Great lessons in style and comfort from tiny cottages, vintage trailers, bungalows, and other small homes.
Written bySunsetJuly 6, 2010
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After wrapping up a six-month road trip in 2014, Natasha Lawyer and her husband, Brett Bashaw, couldn't stomach moving into a bigger space. So the couple found new digs: a 1971 Airstream they purchased for $4,600 and set up in an RV park just outside of Seattle. Along the way, the couple came up with smart storage solutions, which range from a hidden compartment to stow camping gear, to a laundry hamper built into a bedside table. The decor that has taken shape is a Scandinavian-leaning mix of white, wood, and brass – not to mention their 63 potted plants.
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Vintage Airstream: Kitchen
To keep the kitchen streamlined, the couple whittled down its features, opting for a stovetop but forgoing an oven, and choosing cookware that stacks. With space for utensils at a premium, they’ve gotten used to being creative cooks (they've recently discovered, for instance, that a vinegar bottle works just as well as a rolling pin).
After struggling to find the perfect home in San Francisco’s tough market, one couple took to the water in this modern houseboat.
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Industrial Houseboat: Fireplace
Visitors climb up the stairs to arrive in this open main room, which includes the kitchen, dining space, and a living area with big sliding doors. The couple bought a gas fireplace, but it protruded from the wall awkwardly. By surrounding the fireplace with Douglas fir slats, the architect made it look built-in.
Thanks to moveable furnishings and a Murphy bed that unfurls from the wall, this pool house's roughly 500-square-foot main floor can go from pool-party venue to guesthouse to quiet getaway for the homeowners, who often settle in with a bottle of wine or book in hand. Downstairs, a dark and cozy media room gives the couple’s two teenage boys a spot to hang out and cheer on the Lakers.
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Pool House: Kitchen
Designed to be used for entertaining or hosting overnight guests, the kitchenette is small but mighty: A refrigerator and dishwasher hide behind lower custom cabinets, while open shelving and wraparound Caesarstone countertops maximize surface space. The combination of blond wood, rattan, and polished nickel hardware creates a casually glam vibe. The porcelain floor tiles echo the grain of wood while being durable enough to hold up to dripping swimmers.
The furnishings were kept fairly minimal in this room, as comfort and functionality were key. The cream-colored sofa is layered with pillows and a throw to make it inviting and homey. A low-profile leather sling chair, two wooden ottomans, and a stool can easily move around the room for extra seating when needed.
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Wine Country Cottage: Kid's Room
Space is at a premium in this small French-country cottage. The second bedroom was devised as a spot that could transition from toddler to teen thanks to built-in cabinetry, a petite desk, and a modern Murphy bed that can be folded up to clear the way for playtime.
Instead of fleeing for the suburbs when their daughter was born, Erin Feher Montoya and her husband, Danny tweaked their compact setup to make room for three. To double the square footage of their bedroom, Danny, a professional woodworker, built a sleeping loft accessed by a ladder over Orion's Danny-designed crib that has storage bins below. In the living room, the deep windowsill holds a bar, a garden box of succulents, and a revolving gallery of Danny’s prototypes. A pair of flip-top boxes store guest linens and magazines, and sub in for a coffee table.
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One-Bedroom Apartment: Kitchen
The kitchen is outfitted with adjustable shelves, commonly used in restaurants. The open shelving emphasizes the loft’s 12-foot-high ceilings. With no cabinets, the family is forced to be extra organized and curate purchases.
Mark Egerstrom and Brian Grosdidier doubled the living space of their 600-square-foot cottage by appyling a few smart design tricks. They opened up the formerly choppy floor plan, and added a loft room, a roof deck “backyard,” and glass walls in the living room, pictured here. Transparent walls seem to bring the plants into the room itself. It’s a twist on the usual L.A. take on outdoor living: sliding doors opening onto patios. “We’re tricking the eye into feeling there’s more space than there is,” says Mark.
Expanded cottage: Rooftop deck
When you can't expand out, go vertical. “We’ve got a backyard—it’s just on the roof,” says Mark. “It feels like a treehouse up there above it all.”
The house that Deborah and Olivier built in Venice, CA, is a monument to modern (and modernist) notions of resourcefulness. By going up, not out, the One Window House—so called because all but one of its “windows” are actually glass walls or sliding doors—makes the most of its small (680 square feet) footprint. Three stories give the house a total size of 1,500 square feet, despite its relatively small footprint. And Deborah and Olivier’s design philosophy can also be seen in how they refine rough-hewn (and economical) materials and use them in interesting new ways, extend the size of rooms by connecting them to the outdoors. For example, from the street, you can see the opaque panel that lets light into the staircase.
One Window House: Kitchen
Olivier and Deborah see it as part of their design mission to take things—especially construction materials—out of their familiar contexts, reworking them so they can be experienced afresh. For instance, they decided to use oriented strand board, or flakeboard, for the kitchen cabinetry and a few other surfaces in the house. Flakeboard cabinetry and polished concrete flooring suit the indoor/outdoor theme running through the house.
