Compact Cabins: How to Make the Most of Small Spaces

Using good design principles and the plans and techniques shown here, you can start building a small cabin that has enough space to meet your needs.

| September 20, 2010


You’ll be inspired to create the cabin of your dreams with the exciting collection of 62 cabin floor plans in “Compact Cabins.” These creative cabin designs feature innovative storage, mix-and-match modular elements, and off-the-grid energy options — all in less than 1,000 square feet.

Cover Courtesy Storey Publishing

Most of us dream of having a place where we can get away, and one of the most economical options is to build a small cabin. No matter your lifestyle or location, you can find the small cabin you want among the 62 creative floorplans in Compact Cabins (Storey Publishing, 2009) by Gerald Rowan. In this excerpt from the chapter “Design: Architecture, Logistics, Environment,” Rowan offers ideas for how to make the most of small spaces, as well as a small cabin floorplan that puts those ideas to use.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS STORE: Compact Cabins.

Small cabins are small because they have a small footprint. Though cabins may have a small footprint, with good design, they can offer a comfortable living space. The challenge is to create that feeling of space in a small cabin. I find that, in particular, high ceilings and strategically placed windows are a good way to make the most of small spaces, creating a comfortable space in even the smallest cabins. (Take a look at a compact cabin plan and exterior design to see these principles at work.)

High Ceilings

High ceilings give a sense of roominess and space in even a small footprint. They also let in more light and make ventilation easier. And increasing ceiling height yields space with less expense than adding floor space.

The additional ceiling height can be used for storage. (After all, small cabins, by definition, have small storage spaces.) For example, two rows of cabinets could be hung in the kitchen, one over the other, doubling the kitchen storage. A small folding kitchen stool provides access to the higher set of cabinets. In the bedroom, additional shelving could be mounted on the walls; using clear plastic storage tubs on this shelving would add visible, climate- and insect-proof storage. In the living room, a kayak or canoe could be stored by hanging it from the ceiling with a pulley system. That same pulley system could double as a wash line to dry wet clothing on rainy days.

5/31/2012 3:32:54 AM

The materials needed for that space would also be rather efficient.

5/31/2012 3:31:43 AM

You don't need to go tiny to be efficient. A large open space with divided areas for bed and bath would work as well without having that cramped feeling.

lisa schnapp
5/30/2012 4:20:08 PM

Creating a smaller footprint is great for the environment and consciously making this choice is a significant step toward sustainability. After taking care of aging parents I would simply like to add that lofts and high storage places will not work for the aging environmentalist. I could live with lofts and high places now because I am tall and in good health. In 10, 20, or 30 years that could be a problem and the whole idea is to not keep building new, but to repurpose that which already exists. Please give us more good ideas with an aging population in mind.

rosie whoisit
5/30/2012 3:32:22 PM

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rosie whoisit
5/30/2012 3:31:19 PM

I'm in a

2/18/2011 2:00:26 PM

Okay, I agree with the idea of smaller living space. I personally (family of 5) live in a 1060sqft. two story semi-detatched home. This article tries to paint the picture that sub 1000 sqft. homes are so tiny that space is so limited. Proper layout and only usefull space would mean 600sqft. is more than enough for a family. The proper way to look at living space is to think about how many rooms you could occupy at the same time....the answer would be 1 room. So given the one room at a time idea ditch the 4 televisions and really all the other needless crap to see how 1000sqft. is quiet roomy. The only rooms needed in a small space are: a kitchen with eat in space, a full bathroom, bedrooms for the family, and a communal space (living/family room. So in reallity if you stop and think of what is really needed as apposed to what is just bells and whistles you'd be surprised at how little space is needed.

lynda h
1/12/2011 9:15:22 PM

Good article with good advice. You can go too small: my house is 18'x 21', and it is uncomfortably small and frustrating. We're going to extend, and it's SO tempting to build HUGE rooms to compensate us for years of being cramped! Articles like this help remind us to keep it small for the Earth's sake. Thanks!

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