This 600-square-foot calm, cool, and collected home situated in coastal Maine is impressive enough based on the pared back design alone. Full of natural elements and simple, yet sophisticated touches, it’s the picture of elevated minimalism.
It becomes exponentially more impressive, however, when you consider the fact that the current homeowners built the entire thing themselves—from scratch, in about nine months, and using only a small crew in the dead of a snowy winter to pull everything together. Julie O’Rourke, the founder of kidswear brand Rudy Jude, and her husband, Anthony Esteves, crafted the whole thing atop a five-acre plot that they share with Esteves’s mother.
“We both love early New England architecture and the rural vernacular of Maine,” shares O’Rourke. “It was important for us to have homes that settle themselves easily into the natural environment, both with shape and material use. We used as many natural and non-toxic building techniques and materials as possible, and it really feels like each building belongs in its spot.”
The home, affectionately dubbed the “Soot House” (after the deep black, fermented, soot-based paint that coats the exterior) is surprisingly spacious. The couple has one child with another on the way, and rely on simple pieces in timeless silhouettes and durable materials to marry function and form in the tiny square footage.
Buying most of the furniture locally—fortuitously, there’s an abundance of antique shops in the vicinity of the home—and mixing a lot of it up as the seasons change, O’Rourke and Esteves keep the space feeling fresh and unique.
“We both love the simplicity of Shaker style pieces, as well as more utilitarian, farmhouse-style pieces. We add in some more modern things, like our barwa chair, to keep it from looking too old,” says O’Rourke, adding that one of those more “modern” pieces (and her current favorite) is actually a comfy Ikea sofa.
Well, that and a matching white ottoman…. but there’s a more utilitarian reason behind that favorite: “I’m about eight months pregnant right now, and I’m desperate for comfort and prime leg elevation,” she continues. “So, if you ask me again when I’m not pregnant, I’d probably have a long story about my favorite painting, but for now, I’m all about lounging.”
The space, which in O’Rourke’s words is best described as “calm, bright, and breezy,” is heavily influenced by the couple’s surroundings. The designer cites her love for being surrounded by beautiful, sentimental things as the chief influence in her interest for design—and, more pertinent to this story, the chief influence in how she approached designing the space.
“I’ve always been interested in how and why people save things and bring them from place to place. We moved a lot when I was growing up, and I had a box of my ‘special things’ that would be the first thing I would unpack and arrange. I would also spend hours making floor plans and finding the best spots for furniture,” O’Rourke says. “My mother is the same way, and has gifted me the ability to draw a full and accurate floorplan of a space, including closets and pantries, without even walking into a space. It’s one of my best talents.”
Being that another one of her clear talents is fitting a growing family into minimal square footage without sacrificing style, we asked O’Rourke to spill some of her small space secrets. Read on to discover her top tips.
One thing I wish I knew before I lived in a tiny space:
That you really can’t have any clutter, and that everything needs to have a home. I wouldn’t describe either of us as minimalists, so it was kind of a surprise to figure out that all of the beautiful things we loved would need to find a home. It’s so much nicer to see the corners of this space and bare walls than it is to see stacks of books or bundles of random keepsakes.
One thing I would have done differently to make my small space more manageable:
We would have added a lot more creative storage, and probably another closet. We made a huge bathtub, which is nice, but I wish we had used some of that space for a coat closet or something.
One thing every small space should have:
A lot of outdoor space! In the summer, it feels like our space triples in size because we have the deck and the dooryard and the woods.
One fail-proof design hack that makes a small space feel bigger:
Big fixed pane windows: This is both a good design hack and a budget hack. We only have three new operable windows in the space and the rest are fixed, which saved us so much money. Also, if you can divide a space with open shelving or a step-down, your space will feel infinitely bigger.
One thing I learned while raising a family in 600 square feet:
That each one of us, both our things and our energy, takes up a lot of space! It’s important to take time to go outside and give each other space to be alone.
One of the best things about living in a tiny home:
Really figuring out the things that are important to you and getting rid of the things that are not.
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