new single-family home sold in 2014 was 2,506 sq. ft. Four percent of those were less than 1,400 sq. ft.

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