Tiny House Style: Living Well in 544 Square Feet

One homeowner's 10 hacks for seeing the big picture in a tiny house
Tiny House design San Diego 544 square feet

All Photography courtesy of Nikki and Steve Carlson

Nikki and Steve Carlson didn’t intentionally set out to join the tiny house movement when they were looking for a piece of property to buy. “We just knew we wanted to be by the water,” says Nikki, who co-founded ChicBlvd, Inc., the parent company for Chic Execs, a public relations and branding firm in San Marcos. But that all changed when they fell in love with—and eventually purchased—a lot with two homes on it. The smaller of the two dwellings, a 544-square-foot studio had undergone a recent remodel, and aside from some decorating needs, was move-in ready. The other abode, more than double the size of the small house, needed work.

tiny house style kitchen small spaces #sdsmallspaces

“Steve suggested we live small and move into the studio,” Nikki says. “I thought there was no way.”

The couple hadn’t been living huge, but they were comfortable in their 1,700-square-foot home in San Elijo Hills that Steve had owned before the pair were married. But Nikki figured she’d give it a go so they could slowly renovate the larger home to move into or potentially rent.

Even before Marie Kondo became a household name and Tidying Up became something people binge watch, Nikki began the practice of donating the stuff that they really didn’t need.

tiny house style #sdsmallspaces

“It was actually a ritual that surprised me,” she says. “I didn’t need several sets of dinnerware when we really only use four total plates between the two of us. The whole practice was really freeing. It was like I was downsizing to live like I was going on vacation—in my closet and elsewhere.”

tiny house bathroom #sdsmallspaces

Here, Nikki shares her 10 best tips and hacks for small-space-living success:

tiny house decor style #sdsmallspaces

1. When living in a larger home, it’s easy to keep everything and store it away for future use. You end up going through it yearly—maybe. In a smaller space, it’s important to go through things daily in order to avoid clutter. “Only bring items into your home that are necessary and you absolutely love,” she advises.

2. Organize with purpose, and maximize every inch. “We keep a bin where all mail goes and each week we go through it and throw things away or file,” Nikki says. Consider an electronic filing system so you don’t need to use precious space to store paperwork. If you have a small closet, find an organizer with designated spots for shoes, folded items and space for apparel to hang. Put bins under the bed and add drawer organizers in the kitchen and dressers.

3. Smaller spaces can look messy quickly. Make your bed daily, do the dishes after every meal. “This can be challenging, but a clean small home will feel much larger,” Nikki promises.

4. Reduce the number of dishes, cookware, cups and silverware to the absolute minimum. “Having just a few dishes and one pan forces us to constantly clean so dishes don’t pile up in the sink,” Nikki says.

5. Use outdoor spaces as additional square footage. Create inviting outdoor living vignettes with furnishings, floor cushions, even outdoor table games, and entertain friends and family there when they visit.

6. Keep furnishings on the smaller scale. Opt for a queen—instead of a king-size bed. Instead of upholstered chairs, choose wood-frame chairs with a cushioned seat that don’t eat up as much space visually.

7. Choose bright, light colors when decorating to make the space appear much larger, open and cheerful.

8. Install shelves—lots of them. Whether slim and freestanding or wall-hanging, shelves offer lots of places to put your stuff. “We have 50 shelves in our 544 square feet,” she notes, “and they make it so I can still have decorative items to make the house feel like a home.”

9. Pick one or two statement pieces. For the Carlsons, they chose a piece of art, a tall cactus and an Equipale chair to reflect their personal style without eating too much into the available area. “You can still have fun and decorate; just keep it simple and slim,” Nikki suggests.

10. Make every surface multifunctional. The countertop in this space, for instance, serves as a place for meal prep, dining and working.

tiny house style bedroom #sdsmallspaces


small spaces #sdsmallspaces

It’s Small Spaces Week! We’ll be sharing our best stories, tips, tricks and ideas for making the most out of small spaces, and we want to see yours! Whether it’s your kitchen storage or a tiny house, we want to hear all about it. We’ll feature some of our favorites. Tag us on instagram and use our #SDsmallspaces hashtag!

Categories: Digital Exclusives, Home Design