Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Stylish Little House Fit For a Family

While it’s a nice idea to think a family could live in a sub 300 sq ft tiny house, the reality is that at a certain point you have to concede you can only downsize so much before quality of life is seriously compromised. That said, there are many options between tiny house and McMansion. Interior designer Jessica Helgerson’s home is a great example of one such option. At 540 sq ft it’s small, but not microscopic. And its thoughtful layout and great material choices make it seem like a great place to live and raise a family.

Located right outside Portland, OR, the house is an exercise in creative reuse. Nearly all of the materials used were reclaimed. And the structure itself has seen many lives. From Helgerson’s website:

It was first built in the early 1940s as part of Vanport Village; a quickly erected development built to house shipyard workers. When Vanport Village flooded in 1948 this particular little house was floated down the river to Sauvie Island, where it became the goose-check station. Years later it was remodeled to become a rental house.

The house centers around a great room, which has the kitchen, a dining area and lounge area with two custom built sofas that double as guest beds and have storage in their bases. The house’s one bedroom is occupied by the kids, who have built in bunk beds. Both the kids’ room and bathroom have low ceilings to accommodate an overhead loft where the parents sleep.

Outside, Helgerson and her husband installed a lush green roof and they are also trying their hands at food self-sufficiency with a large outdoor garden as well as a 1200 sq ft greenhouse on the property.

With its space efficient design and cohesive, but unfussy, furniture and material choices, Helgerson’s house is a great example how, with a bit of thought and consideration, a little space can go a long way.

  • The quest for smaller houses at some point becomes more of a fetish than a practical application, especially with the focus on square footage. Square footage is not expensive. It’s mainly kitchens, bathrooms, and overall trim that are expensive. A big house is more expensive than a small house because it tends to have a bigger kitchen and more bathrooms.

    In the case of this house, the kids in that picture look like they’re about the age that they’ll need separate bedrooms. Building a house with 2 more bedrooms would have been a fairly marginal expense. Especially compared with the cost of selling, buying, moving, and refurnishing.

    I’m certainly not advocating extravagance, but for a family of 4, you could certainly build a more comfortable (and better insulated) house for not much more money. Plus your kids wouldn’t have to listen to wild monkey noises coming from the loft.

    • Exactly my point! I should have read your comment before posting mine.
      And I fully agree, there’s a limit. Having less stuff and living smaller is OK, but not when you’re giving up privacy as a couple and forcing two pre-teens to still share the same bedroom.
      What makes me so upset is that this is presented as a perfect example on how to live on less. I’m not advocating the Mcmansions where families don’t even use there sitting room or dining room, except on Christmas because they have a den with open kitchen that’s the size of this cute house. I’m sure that a couple with two kids who have enough money to maintain a big lot, with a greenhouse and detached closet-house can at least afford a house with three small bedrooms for their offsprings and themselves?

  • kris

    Love love love everything about this house, inside and out. My favorite elements: the simple exterior with the tall two-on-two windows and the simple interior “great room” with the built-in seating and the wall of books.

    I do think that I read somewhere that Jessica stores most of her clothing in another small structure on the property. But that said, it’s still remarkable that this family of four lives comfortably and stylishly in well under 600 square feet. And I think that there’s also a cat in the mix. (If my math is right, and ignoring the cat for a moment, 540 square feet divided by 4 equals 135 square feet per person.) Impressive regardless of where Jessica stores her clothes. 🙂

  • TDHIll

    Wow! Absolutely stunning!! In response to other comments, I’m not sure that kids always need their own bedrooms. That is a cultural norm that is worthy of careful thought.

    • At some point a 13 year-old boy wants a private room. Same holds for the girl. I would pity these children if their parents where to stay there during their teenage years. Also, it seems like a place where the parents have no privacy… sleeping on an OPEN loft; unless, the children are deep asleep.

      Cute house, and well designed for a single couple with a pet. But having to walk outside in all types of weather to get your clothes doesn’t convince most humans that living smaller can be nice. Examples like these show that good design can do so much, but that we do need more than 540 square feet unless you don’t care about privacy, noise nor light while sleeping. If they were low on money, or indebted, I would understand it. But growing your own food, while having such an extensive property hardly comes over as a family deprived from wealth.

      I myself lived in an apartment of 550 square feet, with three tiny bedrooms, an open kitchen that barely fitted three people seated, and a bathroom. It was confortable for three, and having no living room was OK. When my flatmate’s girlfriend moved in it was unbearable.