As land in New Zealand’s cities becomes increasingly scarce, and consumer trends move toward a conscious effort to own less, small houses are becoming more popular. However, committing to a small home doesn’t have to mean living in a matchbox. There are a whole lot of ways you can build (and comfortably live in) a smaller home, regardless of the size of your family.
NZCB builder Richard Poff, of RTP Builders in Canterbury, says that it’s important to start your small home design process with realistic expectations. “Decide what is a need and what is a want. A third bedroom is probably better value than a large garage for most people. An ensuite is nice but not a necessity. Try to keep the design simple – clean lines and a single cladding. If possible, stick closely to a rectangle shape with a gable roof. The simpler the design, the easier the build. This usually leads to a lower build cost and a shorter build timeline.”
Room design is key
Let’s start with some great advice from NZCB builder Ian Chamberlain, of Chamberlain Carpentry and Joinery in Bay of Plenty/Waikato – “Think about what spaces you and family members are going to use the most, for example, smaller bedrooms will allow for bigger living areas.”
Consider every centimetre of your home. For example, shifting a wall by a little will sometimes give you a more functional, better utilised space next door. Consider which rooms are on either side of walls and which one you’ll use more. Losing 30cm of space in the bathroom might be negligible, but gaining 30cm of storage in your laundry could make a world of difference.
Ian also suggests reducing wasted space, such as hallways and entrance spaces. If you have dead space under a stairwell, the addition of built-in seating could turn it into a reading nook, or custom shelving could give you more storage space.
And don’t forget, in any home it’s good to have escape spaces/corners for your family members to get some quiet time. In a small home, this is even more important, so you don’t feel like you’re constantly in each other’s hair! It could be as simple as a sunny corner spot with a chair, or ensuring your kids have space to spread out and play in peace.
One of the keys to living in a small home is ensuring you have enough storage that everything you own has a place to belong/be put away.
“Consider getting customised furniture and storage to enable maximum use of every square metre of space,“ Ian says. Custom-built or multi-function furniture can be a lifesaver – you know it’s fit for purpose and the space you have, and you can incorporate extra storage underneath.
In the kitchen, look for a sink with a back drain as the plumbing will take up less room underneath, giving you more storage space in that vital under-sink cupboard.
Essentially, in a small home, you want try to build in storage wherever possible, including on your walls…
Wall-hung items are you best mate in a small home, as the more floor you can see, the bigger your space will seem (and the easier it is to vacuum!). Consider wall-hung vanities, toilets, bedside cabinets and shelving for books and knick-knacks.
However, if your kitchen doesn’t get a lot of natural sunlight, full height, wall-mounted cabinetry will make the space feel closed in. Consider deep drawers instead of cupboards under your benchtops, as it’s easier to access the back of them.
It’s also a good idea to get your builder to put more horizontal studs than usual in your main rooms. This will give you lots of sturdy places to hang shelving, art and so on in future, rather than relying on toggles or monkey hooks in plasterboard.
Multipurpose is better
Another wee gem from Ian – “You could also consider having dual or multi-purpose areas, such as a laundry in the bathroom.”
To keep those public spaces feeling presentable, you could hide your laundry appliances behind cupboard doors in either the kitchen or bathroom, as long as you build in ventilation and lighting.
If you don’t have space for a separate powder room, but you have a separate laundry, consider popping a toilet in your laundry. If you do this, be sure to tuck the toilet itself out of plain view, such as behind a bench, so your guests get a sense of privacy. You could then choose a beautiful sink, tapware and lighting so the room doesn’t feel completely utilitarian. And don’t forget to also pop a lock on the door.
Light is vital
One of the most important things you can do to make a small space feel bigger is make sure there’s plenty of light. If you have smaller, or long skinny rooms with few windows, consider installing a skylight. Natural light gives a sense of space, and will mean you can have more fun with dark wall colours to create a sense of drama and luxury.
High ceilings will also help a room feel larger (and as long as your home is well-insulated, you shouldn’t have any trouble with heating in winter).
Final things to remember
And, finally, a few important comments from our NZCB builders.
Zane Raphael, from Renovation Builders in Auckland, says to remember smaller doesn’t always mean cheaper. “A smaller project still needs all of the council inspections and trades through to put it together.”
Your small home will still need the same number of fixtures and fittings as a large one, so don’t expect it to cost a lot less.
Though, as Ian says, you should still “invest in the best quality materials you can afford”. This will ensure the longevity of your investment.