A Crafty Couple Built a Custom 160-Square-Foot Tiny House — House Tour

Name: Haley and Michael
Location: Northwest Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Size: 160 square feet
Years Lived In: 6 months, owned

Michael, a baker and craftsman, and Haley live together in a tiny house in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. They both have builders and tinkerers in their families, so the idea of building their own home came naturally. And choosing a tiny house to reside in opened the imagination to the possibilities and benefits of living simply. While renovating the trailer, the couple rented a room in a nearby shared house. Because of this, they were able to take the time to build their perfect tiny house, folding in many space-saving solutions and custom elements. Their goal was to make the house very bright and open. Michael customized all of the shelving to allow ample natural light during the day, and the “lounge” area opens up to a queen-sized bed in the evenings.

As you might imagine, living in a tiny house is a little different than traditional living. First, things get dirty and dusty much faster, since all the traffic patterns and activities are so condensed. Second, a lot of time is saved by not having to search for things or decide where to sit. It feels peaceful, like being on vacation and not having to consider “should I be cleaning out some closet or drawer right now?”

Outside lies a spacious yard with a fire pit and hot tub for entertaining guests. When having people over for dinner, Haley and Michael typically invite four to six folks and eat “picnic style” in the lounge area. Someday, they hope to have some low folding tables to make it easier to eat inside. And in the future they want to add a roof deck to better their views of the neighborhood. Next door to Haley and Michael’s house is the Germantown Kitchen Garden: an urban farm that hosts a weekly farm stand during the summer months, as well as various community events.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Bright Craftsman, Modern Shaker/Colonial. We love the built-ins and custom woodwork of Craftsman, Shaker and Colonial homes but want to make it more light and open.

Inspiration: Scandinavian barns, New England Saltbox shacks, Japanese homes with fluid indoor/outdoor spaces

Favorite Element: The lounge/bed area. Our solution to the biggest design problem with tiny houses: Reconciling the need for a sleeping area without compromising the openness of the space. Without a loft, we have full use of the ceiling height. The seating is ample, flexible and cozy. The process of making the bed each day helps to create a sense of transition and definition to the sleeping area, even though it’s not in a separate room.

Favorite Small Space/Storage Products: The cheese boxes work really well for me. I think in general the best storage products are any that fit perfectly into the space they’re inhabiting. It’s helpful to remember that rectangular shapes also waste less space. Lots of wide, round bowls and baskets can add up to a lot of unused space very quickly. Also, built-ins designed for specific needs are useful, and limiting yourself to just a few types of jars/Tupperware/bags helps.

I love the shoe bins from IKEA. They hold a lot more shoes than I thought they would (four to six pairs depending on size), and the way they’re angled makes it easy to reach all of them. I don’t feel like I have to pull everything out to get something from the bottom. We also love our square trash bins from IKEA. They are much more space efficient than round ones.

Best Space Maximizing Tips? Don’t make things too small! Sometimes in tiny spaces people will shrink everything: have an 18-inch kitchen counter, use tiny camper-sized components in the bathroom, etc. The overall effect can feel cramped and shrunken. Living in a small space, you lose a lot of the intermediary areas like entryways, hallways and anterooms. Let the spaces you live in be reasonably spacious and functional so it doesn’t feel like camping all the time. Similarly, with shelves and baskets, I feel like we maximize a lot of space by letting ourselves have some really large storage, instead of trying to fit everything into its own tiny bin or shelf. It happens kind of naturally, but knowing where everything goes helps also.

The most important part is the right mindset. We “tidied up” after reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. While we weren’t necessarily hoarders or slobs before and didn’t necessarily follow the systems from the book, we did find that it significantly and permanently changed our attitude towards our stuff and how we keep it. You’ll never really maximize your space until you get the right relationship with your stuff, which takes some soul-searching work.

Biggest Challenge: Because of some of our design choices and some of the challenges inherent in tiny house building, nearly everything is custom. We were always seeking a non-standard material to meet a need, cutting all of our materials to different sizes, or adapting a technique to a different situation.

What Friends Say: “It’s so cozy but it doesn’t feel as small as I thought it would!”

Biggest Embarrassment: Some of our designs changed along the way and so there are areas of flooring that we expected to be covered that are now exposed, making the floor a little more hodge-podge than we had hoped.

Proudest DIY: Michael: Custom window trim.

Haley: The bathroom floorboards. I was going to sand them all the way but I love the point where I decided to stop.

