How to design a small house

designing a small house

Australians now reportedly build the largest houses in the world (average floor area) –  even larger than the houses in the USA!

Our houses have increased in size as we have become more affluent and seek to keep up with the neighbours.

Before World War II, a typical family of six or more people lived in a house with two or three bedrooms, a single bathroom and no garage. The average family size has now shrunk to two adults and two children but house sizes have grown substantially.

What is a small house?  

While there is no precise definition, we can assume that a small house will have an internal floor area of between 100 to 200 square metres (including garage).

Designed correctly, a house of this area can create the impression of a much larger house. On the other hand, a poorly designed large house can feel equally small.

What should be included in the brief?

Designing a small house begins with a thorough brief. All requirements need to be evaluated on the basis of what is essential (needs) versus what would be desirable (wants).  

The brief should cover the number of rooms (bedrooms, bathrooms, etc.), size of rooms, functions and activities, storage, furniture, etc.  

The final design can only be as good as the brief. The brief can be revised as design alternatives are considered.

Read our blog on the architectural design processes used by qualified Architects or, if you need advice regarding your designs, give us a call on  (02) 4942 5222. We’re always happy to help.

Larger spaces can make a small house feel more spacious

As a general rule, it is better to build fewer, larger spaces than to include a large number of smaller spaces.  

Larger rooms are more flexible offering more furnishing options and allow for multiple uses and activities. For example, a single, large, open-plan living/dining/kitchen space will provide a more spacious feeling compared to several separate, smaller rooms (e.g. kitchen, dining room, living room, family room).

With the design of any house, large or small, there is a correct or most appropriate size for each room i.e. rooms that are neither too large or too small. This fit for purpose becomes more critical when the floor area is limited.

Each room must be considered in terms of the number of occupants, the uses accommodated, furniture required and storage. By closely reviewing these factors the correct room size can be obtained.

Furniture should be carefully selected to suit the spaces. Much of the standard furniture in most showrooms is physically and visually bulky. The furniture dimensions should be checked and plotted on the floor before purchase.

A room with no space around the furniture will always feel too small.

Internal planning and dual use of space

With the internal planning, carefully deciding the location of the rooms within the house and minimising circulation space can all assist in achieving efficient planning.  

The goal is to make the best use of the available space. This is a more difficult design exercise which requires some discipline.

The easy solution is always to add more space with the house gradually increasing in area size.

The dual use of some spaces may help reduce the house footprint, for example:

  • A laundry within a bathroom
  • A laundry cupboard rather than a separate space
  • A laundry with a second toilet in lieu of a powder room
  • A bathroom could have access to the master bedroom and the hall, eliminating the need for two bathrooms
  • A three-way bathroom could also offer flexible and convenient use, avoiding multiple bathrooms throughout the house

Due to the limited floor area in a small house, it is important to provide adequate storage for linen, appliances, clothing and other household items.

Nothing can make a house appear small and cramped as much as the lack of space to store the things needed for daily living.  

Bulging cupboards and boxes stacked in the corners of rooms will make homeowners feel like a person living in clothes four sizes too small.

If storage space is sufficient and the house remains uncluttered, it will retain the sense of spaciousness intended when designed.

Alternatively, a weather-protected external living area can increase the sense of space as well as providing a useful living area that can be used year round. Sliding or stacking glass doors provide generous access and allow views to the external area.

Not sure which materials will withstand the weather? Check out our helpful blog on how to pick external materials in your house design and keep the outdoor areas looking fresh.

Other architectural measures to make a small house feel larger

There are a range of architectural measures that can help a house be perceived as larger than the dimensions suggest.

Some of these strategies include increasing the ceiling height or incorporating a sloping ceiling, using light internal wall colours, larger windows and sliding glass doors (well-lit houses appear bigger) and using the same floor finish throughout.

Consistent internal wall colours and flooring help spaces flow from one area to the next.

With the cost of land and housing rising steeply perhaps it is time to consider what it is we really need to live comfortably. A smaller house may be able to provide all that is needed with the major advantage of lower construction cost.  

Undoubtedly, smaller house areas will form part of the solution to our current housing problems. Explore our recent housing projects for more inspiration on how to take advantage of internal space to create a spacious atmosphere in a small home.

Want to discuss your small house plans with an experienced architect in Newcastle or the Hunter Valley? Please contact us on (02) 4942 5222. We’d be happy to answer any enquiries you might have.

Image: Pexels



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