Zoning multi-use spaces for compact homes

Michael Guerra
Sunday, 10th March 2013

Weary of the number of bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms conversation and its mortgage demands? Free yourself with the clever design of an alternative Tiny Home approach!

On our long railway adventures we often take sleeper trains. The car­riages are fitted out with sleeping compartments, each one having seating that converts into beds at night. They are a perfect practical example of a multifunctional small space.

Providing that you have organised your rooms efficiently there is no reason why the function of a particular space cannot be changed in a minute or two. In our small flat almost every room has more than one function. The Hall is tiny so there is really only room for the hanging of coats. The bathroom is also small, but it is used as a private phone booth (using a cordless phone).

Is modern housing detached from practicality?

It would seem that with estate agents' preoccupation with numbers of bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms that we spend most of our lives either asleep or on the toilet! And yet what are these rooms used for when the occupants are not sleeping or abluting? It costs money to maintain these rooms for most of the day, in terms of mortgage interest and maintenance

Multi-use zoning in action

In what would be the bedroom in a one bedroom flat we accommodate the three children's beds, storage for clothes, children's books and toys, a folding desk, a couple of folding foam chairs and a TV. It works on the principle that when it is time to sleep the beds are out and occupy the majority of the room. When it is time to do homework the beds are folded away and the folding desk is deployed; and when it is time to play the floor space is cleared.

In what would normally be a sitting room is a folding futon double-bed, a multi-functional table that is used for dining, working and storage, shelving storage on three walls (the fourth wall looks out onto the back garden), and an office corner that includes a computer, printer, scanner and file drawers. This room is our sitting room, double bedroom, dining room, office, library, music room and entertainment room. It takes just a few moments to convert from one function to another.

The kitchen also functions as a workshop for small dust-free jobs. A small vice can be clamped to the worktop to allow for repairing or soldering small items. A mobile tool chest is stored under the work surface and for larger projects we have a folding workbench that is set up in the garden.

The importance of discipline in a shared multi-use space

To make a room multi-functional it is important to keep as much free space in the centre as possible to allow sufficient room for safe movement and to avoid hurting anyone when something heavy is dropped or slid into use. 

In the children's bedroom the space was defined by folding bunks. The logic is simple: if you want to sleep then the beds come out, if you want to play or do homework then beds are folded away to the wall. The children have been on dozens of night trains and are well used to the discipline, and they are close enough in age to have the same bedtime.


For more Tiny Home inspiration, see the We the Tiny House People documentary or our article on how to 'Minimize and Downsize with Tiny Home Living – 10 steps to reducing consumption'

This excerpt was taken from Permanent Publications' latest book, Compact Living: How to Design Small Interior Space by Michael Guerra, available from Green Shopping online.