Building your own small space

Man-cave, haven, sanctuary or simply a little space to yourself! There are times when we could all do with somewhere we can retreat to take a little time out from our busy lives. Some properties come with small spaces which are perfectly useable as is or have ‘project’ written all over them. But for many of us, this is something that needs to be done from scratch…and it could be an enjoyable task to undertake!

Design and construction of small functional living spaces is becoming very popular. In fact, in cities where high density living is necessary, there are architects and builders that specialise in these spaces, fitting them onto the tiniest of sites that are often price discounted because of their seemingly low usefulness. Turn on your TV and you will find an influx of ‘tiny build’ reality shows currently, showcasing the people and processes of achieving these.

But a small space doesn’t just mean a building on a tiny parcel of land – caravans, buses, boats, shipping containers and even train carriages lend themselves to be re-purposed as small living spaces that can be located pretty much anywhere (subject to local Council regulations). They are limited only by your imagination…and perhaps your budget! If constructing a practical, quirky and even ‘green’ small living space sounds like the perfect project, here are a few basic things to consider:


Time to let your imagination run wild but firstly, consider what type of space you want. Will it be a man-cave to play music in? Or perhaps it’s a chill-out zone for the kids? Or a secondary liveable space for an ageing relative? Think about the things it needs such as power, lighting, insulation, heating or cooling and how you might like to fit it out. Then you can start thinking about how it could look…single or double story, its shape and building material, perhaps you have an old boat or caravan that could be used. This is also the time to consult with people who have experience in small space design. Check out others’ projects, get on the internet and search for ideas or perhaps engage an architect or designer to take you that step further. As I said, anything goes when it comes to small spaces so why not have a bit of fun with it!


Right, your design is complete and you know what you want. The next step, although it does go hand-in-hand with design, is to determine how it will be constructed. Consider your experience and if it is something you can realistically build yourself. Will you do it from scratch or purchase a kit off the shelf? Perhaps bringing in a builder or company that specialises in a particular format is the way to go. For shipping containers, caravans, trailers and the like, less building is required as the structure is mostly already in place so you really just need to get your interior design hat on. There are so many options when it comes to construction of your small space so again, talk to people with experience, bring in a professional or two if you need or even do an owner builder course to help you understand the building process.

Building Approvals

Now before you jump in and start ordering materials or engaging trades, you need to consider if your small space requires building approvals. There is a mind-field of local & state regulations that encumbrance the building industry. It is highly recommended to speak to a respected Town Planner or Building Certifier before proceeding. Your site location may also determine what can and can’t be done so it’s vital you talk to your local council before you start. Any builder or architect worth their weight in gold will be able to help with this (or at least direct you to appropriate information) so if engaging one of these professionals, make sure you do your homework and get the right person. Currently, caravans and trailers permanently located on a property do not require building approvals as they are not fixed structures but there are a number of rules surrounding their use so do ask the question before you get cracking on the build.

Lean & Green

When developing plans for your small space, there’s a great opportunity to incorporate ‘green’ design and ‘energy efficiency’ principles. Budget obviously comes into play but perhaps power can be provided by solar panels while heating and cooling can be assisted through cleverly designed orientation techniques for airflow. The type of space you create and how you use it, will determine how lean and green you can go but it is a wonderful opportunity to employ energy saving techniques and sustainable construction processes, engaging with the environment rather than taking away from it.

We at Craig Dinte Architects enjoy the challenge of designing an original small space that is functional, sustainable, energy efficient and engages conversation amongst users. There are so many techniques, options and ideas out there now and we would be happy to discuss a solution that creates the perfect space for you.

Useful links:

#CraigDinteArchitect #Tinyhouses #ShippingContainers #Architect #GrannyFlat

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