17 Tips for Making Your Small Timber Home Multifunctional

Multitasking rooms help make small timber homes appear larger.

Written by Roland Sweet

With simpler homes in vogue, how do you live cozy without being cramped? The answer isn’t square footage. It’s packing the livability you want into the space you have or can afford.

That means fewer rooms doing more. Just about every house has rooms or a room that gets next to no use. Sometimes it’s a bedroom, but often it’s the living room. And every house has rooms or corners of rooms that go overlooked.

Use them. Start by seeing your house not as rooms but as livable space. Rooms mean walls and halls—rigid, wasted space. “The idea that a house is composed of rooms for separate activities is fundamental to how it’s defined,” Sarah Susanka observes in The Not-So-Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live. “But a room is an artificial construct, an attempt to put boundaries around space. The idea of the room can be replaced with the notion of places for various activities.”

Timber homes rely on posts and beams to bear the house load, so partition walls can fit almost anywhere, sometimes nowhere. If you’re designing your home or planning a major overhaul, first apportion your space for a fluid layout, then position the walls. That way, your home will live your way, rather than you living your house’s way.

See also Anatomy of a Small (and Smart) Timber Frame Home

A few years ago, the notion of abandoning formal living rooms in favor of home offices might have seemed preposterous. Today, Americans want more or at least something different from their homes. The tendency, especially among timber-home owners, is toward greater informality. This attitude encourages ingenuity in putting form before function when it comes to planning and living in your timber home.

Aim for a floor plan that offers the most use from the space available. Rooms that do double, sometimes triple, duty are the most practical solution. Put it this way: Double-duty rooms give you twice as much house as you paid for.

Get the most from double-duty rooms by listing all the ways you hope to use your timber home. Then identify how many might share space, either at the same time or different times.

Here are some obvious and not-so-obvious combinations:

1. Spare bedrooms and home offices.

This has become a common accommodation to the telecommunications revolution, so the first thing people who work at home look for when designing their new home is a separate home office. Maybe, but what kind of work do you do at home, and how often do you need the spare bedroom? Two concepts: computer armoire and Murphy bed. In fact, freestanding open-ups can double the utility of any room.

Not all bedrooms are spare, but they all have some spare time, even master bedrooms. Think about it. You spend a third of your life sleeping, but what’s going on in your bedroom the other two-thirds of the time? Unless you sleep in shifts, either add more functions to the master suite or shrink it. Maybe move in workout equipment that fits under the bed when not in use, or rolls in and out of a closet.

2. Kitchens and computer workstations

Kitchens aren’t so single-minded. You may already know them as the life of all your parties, but what about when you aren’t entertaining? Add a desktop counter and some shelves or drawers, and you have a spot to sit and pay your bills, check e-mail, research recipes, etc.—not a fully equipped home office, but it might meet your family’s computer needs without requiring a dedicated computer room. If yours is a family that enjoys togetherness, the kids can do their homework while you’re prepping and cooking.

See also 5 Ways to Create a Kitchen Office

3. Library and guestrooms.

Putting bookshelves where company can reach them might assure that some of the books you’re stockpiling actually get read. But with ingenuity, guestrooms can handle major storage and still be turned into hospitality space when company calls.

4. Mudrooms and laundry rooms.

Depend-ing on the degree of muddiness, you may even find it practical, because the plumbing is already there, to add a shower stall.

5. Stairs and closets.

A big chunk of your home’s available space is storage, specifically closets. Besides space beneath beds, look for storage under stairs. You can enclose the space for a closet, shelving units or a desk under open-tread stairs. Stairs by the front door are great for a coat closet and to establish a modest foyer before transitioning indoors.

Stairs all by themselves can significantly contribute to the look of your home and tie into the timbers to create a smooth transition between levels. Adding a landing and a turn can create a sort of sub-loft that accommodates a sitting bench, a small storage chest or a mini art gallery.

If you’re going whole hog with stairs, however, consider a full second story instead of the familiar half-story open to the great room below. You’ll get more bonus space, and your stairs will seem less confining.

See also 6 Big Ideas for Small Timber Homes