Velinda here again, welcoming you to my home. Sort of. I welcome you to the 400-square-foot tiny hobbit-home that my 980-square-foot bungalow sits above…likely the basement at one point. Revealing this “Makeover Takeover” as the introduction to my home is like skipping to read the final page of a novel. You’ve missed chapters. Here are the CliffsNotes:
In 2012, I called my mom and said “Guess what! I just bought a sh**hole!” The place was bank-owned and left unlocked, having sat on the market for months with no interested parties. Nobody wanted her and for good reason. She was neeeeeeeedy. The hobbit-home looked like this:
We found a contractor willing to teach us, help us and loan us tools. My mom, stepmom, 11- and 13-year-old step sisters (pro tip, child labor is cheap) and a couple of very good friends put on their construction hats (kidding…we couldn’t afford those) and made the house a home, or at least liveable-ish, at first. It’s taken YEARS to become truly comfortable and stylistically, it’s still mostly filled with decent Craigslist purchases I made in my mid 20s…but I love it! (Speaking of being comfortable, anyone want to donate a central heat and air unit to someone in need?).
Throughout the years, these lower 400 square feet have provided storage during endless construction, a getaway for roommates during years of co-living and even a private place for a friend of mine to shag a long-time crush. But now I’m all grown up (?) and it was time to clean this space and make it a welcoming place for my new mother-in-law, Nancy, to stay when she visits from Nebraska.
So, skimming all other chapters for now, let’s skip straight to the glass slipper fitting, the beast becoming the prince, the basement becoming a beauty:
I’m going to share a fantasy with you guys: Tiny. Home. Design. If I could find a way to make a living designing interiors for Airstreams and tiny homes, I’d ditch Emily YESTERDAY (secrets stay here). The standard kitchenette with only a microwave, mini-fridge and tiny sink sounded like no-fun. I wanted Nancy to do everything she could do in her own kitchen here, in under 50 square feet.
Besides worrying over function, style was of course priority. Since my house is a 1926 bungalow with a bit of Spanish flair, I wanted something classic with touches of rustic (which was hopefully achieved through styling)…pulled together in a modern way. These were inspirations:
The very first thing I knew about this design was that I wanted a Smeg fridge. If the fridge was going to take up 20% of this kitchen, it HAD to be pretty! No appliance designer pulls off classic yet modern the way Smeg does. Being a European company, they offer several space-saving solutions. I chose the Fab28 because it was compact but still includes a freezer compartment. A tiny kitchen doesn’t have to have an itsy-bitsy refrigerator. This fridge is the sexiest appliance in my entire house and I’ll probably have to venture down to hug it now and then. I mean, how cute would this little guy be in an airstream?
*** There are a few sleuth readers who have caught that we flipped the Smeg handle in photoshop. Here’s the deal, we swapped out refrigerators, so edited most photos to reflect the look of the correct unit, which opens right to left. But I’m seriously impressed by you… Your childhoods must’ve included a lot of ‘circle the difference’ games!
When I renovated my upstairs kitchen in 2016, I was scratching plans (not to scale) on notebook paper trying to determine how to maximize function while fitting in standard sized cabinets. This nightmarish process sent me running for design school (100% true). Because who wants to Google when you can handover $20K to UCLA instead?!
For this tiny kitchen project, I found Cliq Studios, first because I was drawn in by the fact their site didn’t say “call for quote.” A phone call??? Aggghhhh! Pass the Xanax ;). I was able to shop and find the pricing right there, online. I was hooked. Turns out, Cliq Studios could’ve spared me that college fortune because their cabinet order comes with professional design plans, measuring and RENDERINGS. Even as a designer, having a specialist’s help was invaluable (thanks, Jayelynn!) because she was familiar enough with their products to get creative (we flipped a standard cabinet—the one holding the oven—upside down to provide a drawer for baking sheets). I can’t say enough good things about working with these guys! The only difficult part was choosing between their color options. I LOVE moody colors and they had several that were tempting, but I ultimately opted to keep the shade light to avoid further shrinking the already tiny space (which can happen with darker colors as they absorb light). I chose the color ‘Harbor’.
