How to Ideate Far Out Tiny Homes

About: We are two brothers who like to make things.

If you've ever watched tiny house shows such as Kirsten Dirksen's YouTube show or HGTV's Tiny House Hunters, you probably have seen some unique designs when it comes to elements of tiny living quarters. For years I have loved drafting efficient architecture in my free time. When I have watched Tiny House Hunters I think that some of the tiny trailer floor plans and functionality are terribly similar to one another and this shows an opportunity for novel ideas.

In this instructable I will show you some steps to design novel, resourceful, and efficient architectural ideas with examples. I hope you find this interesting!

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Step 1: Design Philosophy

One thing that is lacking in many tiny houses I've seen is a sort of organic or adaptive use of space. As an abstract example: bench seating in cars. In a three person car seat bench, there is usually enough room for one smaller person and two average size people in a roughly 4 feet (1.21 meters) wide bench. Now compare this to chairs. Three standard sized chairs would be much wider in total for seating the same amount of people and therefore a less efficient use of space. Why? Because not every passenger is the same size and this aspect gives opportunity for more space for other passengers or cargo.

Usage of space changes over time, so even small spaces designers ought be keep this in mind.

Step 2: Needfinding

First outline the latent needs in a tiny house design. - In product development, this is called needfinding which can be conducted by interviewing, researching, or observing potential home buyers. If you are designing for yourself, this is still a superb idea.

For example, in my tiny home design I want efficiently and full functionality but not at the expense of comfort. Next, break this down into an outline to gain insight by defining terms.

Full functionality - I wanted a tiny house that includes at least:

  • one wet bath at least the footprint of a typical full sized shower, or a complete bathroom.
  • microwave oven and burner
  • at least a king-sized mattress length sleeping area.
  • deep sink.
  • Natural light to showcase nature.
  • Full 7 foot (2.13 meters) height ceiling and full 3 foot(0.91 meters) width hallways (unlike most camper trailers).
  • Plenty of table space.
  • Space not wasted where spaciousness is not valued.
  • Smart home abilities but not necessarily through technology
  • Affordability
  • Cheap utilities installation
  • Under $40k total building cost.

The constraints are:

  1. Zoning - annoying ordinances
  2. Cost - less than $40,000 USD
  3. Size - under 600 square feet footprint.

Step 3: Sketch As Many As Possible

Next, brainstorm (ideation) a bunch of potential solutions.

Don't worry about how whacky an idea might be, add it in because it may lead to a solid solution indirectly. If you run out of ideas or get stuck sometimes it makes a difference to take a break for a few days and come back with a fresh mind, or have more than one mind doing the ideation. The more sketches the better - instead of focusing on one thought that you may invest a ton of work into only for it to fail.

For example, start with the underlying aspects of living quarters by sketching them in as many ways as possible. Sketch as many as you can because drawing can “draws the ideas out of you”. One more technique is to cut out the paper from the sketch divided by modules or elements (furniture, rooms, etc...) and rearrange to visualize the organization. As with myself, you don't always have to make paper prototype but it can help.

Step 4: Make It Multipurpose.

One of the best ways to design a tiny house is the make the functionality multipurpose.

In this example, the kitchen table, desk are the same surface...This one's a bit of a stretch and seriously unorthodox because it would be terribly claustrophobic. It's very difficult to visualize since the walls would hide the entire shape. However, in terms of functionality you could still have a full sized wet bath, desk, and bed in the most compact space envisioned to include all these features.

This might be good for temporary shelters in the case of natural disasters. It would be a 6 foot (1.82 meters) length and 6 foot width with a 12 foot (3.6 meters) height.

The entrance is at the corner with the door being shaped into the corner of the hut instead of along a wall. You would sleep on a collapsible floor mat, and the sitting wet bath is directly behind a curtain - behind the table used for both cooking and as a desk. The floor of the wet bath is at the same level as the table. The corners are used to house a mini-fridge and microwave oven and additional storage could be hanging like a hang-over-door shoe rack pocketed bag.

Step 5: Fill the Vacuums

One of the best ways to make a house efficiently spaced is by spotting spaces that are less often accessed, and fill that vacuum with something desired or needed.

I recommend TinkerCAD which is a free online program. Simply resize their premade shapes to the sizes of non changeable house items like fridges, ovens, shower stalls, and washing machines make a transparent box the size of your micro house. Then, rearrange them in the box in different ways like 3D architecture Tetris.

For example, this is one I am very surprised I haven't seen similarity to in Airstream campers. In just a 8 feet (2.43 meters) by 8 square footprint and a popup ceiling (13 feet or 3.9 meters) it would be highly spatially efficient. Unlike most camper trailers, the hallways and wet bath would be a full 3 feet wide because it is staggered.
Seating for dining and also sleeping would be overhead the shower, cabinets, and kitchen. The underside of the dining table is the actual ceiling for the walkway area. When seated, your legs would hang down into the walkway area below as if you were sitting on top of the cabinets. By putting the dining and sleeping on a partial split level, it saves space without adding two floors.

