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Tiny Cabin Architecture: Form Follows Function

Tiny Cabin Architecture: Form Follows Function

By: Kate Reggev

In the words of Louis Sullivan, one of the greatest American architects of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “Form follows function.” This phrase rings true whether you’re looking at a massive, multi-family apartment building or a tiny house of 300 square feet — the form or shape of the building will follow the function or use of the space. For tiny cabins, that form can be critical, because every inch of space matters, both horizontally and vertically. Most homeowners try to take advantage of a few simple, form-based architectural moves so that they can better utilize their tiny home cabins: a gabled roof, an elongated form, and the addition of an exterior porch.

When most people think about tiny cabins, chances are they’re envisioning a small, wood-clad cabin with a pointed gable roof. Typical as it may be, the gabled roof is so often used because it provides the perfect space for a lofted bedroom, where the change in level provides a bit of privacy from the downstairs area. Headheight in the lofted bedroom is usually just high enough to accommodate one or two people in the center of the space, with walls sloping down on either side to fit a bedside table, built-in storage, or a couple of wall-mounted sconces.

Practically speaking, the pitched roof allows for good drainage and ensures that snow and debris don’t accumulate with no release during a storm, as might be an issue with a flat room. Additionally, this extra vertical space also gives a sense of airiness to the interior — something hard to achieve in just a few hundred square feet!

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Another form-based strategy that tiny cabin owners, designers, and builders should consider is an elongated cabin rather than a square plan. A longer, narrower shape can be better oriented towards the sun, maximizing daylight and heat from the sun during the winter and reducing exposure to stronger summer sunlight where appropriate. It also allows for better and easier division of space into zones — eating, cooking, relaxing — compared to a square room, and has the potential to be transported on roadways if necessary.

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One final architectural solution that can be incorporated into a tiny home is the addition of an exterior porch. In terms of form, the porch adds visual interest to simple, symmetrical homes by projecting out from the flat facade of the home. Furthermore, it can add square footage to the home, acting as an outdoor living room or dining room. As a transitional space between inside and out, it shelters the home and its inhabitants from precipitation and direct sunlight, but still allows a strong connection to the outdoors.

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Together, these three form-based architectural moves — a gabled roof, an elongated form, and an exterior porch — can have significant functional impacts on your tiny house, allowing for extra headheight, better division of spaces, and a fluid passage from inside to outside. But don’t forget: they all also have major aesthetic and environmental effects, too — in a good way!

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