Speaking of using light to spatially trick the eye, I turned to Clé tile. Look how light bounces off that Zellige tile! I cheated here because we used the same tile on a floor in the Mountain House, but I’ve seen first hand how reflective yet classic these handmade tiles are. They’re subtle but not boring thanks to the organic variations that come from being handmade (shout out to my contractor, Pete at LA Doors & More, for not murdering me when he found out each tile is laid individually. Anyone in LA looking for an amazing contractor? He did everything except install the resilient Bedrosians Magnifica Basalto porcelain countertop slab, which I LOVE! For that, I thank Perry Masonry).
Keeping in theme with “light and reflective,” I chose nickel finishes, which I hadn’t used before but liked how timeless yet warm it felt. I found the knobs and pulls at Schoolhouse and loved the minimalistic details (like the hatching on the simple knob). I found the Rohl polished nickel faucet on eFaucets where I ended up also easily finding the sink, garbage disposal and accessories (polished nickel towel bar, cutting board etc).
The cutting board fits over the sink opening, adding to the limited surface space. There’s also a roll-over-the-sink drying rack for dishes to save the space on the countertops traditional drying racks can take up.
And now for the choice that I thought might cost me my job. I didn’t want the standard, mini-kitchen sink. I wanted something that’d fit a stock pot or dutch oven but still maximize counter space. So I turned a standard-sized sink sideways…meaning the drain isn’t centered. Uncouth, I know, but this utilized every inch allowed by the narrow 20” wide (yet 24” deep!!) base cabinet. PLUS, it maximized the storage space below by positioning the garbage disposal (which was one of my must-haves) off to one side instead of centering it, freeing up half the cabinet!
Note that a wall-mounted faucet allowed maximum space for the sink. I tried and tried and tried to also squeeze in a dishwasher drawer here (a great space-saving solution!), but would have had to sacrifice the garbage disposal and I care too much about our plumbing, so alas. But if any reader has ever pulled off that single-cabinet trifecta: kitchen sink, garbage disposal and dishwasher call me…I’ll marry you. (Disclaimer, I come with a wife…but a two-for-one deal!)
Utilizing vertical space for storage is a common small-space hack. But low ceilings add to the limitations of our tiny hobbit headquarters. That meant thinking even smaller. Instead of mounting pot racks, I used a towel bar mounted to the ceiling beside the range hood and a tie rack with S hooks on the exposed end of the cabinet for small, low-profile storage solutions. I also incorporated a magnetic knife strip above the cooktop to free up additional drawer/counter space.
The MVP of freeing up vertical space (and the detail that makes my minimalist heart drool) is the quarter-inch bracket-less open shelving. I found the maker, Shelfology, on Etsy…and boy are these guys detail-savvy! The shelves (I used their Tromso shelf system) are powder-coated metal and come in standard sizes or custom designs and can be made in any color (they’re linked in black in the below Get the Look, but I had mine made in white to blend in with the backsplash). They attach to wall studs and fit beneath drywall, so they have to go in during construction, but they are as sturdy as they are sleek! (The folks at Shelfology were kind enough to extend a promo code specific to EHD readers for $25 off $100 or more on the Tromso shelves, using code TROMSO25…expires March 31st).
I don’t cook, but I’ve heard rumors that a kitchen needs more than a microwave. Research suggests it also needs a convection oven for baking, a stove, a grill, a broiler, a speed oven and more. Basically, a lot of space-sucking contraptions I didn’t have room for. Oh, and a range hood/fan to keep the chef, who is generous enough to dedicate time to each of these machines, from suffocating in clouds of smoke (explain to me again why people enjoy this? 😉 Fitting all of these things into 49 square feet was the biggest challenge.
