4 Small Houses That Blend Sustainability + Cool Design

In her new book Downsize: Living Large in a Small House, longtime small house advocate Sheri Koones highlights empty-nesters, retirees and people ready to simplify their lives by going small. We share a handful of stunning small home projects here.

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February 06, 2020

Photo By: Geoffrey C. Warner

Photo By: Geoffrey C. Warner

Photo By: Geoffrey C. Warner

Photo By: Robert Watson Photography

Photo By: Robert Watson

Photo By: Poppi Photography

Photo By: Poppi Photography

Photo By: Jamie Wolf

Photo By: Jamie Wolf

Think Small

Author Sheri Koones has great tips for living large in a small space outlined in her book Downsize: Living Large in a Small Space. Minimal hallways, multipurpose rooms, open floor plans, creative storage, high ceilings, open staircases and built-in nooks are just a few of the ways homeowners can maximize space and create design-forward, livable small homes.

BUY THE BOOK: Amazon, $33.50

How to Live Small

A case in point, at just 1,436 square feet (all houses in the book are 2,000 square feet or less), this Corning, New York home divided into three individual buildings was built as a forever home for a retiring arts administrator who chose an open-plan, one-level design to better help her with a goal of aging in place. The space was also designed with room for the homeowner to work on her own art in a studio that occupies the center, gray, peaked-roof barn section of the home shown here.

BUY THE BOOK: Amazon, $33.50

Three Homes in One

This Corning small house features three distinct buildings: a main house clad in corrugated weathered steel, a garage in black corrugated steel and a peaked barn in rough-sawn pine. A studio space in the home features a lofted bedroom above accessed by a modern metal staircase.

The Loft Life

The homeowner uses the ground floor studio space in the barn portion of her Corning home to work on her artwork.

Small Can Be Quirky

This charming small house in Toronto, Canada built by architect Craig Race of Craig Race Architecture is founded on sustainability. Craig's previous home was a drafty 100-year-old home that was expensive to heat and cool. The whimsical design of this home is an effort to be accommodating to the varied setback plans of the homes on either side and be respectful of the scale of neighbors' homes. An important part of sustainable small home design in urban spaces is being conscientious of scale, the aesthetics of the neighborhood and overall, being a good neighbor.

Natural Light

Part of what can make a small house feel big, says Koones, are built-in nooks, high-ceilings, light-colored walls and natural light, all features of this Toronto living room.

Curb Appeal

This Olympia, Washington home was built to be close to downtown Olympia and accommodate the present active lifestyle of its occupants while also anticipating the couple's needs as they grow older. As architect Tessa Smith notes in Downsize, "a home design that recognizes its inhabitants will age and that age will affect mobility, means that they can enjoy their home for longer, not be angry at the difficulties and limitations." The home is one-level and open plan with door frames wide enough to eventually accommodate wheelchairs if necessary. The advantage of building a small home is how intentional owners become in making sure the space functions well for their needs now and in the future.

Midcentury Flair

A breakfast nook features a custom-made built-in table that perfectly suits the space and adds the warmth of wood to the open plan in this Olympia home. The 14-foot ceilings and large windows flood the space with light, great design tactics for enlarging the space.

Modern Farm

At 1,600 square feet, this modern farmhouse modeled on 19th century New England farmhouses in Mansfield, Connecticut provides walkability to the University of Connecticut campus where the two homeowners teach biology. Part of the downsizing, or "right-sizing," process for most of the homeowners discussed in Sheri Koones' Downsize required purging unnecessary and underused items.

See More Photos: Stop Household Clutter: 50 Things to Get Rid of Right Now

Green Design

These Connecticut homeowners wanted a net zero home, meaning a house so well-insulated, air-tight and efficient it makes as much energy as it consumes. Their previous home was uncomfortable throughout the year, either too hot or too cold and expensive to maintain.

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