Leah is here for another installment in tiny house design. Leah Nixon is a fellow tiny houser and today she’s talking about something that I myself even overlook in my home. Take it away, Leah!
Similar to my post about kitchens, I’d like to discuss an over-looked part of the house that I find invaluable. Far more frequently than seeing poorly-designed tiny house kitchens, I notice this part of the house is entirely missing. And yet, it is so important that I have devoted an entire 48 square feet to it in our tiny house. (Almost ⅛ of our house!)
(Oh the anticipation is killing you…)
Dun dun dun!
Yes, this space has sometimes been a room unto itself. But it often seems so small and inconsequential that it could easily be overlooked, which sadly and strangely seems to happen in many tiny houses.
When I first arranged the tiny house, the kitchen was the first room you entered when you walked through the door. This seemed to make sense. The front part of the house had plenty of windows, and the window over the sink looked out into the driveway, from where I could see Kelsey when he got home. I had this romantic idea that he’d come in the house, see me cooking dinner, and would give me a honey-I’m-home kiss right away.
This is what actually happened when he came home and I was cooking: he could barely squeeze through without knocking something off the counter with his coat and backpack, there was not really a good place for his shoes when he took them off that didn’t get in the way of the door, and the kitchen felt so cramped there wasn’t room for him to hang out in there with me. And what’s more, the kitchen was fairly separated from the rest of the house, so while Kelsey was sitting down after a hard day of work on the couch in the back on the house, I felt isolated finishing up dinner in the kitchen. Not comfortable, and not romantic. And on top of that, the kitchen faced north-east, so I didn’t even have good afternoon lighting while I was preparing dinner. (Granted, I had planned for the house to be situated the opposite direction, but due to the difficulty of pulling the tiny house onto the lot, that was impossible.)
Having the humility to change something that isn’t working in a tiny house is hard. “I had worked this out on paper! This was supposed to work!” But it clearly wasn’t working. Luckily, I guess, we hadn’t had much money to invest in beautiful cupboards or counters, so I was able to shift things around fairly painlessly (although it was still quite the job.) I pushed the kitchen away from the door and into middle of the house, under the loft, which had been kind of a “dead” space previously used for a closet, laundry/cleaning cupboard, and a hallway.
What a difference the rearranging made! It was almost magical. It not only gave us 30 extra square feet in the kitchen, but perhaps more importantly, freed up space near the door for a sufficient entryway. A place to put mail and keys and sunglasses, and underneath a place for me to hang my purse, flashlights, reusable bags, etc. There is also a bench to sit on while putting on shoes and which is a place a guest can sit while I finish cooking. And most importantly there is space to breathe when you first enter the house. And a place to gather your belongings and thoughts as you exit.
We also now have a spirit wall— an ancient concept I heard about several years before I built the tiny house and tucked away for future keeping. A spirit wall is basically a barrier between the entry door and the rest of the house. In larger homes people have an entire room that functions as a vestibule, with a door as the spirit wall that closes off the rest of the house. The spirit wall keeps bad juju from the rest of the house– or in more modern terms, serves as a way of inviting people into the house only very minimally– say there is a kid selling cookie dough that you don’t want to have sneaking glances at the TV, or a UPS driver who needs you to sign for a package, but you rather not invite him in to see all of your kids’ toys on the floor.
In our house our spirit wall is just one tiny wall that separates the entryway from the kitchen. Not much, but just enough to keep the bad juju outside. Actually, in our house the porch serves the function of mediating between the exterior world and the interior world. I know someone is there because the dogs bark and I can preemptively meet the person outside (rather than answering a doorbell.) But the spirit wall still feels important as a way of designating the entry way as a space separate from the kitchen, and giving us additional space to hang things, like keys, sunglasses, and mail.
One design I see quite often for tiny houses is to have a couch right when you walk inside, perhaps looking to the outside world through a set of french doors. I wonder how this works for those who have this set up? I can see where the idea comes from– wanting to throw open the doors to have a gorgeous view while sitting on the couch, but for me, there is something uncomfortable about trying to relax while there is a door right in front of me that anyone could approach. It strikes a rather primal fear. And those primal instincts are exactly what you need to listen to–hard–when designing a house. For our tiny house, the instinctual desire to have a view of the outside world is answered by our porch. The porch is a transitional space, that buffers between the public and private realms and has a long history (honestly, it is so sad to me how underutilized porches are these days.) From our porch we can watch boaters go by on the lake, listen to birds sing in the trees, swat mosquitoes, the see the ducks down below in their little pond, and can meet any delivery person that might come to drop off a package. But we don’t need to invite any of those folks into our personal space if we don’t want to.
So to break down what I find most important in an entryway:
- Front porch
- Awning above the door so rain doesn’t come in (*this is actually super important*) and so you have a dry place to unlock the door.
- A jar to put your pocket change
- A cup to hold pens and scissors (I use these a surprising amount of the time outside, so it’s convenient to have them right near the door.)
- Artwork or photos. I learned this from design queen, Justina Blakeney: it’s better to have photos of people you love or and good photos of yourself than a mirror, so as you walk out the door you feel good about yourself rather than saying, “Ugh, I look ridiculous today.” (Although we did have a mirror for a good long while, and I only just recently replaced it with a wall vase.)
That’s pretty much it. But it’s also kind of a lot. And it all needs a space in the tiny house, so you might as well put it near the door.
At first when I was designing our tiny house, I thought, “Well, just because big houses have that particular feature doesn’t mean our house needs to.” And I was right to a degree, but mostly I was wrong. The parts of the house that exist in most houses, exist for a reason. Garages. Kitchens, bathrooms. Living rooms. Bedrooms. Dining rooms. Foyers. Originally these would not have been separate rooms, and in a tiny house you obviously can’t have a separate room for each thing. But I think it’s important to look at the function of each room in a conventional home and to extrapolate. It’s now worked for me, so far–only, I went about it the hard way– learning from what didn’t work, rather than from what had worked for thousands of ancestors before me.
Want to read more about Leah and her tiny kitchen? Check out her Instagram!
**Note from Melanie: This post contains affiliate links the help pay for the hosting of this site. I’ve linked to things that I think might help in a tiny house entryway, but you can always build your own or make do with what you’ve got!**