The easiest part of the solution was a built-in two burner stove. Even you chefs have to admit all four burners are rarely used at once, so a four-burner would have been wasted counter space. My first instinct was to place a microwave above for both cooking and fanning solutions, but it seemed the heaviness of such a box might be too eye-assaulting in such a tiny space.
Instead, a charcoal-filtered, recirculating hood provides a concealed, ventless fan solution. And the Beyoncé of it all, the Oprah of this kitchen, let’s all bow to the coolest, affordable tiny kitchen solution I’ve found: the Master Chef 5-in-1 oven. Multi-purpose appliances are a must if a kitchen is spatially-challenged! This oven is the size of most microwaves but the interior is designed to fit a full cookie sheet. It bakes, grills, broils, cooks and microwaves…and can fit in a 24” cabinet. It’s the whole kitchen in one small box. MAGIC.
The last design piece that excited me is the flooring, which isn’t particular to tiny spaces but is a fantastic solution for kitchens/basements…any room that’s prone to water exposure. It’s a vinyl plank flooring from Cali Bamboo and it’s 100% waterproof on all sides and easy to install over uneven subfloors. And it’s affordable.
I’ve mentioned “affordable.” Honestly, some of the design was budget and some a splurge. Overall, it’s a mid-level renovation and the most expensive of any my house has seen, coming in at $23,000. That’s thousands more than my micro-budget, much larger upstairs kitchen reno. As a result, I didn’t have funds left to shop for styling, so I pulled from what I, Bowser and Emily already owned. Since a lot of these items are older/unavailable, the Get the Look includes similar, budget-friendly pieces.
Take this micro-kitchen and the attached 350-ish square feet; throw it on a couple of acres within reach of a city, toss in a dozen adopted dogs, a cat and some chickens and you’re looking at our retirement plan. In the meantime, Nancy gets to enjoy her newly-earned retirement in The Shire of the city…she’ll just have to excuse my occasional invasion to kiss an appliance or two.
1. Refrigerator by Smeg | 2. Countertop | 3. Knife Holder | 4. Wood Flooring | 5. Tile | 6. Cabinets | 7. Faucet | 8. Hood | 9. Electric Burner | 10. Knob | 11. Drawer Pull | 12. Sink | 13. Garbage Disposal | 14. Roll Up Dish Rack | 15. Oven | 16. Paper Towel Holder | 17. Cutting Board | 18. Hanging Rack | 19. Thin Wall Shelving
1. Village Print | 2. Rimmed Dinner Plates (set of 6) | 3. Dish Towel (set of 4) | 4. Silverware Set (20 pc) | 5. Pitcher | 6. Glass Goblet | 7. Wine Glass (set of 6) | 8. White Wine Glass (set of 6) | 9. Stoneware Mug | 10. Ceramic Tumbler | 11. Coffee Press | 12. 3 Piece Container Set | 13. Serving Platter | 14. Rectangle Serving Platter | 15. Wood Cheese Board | 16. Salad Bowl (set of 4) | 17. Ivory Bowls (set of 6) | 18. Grid Print Bowl | 19. Wood Ceramic Salt Grinder | 20. Wood Ceramic Salt or Pepper Grinder | 21. Salt and Pepper Shakers | 22. Cast Iron Skillet | 23. Slotted Spoon | 24. Cooking Spoon | 25. Adler Serving Spoon | 26. Cast Iron Enamel Skillet | 27. Wooden Tray | 28. Enamel Cast Iron Dutch Oven | 29. Knife Set | 30. White Creamer | 31. Sugar Bowl with Lid | 32. Spice Jar (set of 6) | 33. Vase | 34. Utility Baskets | 35. Basket with Lid | 36. Measuring Cup Set | 37. Paper Towel Holder | 38. Canister (set of 4) | 39. Glass Oil Bottle | 40. Glass Cruet