Can Smaller be Better?


For my husband Chris and I, living small began with a little sleep-out in his parents’ backyard when we were first married. It was approximately 3m wide and 9m long, with 3 pokey rooms fitted into it. It had a bedroom at each end (the larger of which we used as a living space), and an entry hall and bathroom in the middle. For a sleep out, it was generous, but as a house it was limited. It had originally been designed as some sort of school building, not a home. I remember knocking my knees each morning on the dresser as I got out of our double bed (which was pushed against the wall on the other side). In the “living area” we had found a bench top on Trademe, but it didn’t have a sink or hob, and each night was like camping as I filled a small plastic tub from the bathroom sink to wash the dishes. It was less than ideal, but a wonderful place to start.

When we moved to Wellington so I could complete my Masters, we found an amazing single bedroom apartment in the city which had both a kitchen sink and plenty of room each side of the bed! It felt like luxury! The home was 55m², almost 30m² bigger than our first place, and had everything we needed. Best of all, it had been designed specifically with compact living in mind. The kitchen opened towards the living space, which had a full width window at the end to make the room feel larger. The laundry was carefully tucked into the bathroom in a way that you’d never notice if you weren’t looking for it, and we even had a bath, in a “shower over bath” format. There were still limitations with our little home – we ended up storing a lot of our belongings under the bed and couch, because there weren’t many storage cupboards. But not having storage cupboards also meant we didn’t accumulate things we couldn’t store, keeping our belongings to a minimum. Living small also meant we ventured out more. Many of our friends in Wellington also lived in compact homes, and in the evenings, we would sometimes gather at local eateries or walk along Cuba Street and the waterfront. When you live in compact spaces, the city is your living room. In a way, each of our smaller homes, like building blocks, actually came together to impact the type of urban form and city that was created in central Wellington.

A year after our return to Christchurch, Chris and I purchased our first home. It shocked some of our friends a little, because we decided to do something different, and buy an apartment. While it was true that you could get a freehold home in Rangiora with a garage and a backyard for the same price, this was a brand-new apartment right in the city, and it meant supporting a future where Christchurch could be vibrant at its core again. We knew it wouldn’t be the same as the experience of denser living we had in Wellington, but we wanted to be a part of helping our city grow in that direction. Luckily for us, choosing this home was no sacrifice at all, rather the opposite. At 83m², our apartment is generous and unique. It has 2 bedrooms and a media room that could become a third bedroom if needed. The designer has pooled the floor area where you spend the most time – in the living space. The bedrooms are compact, but comfortable, while the living space feels large and open. The laundry is in the bathroom, but both are a far more substantial size than we’ve had before. 2.7m high ceilings, light colours, and skylights all increase the sense of space. One of the best features of our little home is the wall of glazing along the long side of our living space, leading to a deck. This makes it feel so spacious! Unlike conventional apartment design, this building was retrofitted, which meant the apartment shape is more of a square than a rectangle, giving us a lot more glazing opportunities. For two people, our home is generous, by small living standards, but it will be perfect for little feet down the track. We love our little apartment. I wouldn’t want a bigger home because I know we would have more area to keep clean and would fill it with things we don’t need. Less than a year after moving into our first home, I discovered that it was designed by the company I was about to start work for, South Architects!

With the rise of the tiny house movement, have you ever considered a smaller home? Could reducing floor area be a budget conscious option to enable you to have the quality finishes you’re hoping for within the same budget?

– Angela Pennington

Published on Friday, March 1st, 2019