Space to Thrive: Living Large in a Tiny House

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” 

― William Morris

Carmella Rayone, her husband and three sons live in a 665-sq.-ft home in small-town Wyoming. That's five people…in 665 square feet…three of them boys, and teenaged boys at that. They didn't set out to test the limits of how small a space their family could share—or what they could do without—but rather to determine what they really needed and wanted, what truly mattered, and to make space for just that.

Originally from Montana, Carmella and her husband, an aviator, had lived in Alaska for ten years before moving to Florida in pursuit of job stability ("Like moving to another country, except the money was the same," says Carmella). Though they hadn't expected to stay in Florida longterm, houses there were appreciating so quickly, it seemed logical to buy—a good investment, they figured. But then the real estate market collapsed, taking their investment with it, and back-to-back job losses left them strapped and reeling. It was time to reassess. "We didn't want to put ourselves in that position again," Carmella says. "It made us stop and think…Is there another way we can live?"

That "other way" took the form of a small cabin—small enough to fit on a semi truck—that would house them on leased land until they could buy a parcel, then welcome guests after they built a larger home. Daughter of a builder, with a bone-deep passion for architecture and interior design, Carmella designed their future home "from the inside out." She laid out the rooms to ensure smooth traffic flow and maximize the sense of space –with varied ceiling heights and large windows and straight-through views from front to back—so that small would feel cozy but never cramped.

A sleeping loft with curtained alcoves gives each boy his privacy. A built-in desk in the bedroom gives her a quiet place to work. And she made sure there was room enough for full-sized furniture, because "a family of five can't be comfortable in a living room with a love seat." The family let go of anything extraneous in the transition from conventional house to small house (with a camper in between), and in the end, the house Carmella designed became the perfect vessel to hold the very best parts of their lives.

She's written about it from the start. Luminous, frank, funny and inspiring, Carmella's blog captures the joys and challenges of small-house living and the freedom that comes from paring back, from what she calls "trading burdens for breath." After years of receiving requests from readers to publish her house plan, she has created four "Shelters," based on her own home, but designed to accommodate different sizes and configurations of families and to meet building codes in places not quite so hands-off as rural Wyoming. Despite the differences, Carmella says, as with her own home, "every square inch is intentional…every space is planned."

Plans #1 and #2 are available, now, with #3 and #4 to follow soon. The detailed Building Plans cost $2000 each, but you can download a Study Plan to dream on for just $10.

So, three years into this new life, does the family have any regrets? None at all, says Carmella, "except that we wish we'd done it earlier."

My life is not one of great pomp or circumstance. I've not scaled a corporate ladder; I've not acquired a pile of credits; I don't have a collection of achievements to keep dust free. And thank goodness. For I don't want this life to be a showcase of what I've done, but of how I've lived.

A regard for journey has lead me to be a curator of moments. A love of words has made me into an artist of phrase. An affinity for small spaces, architecture, and interior design has formed me into a student of home and a creator of places that feed the soul.

I am a woman, a friend; a soul mate to one, and a mama of three.

View Carmella's website and house plans here: