How One Tiny-Home Designer Makes a Small Space Feel 10 Times Bigger
IKEA is involved.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:44 AM
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Matt Impola was already living in a small space when he decided he would take on a new weekend project: his first-ever tiny home. With a background in construction and woodworking, he spent about 10 months putting it together. Almost instantly, he had nearly 500 email inquiries and 20 prospective buyers for his creation—so he decided to enter the tiny-house business for real.
Now Impola runs Handcrafted Movement, where he is the lead builder, structural and interior designer, photographer, marketer, and seller. Basically, he wears a lot of hats.
The most striking thing about Impola’s tiny homes is that they don’t immediately look tiny. Interior shots reveal luxurious details (think: rich wood countertops and exposed ceiling beams) yet the structures themselves average about 250 square feet. Clearly Impola has picked up on plenty of ways to make even the smallest spaces feel much larger, and his advice can be applied to cramped apartments or even not-so-tiny homes. Here, he shares his tips.
Find Fancy Furnishings
Since tiny houses typically have a lower cost of living than the average home, they leave more financial room for higher-end accents. “Motor homes and travel trailers can feel so temporary, especially when they use cheaper materials like vinyl and plastic, funky wallpapers, and all that,” says Impola. “I wanted to strip it back to the basics and use quality materials that are somewhat heavier in weight, which is sometimes a challenge with a moving structure.” In many of his designs Impola installs miniature electric fireplaces (to lend a cozy feeling) and contemporary chandeliers (for a fresh, modern touch).
Opt for High-Quality Materials
Those aren’t the only elevated pieces Impola swears by. “There’s something that happens in my subconscious as I’m using nicer walnut wood slabs—they’re not these massive pieces of wood, but accent shelves seem to make it look better,” he says. “And you might think, If I can fit a big walnut slab in here, it must be a big house.”
Get Crafty With Your Furniture
When you’re working with limited real estate, custom furniture helps you take advantage of every square inch. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to cash out on a fully personalized piece, however. When you’re buying self-assembled furniture, you can make adjustments yourself.
“Everything’s got to be a bit scaled down, especially sofas,” says Impola. “A lot of them have really big arms that eat up valuable space. I’ve bought a number of IKEA sofas that I’ve found don’t even need their arms attached—removing them makes them seven inches to one foot slimmer, which is pretty vital.”
Kondo Your Belongings
“Especially in a kitchen, you’re not going to have room for a ton of extra stuff. It’s about choosing your favorite 10 to 20 dishes,” Impola says. “I’ve found that a few of my buyers are excited about the challenge to downsize.” If you’ve been debating embracing the KonMari method, now’s the time. Paring down will give you more surface space to work with.
Consider the Structure
If you’re building custom small quarters, you can have much more of an impact on its architecture. Structural decisions, like window placement and floor plan, can be transformative by allowing in valuable natural light and creating room partitions that actually make sense. Impola advocates for more unexpected choices: “I do a lot of behind-the-scenes tricks with my loft floors,” he says. “I’ve come up with a system that can make an entire loft floor just one inch. From that, you’re getting three to four more inches in the loft, which you really do feel.” When you consider even the most minute details, you’re bound to notice a difference.