Both: The cabinets around the bed/lounge. This was a late-ish revision to an original plan. I don’t know if it comes across in the photos, but the cabinets are cut in so as not to block off the windows when looking over from the kitchen. The shape and proportion creates a gentle division of the spaces and feels like a nice little hug inside the space.

Biggest Indulgence: Pendant lights.

Michael’s building advice: Do tons of research and have a complete design when you start, but be flexible as you build. Measure twice, cut once.

Dream Sources: Old textiles and ceramics.

Resources:

PAINT & COLORS
Walls — Benjamin Moore Linen White
Built-Ins — Benjamin Moore Linen White at 50% saturation
Trim — Benjamin Moore Linen White at 25% saturation
Ceiling — Benjamin Moore Seafoam

Many items throughout the house are old and collected from various markets and shops. Some favorite sources are seasonal Philadelphia Flea Markets and Fox Den Antiques in Warrenton, Virginia. Before we started building, Michael helped his grandparents pack up and dismantle the home they had built and lived in for over 30 years outside of Houston, Texas. Our windows are all salvaged from there along with many other bits and bobs.

ENTRY
Rabbit Hook – Anthropologie
Doormat – LLBean Waterhog (This is the best! Nothing tracks off of it!)
Shearling Rug/Cat Bed on Closet — IKEA
Cabinet on Closet — Material Culture
Brass Hooks throughout the house — Michael’s grandparents
Germantown Print — Philadelphia Print Shop. This place has a huge range of well-organized prints at a wide variety of price points.
Folding Chair — RareCo
Heater — Convectair Apero. This heater is warm, quiet, and heats very evenly.
Wall Shelf — Lots of favorite items including: Ceramics by Michael; Tivoli Model One radio; Bookends made from Texas oil drilling core samples from Michael’s grandparents; From Blossoms Dried Flowers (Our friend Kat has had a flower CSA for the past few summers and I hate to let them go. I’ve made several dried flower arrangements throughout the house from her. All flowers are locally sourced from the Philadelphia area.)

LIVING ROOM/BEDROOM
Curtains — Made by Haley with linen from Gaffney’s
Curtain rods (and throughout the house) — IKEA
Lights — IKEA
Pillows — Made by Haley with vintage fabric
Unfinished Painting (Figure in Boat) — Justin Webb
Cherry Time Print — Michael’s grandparents, Classic Currier & Ives
Orbit mobile — Found in Haley’s grandmothers’ attic, Vintage Japanese
Baskets in loft — World Market Aimee Arrow
Lounge Panels — DIY with Fabricut Utopia Peacock
Ceiling Fan — Quorom Estate in Antique White
Turkish Rugs — Etsy
Sheets — Anthropologie
Blanket — Vintage, eBay
Wall Shelves/Clothes Storage — DIY painted plywood
Antique Cheeseboxes — Powerhouse Antiques in Collegeville, Pennsylvania
Sunrise Alarm Clock — Philips
Baskets — World Market

KITCHEN/DINING ROOM
Bar Counter — DIY Old Cherry Tabletop refinished by Michael
Lights — Restoration Hardware Boulangerie (They don’t sell the milk glass anymore)
Rug — Etsy
Shoe Cabinets — IKEA
Terra Cotta Hanging Planter — Target
Macrame Plant Hanger — Etsy
Electric Kettle — OXO
Dried Wreath — Germantown Kitchen Garden
Photos — Tide Pools in Big Sur
Fridge — Blomberg
Baskets on Fridge — Target
Drawer Pulls — Etsy
Dish Drainer — IKEA
Sink — IKEA
Faucet — Ruvati
Hanging Dishrack — DIY, American Chestnut
Sky Painting — David Page Coffin, Haley’s Uncle
Counter — Cherry, made by Haley’s dad from a tree at her parents’ house, sealed with Tung Oil
Floors — Reclaimed American chestnut baseboards from a friends’ house in Stained Ebony (Minwax)
Induction Burner — Duxtop
Brown Stoneware, Salt glazed Bird crock — from Michael’s grandmother’s huge collection of antique pottery
Bird Tile — Motawi Tile Works
Butter Bell — Sawyer Ceramics

BATHROOM
Bathmat — Target
Sink — IKEA
Faucet — Chicago Faucets
Cabinet — IKEA hack
Painting — Haley’s grandmother
Composting Toilet/Cat Box — DIY
Towel Rack — DIY
Floor — Reclaimed – Yellow pin porch boards

Thanks, Haley and Michael!


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