Interior design for function over form

Sep 04, 2013 · 8 mins read
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If I were to live in a tiny house, it would be a fancy one like this. Picture obtained from

Lately, I have been reading about tiny houses and dense living conditions. Living in a tiny house has a lot of benefits, both personally and environmentally. The smaller your house, the less you spend to heat and cool it, the less you spend on utilities, the less crap you tend to accumulate. Smaller houses are cheaper, and use fewer resources both in building and maintaining. It also frees up more space in your yard, you get more yard out of a smaller property if your house is taking up minimal space.

Further, smaller houses allow for denser neighborhoods and towns, reducing sprawl. This is beneficial because when you are closer with your neighbors you tend to build more community with them, but also because dense neighborhoods better support public transit, biking, and walking. This is the reason large city dwellers, such as New Yorkers, tend to use less energy and be more physically active than us suburbanites. Riding my bike from home to work, or even a bus/bike combo, is impossible here in the ‘burbs, but would be far more reasonable than taking a car in a denser neighborhood/city. Smaller houses allow for greater density.

The Rocking Homestead will probably be relocating in the next few years to a home with more yard in a city (read, different suburb of Denver) more friendly to urban homesteading that hopefully is a tad bit closer to my mom, and Jeremy and I spend a lot of time thinking about what we want out of our next home. What differences from our current home would we want in a new one?

I had been accustomed to thinking of our current home as somewhat small, but learning and reading about tiny homes has helped us realize that the problem isn’t the size of our home, it’s the efficiency of the use of space that is the problem. We live in an almost 2,000 square foot home that feels cramped because of the way it was designed, and the way we have been conditioned to arrange and fill a home.

Our home is a super split level (with four levels, but very little on each level), with three bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. The main floor has our kitchen, dining room, and front room (which we never use). The spacious master bedroom is up one set of stairs from the main level, with a large, walk in bathroom in the bedroom, and the additional bedrooms are up another set if stairs from the master, on what amounts to our fourth floor, but it’s really only two very small bedrooms with a Jack and Jill bathroom between them. If you take the stairs down from the main level, you will be in our family room, which is essentially divided (by necessity of the shape of the space) into two distinct areas, one for TV viewing, which we use, and one for sitting, which we don’t use. In our front room on the main level, we have very high vaulted ceilings, which, you know, was bound to happen when they designed in so many stairs but so little in the way of floors.

So, we basically have two rooms we don’t use at all, and a lot of open space above our heads in one of those unused rooms that easily could contain two additional bedrooms, or made the current bedrooms big enough so that more than one child could share them. I don’t know if I want a tiny house, necessarily, but I would like to stop paying and using resources on such poorly used space.

Looking at this, Jeremy and I have agreed that we could easily downsize our home in square footage, if the space was used efficiently. We’ve also agreed that paying more for features like big fancy master bathrooms, seems silly. You go into a bathroom to poop and wash dirt off of yourself, does it really need to be luxurious? I honestly would rather keep the money I’d spend on a big luxurious bathroom (money spent buying it with the house it’s in, and then heating, cooling, and lighting it) and use it to go on more vacations (tree house vacation in Costa Rica, I’m looking at you!), or buy more cute clothes from ModCloth, or treat myself to hair cuts or pedicures more often. I’d much rather have any of those things than a posh place to shit, thanks.

And really, I don’t need a bigger kitchen than I currently have. I wouldn’t mind more outdoor cooking and entertaining space, but a patio is much cheaper to build and maintain than a kitchen, and I don’t need anything too fancy. Jeremy has a legitimate need for a work space, but he’d be just as happy with an unattached shed as he is with our current large garage. I’ve always thought I wanted/needed a sewing room, but really, all I need is a sewing corner, a place where I can set up my desk with machines on it, and maybe another table for cutting fabric and putting things together. With some shelves under the table. It’s really not much.

Thinking this way has challenged us to rethink how we have our house arranged. Currently, Freja’s crib and dresser is in our bedroom, and the room that would be her bedroom is half storage, half my sewing room. We have two couchy chairs in the unused space in our family room that look very nice there, but see very little use. We have next to no furniture in our front room, just a roll top desk, a couple of cheap plastic shelves filled with books, and a bench that we generally use just to pile stuff on. We have decided that we could easily move the couchy chairs up to our front room, where they might get more use and encourage more use of the space, and create my sewing corner down in that unused portion of the family room, which also doubles as a toy storage space for Freja (Elijah has a playroom in our basement, with a large Lego table Jeremy built for him). Then we can finally move Freja’s stuff out of our room, hopefully decluttering it.

Our thinking that my sewing stuff had to be tucked away out of view, or that the couchy chairs (which match our couch and love seat in the family room) had to be next to the set they match with, is contributing more inefficiency to an already inefficiently designed home. It’s easy to get attached to an idea of how things are supposed to look to present an image of luxury and affluence. It’s easy because it does look and feel nice, on the surface. But those attachments drive us to need even more and more space, to consume more and more resources. It makes us think “A three bedroom home is not enough, we need a room for each child, and a room for me to pursue my hobby in, and another room for toys, and another room for guests.” In reality, a 2,000 square foot house is a huge house, and if I can’t find a place to sew and a place for all of us to sleep in a house that size, the problem is me, not my space.

I don’t need my house to look a certain way, I need it to be comfortable, fulfill my needs for personal expression, keep me and my family safe from the elements, and collect memories. Why should it bother me that guests to my home might see my sewing machine? Or my fabric stash? What a silly, frivolous concern for my house.

At the same time, my sewing machine will probably get more use if I don’t have to isolate myself from my family to use it. Hiding my hobby away from sight is a good way to hide it away from my mind as well. Instead, in my desire to be near my family I end up plopped in front of the TV, or the laptop, or my phone, not much more present with my family than I would be if I were in another room sewing. Of course, if I were in the same room sewing, I may not be present with my family either, but at least I would be being productive, and seeing less media. I will probably be happier too, feeling creatively fulfilled in a way TV can never replace. Certainly, the nice looking but seldom used sitting area that currently occupies that space does not bring me the kind of happiness that sewing would. Shouldn’t my house be more than just nice looking? Shouldn’t it make me happy?

It might not be gracing the pages of Better Homes and Gardens or Apartment Therapy, but a house that is comfortable and inspires you to pursue activity that makes you happy is far better designed than anything else, in my opinion. We have taken our access to resources and progress in this culture and set up systems that just don’t work very well. By focusing on the wrong thing (aesthetics over function) we have pulled ourselves into a stressful, expensive, and not sustainable direction of wanting more than we truly need. Rather than sizing up, we should evaluate what is truly important to us, and work at making available space more comfortable and enjoyable, rather than looking trendy and hip.