Emma Pereira had been dreaming about designing a micro-home ever since 2013, when she completed her master’s of architecture thesis in Tokyo. It’s where she visited various ones by greats like Sou Fujimoto and Sanaa. Japan, as a leader in the field of the small-house lifestyle, has very innovative visual techniques to make these tiny spaces appear roomier,” says the Veneuzela-born, Miami-based architect and designer

So when Pereira and her husband, Carlos, had their first child and realized their house in Miami’s burgeoning Buena Vista neighborhood was no longer big enough for friends and family to come visit, the couple decided to build a 400-square-foot guesthouse in their backyard rather than buy a new place. There Pereira could explore the possibilities of designing a tiny property of her own, but with her Venezuelan flair.

Marcel Breuer Cesca Chairs, Knoll.

To compensate for the compact layout, Pereira created a lofted space (a petite bedroom floats over the kitchen) with an abundance of natural light and double-height ceilings for an open and airy feel. In fact, she designed the whole place around multiple windows recycled from a past demolition project, which visually make the structure feel bigger than it really is. And by positioning the sliding glass doors to face the large yard, the interior bleeds seamlessly into the exterior. 

Brommo Chairs, IKEA.

Windows weren’t the only thing Pereira reused. “The Toto toilet and Lualdi bathroom door were also going to be thrown away by a client who would no longer need them,” she notes. Construction doesn’t have to be wasteful or cost an exorbitant amount of money, she points out—you simply have to get creative. 

Cava Diamonds Cream Porcelain Countertops, Opustone.

In the kitchen, for instance, multipurpose appliances offer double the function for the square footage of one machine. In an effort to save floor space, Pereira merged the laundry into the kitchen, tucking an all-in-one washer-dryer underneath the counter. Anything that could be built into the architecture was, from the refrigerator (integrated into a wall nook that extends into dead space) to the window bench, which has storage both above and below it. “I see it as a corner for creativity, where you can sit and read or stare at the moon at night,” she says of the latter. The only freestanding furniture is the dining set.

The twisted wood stairway—a $1,155 Dolle Graz modular kit—that leads up to the lofted sleeping quarters was another smart small-space move that came to Pereira after a long time researching. “Since the stairs can be shifted and turned in multiple ways, I designed it in a half spiral to avoid encroaching into the central area,” she explains. To accommodate the shape, she curved the wall behind it to perfectly follow its path. “A custom stair would have cost us $15,000-plus, so we were thrilled with this bargain find and how fantastic it came out,” she adds.

 Vase, Studio La Vie.

As a working mom, Pereira wanted some extra, passive income that would give her more time with her family. Renting out the loft on Airbnb, which they call Atelier Lumi, when they weren’t using it was the perfect solution. For a calm, inspiring, feel-good experience for any guest, she used natural materials in their rawest form. Think: exposed wood on the ceilings, warm white concrete floors, and the finish de résistance: a gritty plaster wall treatment. “The look I was going for was stucco or limewash, but that would have cost much more, so this sandy texture worked out perfectly,” admits Pereira.

Although the space is designed primarily for visitors, it’s far from impersonal. Nods to Pereira’s South American roots can be found throughout, like the dried palm leaning next to the kitchen table, which she picked up from a park in her neighborhood, and a work by Colombian artist Natalie Galindo on the inset bookshelf. Hanging just outside the sliding doors are two hammocks meant to be enjoyed during an afternoon siesta

Candles, @disain Byisa; Vintage Green Glassware, Lives Before Us; Painting, Natalie Galindo.

Even before the property was complete, the couple paid attention to these kinds of day-making details: “On Saturdays my husband would cook arepas for the construction guys and greet our carpenter with coffee every visit,” recalls Pereira, adding that he’s a natural host (and therefore manages the Airbnb). The house’s design may be inspired by Japan, but the warmth and hospitality come through in a way that’s exclusively the Pereiras. 

The Goods

Go-to decor site: Instagram! Isabel Padrón is a local artist who creates wonders with her hands, from beautiful resin mini sculptures to geometric soy candles. She loves to experiment with different materials and is always willing to custom-design objects for us. (The candles on the shelves are all by her.) She has a very particular eye for beauty, and her craftsmanship is unparalleled. I also like buying from Etsy because it feels nice to connect with artists from all over the world, apart from the fact that you can actually find wonders that you would otherwise not have access to.

Must-visit nursery: El Chino’s Nursery has the best plants (and large trees) for very affordable prices. The owner greets you himself and always gifts us an extra plant when we go. He makes sure we always leave happy. 

This surface is so me: The porcelain kitchen countertop from Opustone embodies my design style. It’s very practical, and I enjoy how it plays naturally with other textures in the same neutral palette. 

Best resources for reclaimed materials: Craigslist, Nextdoor, OfferUp, Tear-Down Sites, and Habitat for Humanity ReStores, plus asking friends and family if they know of a demolition happening.

Who to Know

I loved working with: Industrial designer Sergio Pereira, who specializes in design installations and large-scale art. He developed my ideas one step further and made them come to life in a seamless way. He built the dining table and guided us in the fabrication of the kitchen and the window-nook cabinets.

Our Winter Renovation issue is here! Subscribe now to step inside Leanne Ford’s latest project—her own historic Pennsylvania home. Plus discover our new rules of reno.