Step 6: Know Thy Geometry

It helps to have a decent understanding of volume (cubic feet or cubic meters for example). Depending on how many belongings you want in your tiny home and how often you need to access each item, you will want to make sure you have enough space to store those items.

One side tip is to hang small items in over-the-door shoe hangers.

If you can, make a list of the items used in your current house and date the note. Check back in two months and if your haven't used that item since then, it may be a unnecessary item which you won't need space for in your tiny house.

One thing I've noticed about camper vans is that solo beds or hammocks are usually the longest component of a camper van. Since vans are typically fairly narrow and short, why not put the solo bed on a diagonal? For example, a king-size mattress is usually around 84 inches long, which is still shorter than a 7.07 feet (2.15 meters) long diagonal bed in a 5 feet (1.52 meters) by 5 feet square area. If you can stand having the foot and head of your bed being shaped like a corner, then this might be a great idea.

Step 7: Imagine Without Assumptions

When ideating, set aside assumptions on how you may think a house is stereotypically structured. No idea is too odd because even ridiculous ideas can lead to more useful ideas.

For example, what if a house was built without unmoveable floors? You have come across the sling-like upright porch hammocks made from ripstop, breathable parachute nylon. They're cheap and can be squashed flat against the wall when you stand up and get off these swings. Have you ever been in cabin with a vaulted ceiling? Perhaps a waste of space!

What if there was a tiny house about the footprint of an express elevator or a tiny water tower - two or three stories tall in a forest just past the tree tops that had shelves and fold-out tables along one wall the whole way up, with the top being a lookout room like a lighthouse, but for dining and general living quarters instead of boat signaling.

Here's my point; if you hung the seat from a pulley at the top of the tower with a counterweight nearly the same as you body's weight to counterbalance your weight and you put mountain climbing clips on each shelf the whole way up and a clip on the sling-seat then in standing position the seat would take up mere millimeters of space and could act like a exercise machine and easy manual elevator simultaneously.
The foldout tables could form temporary floors!

Maybe this could also be made from uprightly positioned recycled galvanized steel culverts as a cheaply made tower?

Step 8: Make It Move or Transform

Transforming furniture is always a great implementation in a tiny house. Sofas that convert to beds, foldaway or sliding doors, etc...

For example, this one is very easy to DIY but it already exists in warehouses as seen in the gif. Units could be bought for resale and then DIY modified to be more aesthetic and motorized.

The gist of these are shelves on sliding floor tracks. You would need a single lengthwise hallway and one width-wise hallway which can be virtually moved by sliding the shelves along the tracks. Instead of needing hallways for each row of shelves, you simply turn a crank and all the rows of shelved shift to grant access where you desire to reach.

Imagine micro hotels being designed with walls that operate in the way the tracked shelved do! Rooms would no longer be static and you could get a cheaper hotel room if you want a smaller room!

Step 9: Make It Smart.

Another near future way to improve spatial efficiency is to use computerized programs to automatically determine and generate efficient space or packing.

Imagine a tool that tells you the best way to pack your suitcase by scanning a photo of your items!

For example, here is a far-out and perhaps overly creative idea. This applies to something like picnic table style bench seating in a micro cabin or in a mass-transport vehicle.
- What if a AI powered camera at the entrance of a room or bus identifies length of various bones and width on each guest and assigns to each guest a seat that gives then the most leg room and comfort while dynamically recalculating as new guests enter? The seats could be on a slight diagonal from each other bench so that it would seat people by sitting measured distance from their backrest to their knee. The rows could be on an angle from each other so that one end has more leg room while the other end of the bench has less (Seating ordered along the diagonal row by ascending leg room needed.)

Step 10: Bypass the Zoning

For many tiny house builders, the biggest challenges are expensive installation of utilities, and local zoning ordinances.

Here's an idea to circumvent these issues:

Many zoning rules will easily accept additions to existing homes. Why not dock your tiny house against the wall of the existing building?

Similar in size to a window-mounted air conditioner, you could develop a device that sucks temperature controlled air from the main building into the tiny house. If it was mounted near a bathroom toilet or sink, your could tap into the hot and cold water pipes and the mains power outlet. Bathroom power outlets often have built-in circuit breakers in case you overload the connected power strip. You could make a smart power strip that shuts off power the a fridge or freezer when the microwave oven is running and turn it back on when done. This way you wouldn't overload the mains power outlet!

Step 11: Summary

Well everyone, you've reached the end of this instructable. If you like it vote for it or drop a comment with your thoughts. I look forward to someday building an efficient cabin based on some of these ideas.

Happy making!

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