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If you couldn’t already tell, based on the name of her blog, Melanie Gnau knows a thing or two about small spaces. The blogger of  A Small Life (winner of the Best Small Space Blog in the Domino Design Blog Awards) is based in Asheville, NC, and spends the majority of her time tackling home renovations and dishing out valuable advice for making the most of limited square footage. An Airstream, boogie van, and a tiny house, are just a few of the reno projects Gnau has taken on, together with her husband, proving that the best things in life truly do come in small packages. We caught up with the blogger to chat design splurges, risks, and inspirations. Here’s what we learned.

My work/space is inspired by (and why): My work and home is inspired by a desire to live simply. I like to surround myself with a clean, effortless space that reminds me each and every day that life is only as difficult as I make it.

Describe your style in three words: Uncomplicated, Modern, Reclaimed

I’m 10 times more productive when: I have coffee and I’m on a deadline.

On the weekends you can find me: I’d like to say relaxing in bed, watching something trashy on Netflix, but I’m probably working on our house!

My biggest design splurge was: I’m a cheapskate, so I don’t spend much money on anything design-related. I always try to DIY or thrift the things I want. Even though it’s probably not a typical design splurge, I’d say my house. It was slightly over budget, my first time buying a traditional home and it was scary! Everything with home buying and ownership costs more than you think it does!

The one item I can’t live without is: My husband and my dog are truly the only things I can’t live without. Everything else is just icing on the cake. I can and have lived in a van down by the river, so I know everything, except my loved ones, is replaceable.

What’s the biggest design risk you took that paid off? Making our kitchen cabinets from barn wood that we found on Craigslist was a big risk. My husband is a talented builder, but I was nervous about the process and the end result. Barn wood or reclaimed wood is very difficult to work with because the boards are often warped and inconsistent. He pulled it off though and it’s probably the element of our home that we get the most compliments about.

Name a designer who is currently inspiring you. In terms of professional designers, I love both Leanne Ford and Brady Tolbert for their clean, modern, art-filled spaces. I’m also constantly inspired by gals on Instagram who are making a beautiful home with no design budget, two jobs, and four kids!

What’s a throwback design trend you’re hoping will make a return? Is it too early to say minimalism?! Maximalism is having a moment right now and although I can admire it in other people’s homes, I love a clean, quiet space.

Describe the moment you knew you wanted to do something with design. I don’t know if there is one defining moment for me, but as a kid, my sister and I always had to dust on Saturdays. It was my dad’s most hated chore because my mom had so many knick-knacks. I loved dusting because I could rearrange the objects and create vignettes on each and every surface in our home.

What does winning the Blogger Award mean to you? I know that self-worth is supposed to come from within and you’re supposed to be your own biggest fan, but knowing that other people are out there rooting for me and seeing the work that I do means everything to me. I also hope that it will give me a larger platform to encourage others to live a more minimalistic lifestyle.

The best part of doing what I do is: There are so many best parts! I feel so grateful to be able to do what I love. But some of my favorite parts include: writing and working with my hands, meeting new, interesting people, and being able to look into other people’s homes because I’m nosy! It’s a dream come true.