Makoto Mizutani and Ben Luddy have turned their house into an R&D lab for living. Every piece of furniture they create for their design company, Scout Regalia, and for their 650-square-foot home (and office) is a product of necessity. In the multifunction main room, a midcentury Hans Wegner daybed does triple duty: sofa, guest bed for visitors, and “conference room” seating for business meetings.
Live-work cottage: Bedroom
In a small home, storage space is on short supply, so Makoto and Ben employ savvy tricks to work it into their furniture design. This bed's backrest slides up to reveal storage. On the headboard, you push in on a hinged panel to access a similar space.
A couple of years ago at a fly-fishing show, Christa Johnston saw a display of vintage trailers. Taken with the idea of a wilderness vacation that wouldn’t involve a tent, Christa fell for the iconic Serro Scotty trailer—a brand once common on Western highways. She and her husband Kurt found a not-to-expensive model that wouldn't require too much remodeling and transformed it into the rolling getaway of their dreams.
Stylish trailer: Interior
After eight weeks of work, the 100-square-foot trailer was ready for their first trip, 10 low-tech days in the Grand Tetons that proved their purchase was right for them. “We can really unplug and focus on us,” says Kurt. Christa agrees: “Being out there clears your mind, clears the clutter. When my out-of-office message says I’ll have no access to phone or email, it’s true.”
Josh Heiser and Steve Burns decided to make a change from rainy Seattle and headed to Sonoma, CA. The prime getaway spot is justly famous for its enviable climate, dreamy grapevines-for-miles landscape, and notable wineries and restaurants. How, then, to keep that away-from-it-all vibe in a home that has to function as, well, a home? They remodeled a 1,100-square-footer, making the most of the space with a few clever strategies. Furniture groupings, like this casual dining setup in a windowed corner of the great room, help define discrete living spaces.
Photo by Thomas J. Story; written by Jess Chamberlain
20 of52Photo by Thomas J. Story; written by Jess Chamberlain
Creative country house: Bathroom
Formerly a second bedroom, this bathroom relies on space-saving strategies: antique redwood troughs in lieu of cabinets; a spa-like basket to keep towels handy.
Mariah Morrow and Ryan Lingard built their own cozy adventure outpost—just 130 square feet plus a deck—for $57,000, including the land. The cabin is the perfect jumping-off point into the wilderness near Joseph, Oregon.
Photo by Thomas J. Story
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DIY cabin retreat: Interior
What the couple may not have in square footage, they more than make up for in the spaces beyond the cabin. “There’s no need to drive to a trailhead,” says Mariah, noting that informal paths connect the cabin to mountain bike trails and Forest Service hiking trails. “In winter, we ski and snowshoe,” Ryan says. “It’s peaceful here, and spending time off the grid resets your priorities.”
Ray and Mary Johnston's 1,200-square-foot cabin near Twisp, WA is packed with ideas for small-home living. Take the open kitchen: One of the Johnstons' favorite things about it is the appliance-free island they made from a stainless steel and butcher block workspace they bought at a restaurant-supply store and covered on three sides with plywood. It was affordably made, adds much-needed storage space, and acts as a central gathering spot in the house.
24 of52Dominique Vorillon
Washington cabin: Nook
"In a small space, the most satisfying thing is variety," Mary Johnston says of the built-in bookshelf on the wall above the staircase. The inviting alcove is both a convenient throughway and another place to hang out.
Lauren and Eric Wendlandt weren't worried about the tiny size of this San Diego bungalow when they purchased it. Using creative furnishings (this dining room table can extend to seat 10 people) allows them to maximize space.
See the living room next.
Photo by Daniel Hennessy
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San Diego bungalow: Living room
In the living room, the Wendlandts continue to take advantage of multi-purpose furniture—the window seat stores extra blankets, and the subwoofer doubles as a side table.
Landscape architect Andreas Stavropoulos lives in a remodeled 1959 Airstream trailer, which he parks behind a Berkeley, CA, co-op. The space is only 15 ft. long and 7 ft. wide, but Stavropoulos makes it work by avoiding unnecessary posessions and utilizing built-in furniture.
See inside the Airstream next.
Photo by Mark Compton
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Airstream home: Bedroom
Stavropoulos makes the most of his limited space by keeping his shirts and jackets hanging on a rail across from the cooktop. His built-in bed is topped with a thick piece of cut-to-fit Memory Foam.
This smart 800-square-foot apartment sits atop a 62,000-square-foot Seattle warehouse, tapping into previously unappreciated views.
“This is just one example of what is possible if we look at these forgotten landscapes as new opportunities,” say the architeccts.
See the view from inside next.
Photo by Benjamin Benschneider
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Rooftop apartment: View
The roof's deep overhang keeps the rooms cool even though the walls are glass.
The interior of this simple cabin in Durango, Colorado, consists of a sleeping/living room, a simple kitchen, and a bathroom alcove.
With storage and display shelves resembling large egg crates, the simple wall system shown here defines the kitchen, dining, and living areas of this California cabin, and keeps everything in plain sight. The ladder leads to a loft, and the inside of the box actually houses a bathroom.
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This modular project works as a vacation getaway or backyard guest suite and home office.
See the office space next.
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Modern cottage: Office
The light and airy desk, made from a repurposed door and a piece of frosted glass, hangs from the ceiling by 3/16-inch cable wire.