Small Stone Ridge Cottage’s Clever Design Visually Increases Living Space
Simplicity pattern: A woodsy getaway proves the old adage that good things often come in small packages
Optical illusions: A lofty ceiling, tall windows, and living areas that flow into one another without thresholds all help make the tiny cottage look more spacious. The neutral palette and clean lines of modern furniture help, too, especially the big glass-topped table that all but disappears
Photographs by Michael Polito
“Would you like a tour of the house?” asks Judith G. as she greets newcomers to her cottage in the woods near Stone Ridge. “Okay, take three steps forward. Look to your left: there’s the bedroom. Look to your right: there’s the living room. That’s it!”
You can tell it’s a line she’s used many times, and it’s an exaggeration, too, although only a slight one. The cottage is tiny — 801 square feet, to be exact — and essentially consists of one room with a sleeping alcove. But there’s a screened porch that adds 150 square feet to the usable space when it’s warm out, an efficient kitchen area, and a surprisingly roomy bathroom.
Country casual: The architect positioned the kitchen (below) so that it wouldn’t be visible when you walk into the room. Ikea cabinets and small appliances make it “a simple, efficient, cottage kitchen,” the owner says. The under-counter fridge keeps the look streamlined, and is supplemented by a large one in the mechanicals room a few steps away. There are large closets and a storage room behind doors on each side of the hallway (left) — “a clever strategy in such a small space,” remarks the owner.
Below left: The home’s exterior
Architect Kurt Sutherland, whose offices are in High Falls, designed the little house about eight years ago for a client who was “into Buddhism,” as he puts it, and looking for a quiet weekend retreat. “She wanted something small and simple, that took advantage of the beautiful woodland setting,” Sutherland says. “She wanted a woodstove and a small porch. And it had to be inexpensive, because she didn’t have a lot of money.”
What Sutherland came up with “blends vernacular style with modernist sensibility — that’s it in a nutshell,” he says. Outside, the cottage resembles many other modest houses dotted around the area. Gray-green cement clapboard siding helps it blend subtly into the site. But the interior has contemporary finishes, like a satiny polished concrete floor, and a feeling of bright airiness that small, older homes often lack.
Sutherland used architectural devices, such as a high, sloping ceiling and ample windows, to create the illusion of space. “If you just punch window holes, you feel like the window is a portal, and you’re looking out from inside a boxy room,” he explains. “Tall, wraparound windows on the corners make a space feel much larger — the corners aren’t holding you in.”
Spaces that overlap and flow into each other make a small house seem larger, too, as there are no thresholds on the floor to interrupt the area visually. The cottage’s kitchen is simply Ikea cabinets, a sink, and appliances arranged in a row along the high wall. A small breakfast counter and the couch separate the galley kitchen and sitting areas. Radiant heat under the floor gets a boost from a woodstove that also provides the coziness of a hearth.
As for the generous bathroom: The Zen-seeking client wanted it to be “a real room, an enjoyable space to be in, not just a utility closet,” Sutherland says. The shower and louvered doors hiding laundry equipment occupy one wall. A claw foot tub is set beneath a window, so anyone having a soak can gaze up at the trees outside.
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Bed, bath and beyond: There’s just enough space in the sleeping alcove for a desk and chair. Judith’s artwork adds subtle color. The double-insulated wraparound windows bring the outdoors in without letting cold air in as well. “I love waking up to the sun,” the owner says
Given the tiny footprint, there’s an almost disproportionate amount of storage. “The client wanted to be able to keep the space looking clean and simple, and storage allows for that,” Sutherland remarks. On one side of the entrance hallway there’s an ample pantry-cum-storage room. Next to it, a mechanical room is big enough to also house a large refrigerator to supplement the small, under-counter model in the kitchen. On the facing wall is a spacious closet.
Small doesn’t necessarily translate to inexpensive, Sutherland explains. “The square-foot cost can be higher than for a big house, because fixed infrastructure costs aren’t spread out over a larger square-foot area. You have to have an excavator, for example, because you’ve got to dig the hole, and it doesn’t matter much whether they dig it for seven hours or 10, the base cost doesn’t change.”
Still, he used cost-cutting strategies; the kitchen and bathroom share a wall, for example, to keep plumbing to a minimum. Because another home once stood on the site, a well and septic system were already in place and just needed repairs. Sutherland recalls that the total cost of construction was around $175,000.
The surprisingly sizeable bathroom (above) has a glassed-in shower, laundry equipment behind louvered doors, and a pedestal sink. But what the owner likes best is soaking in the claw foot tub when afternoon sunlight dapples the floor. The screened dining porch (below) makes the most of the little house’s woodland setting
Judith and her husband (who value their privacy) bought the house a few years ago. They too were in search of a simple weekend getaway from the city, although, as residential architects themselves, they planned to enlarge the tiny house a little. “But just as we closed on it, the economy tanked and business went kerflooey,” Judith says. Plans are on hold, but one inspired minor change — switching the solid entry door for a glass one — opened up the lines of sight so that you can now see the outdoors in all directions.
“We admire what Kurt did,” Judith says. “The proportions work — it’s not pretentious, just direct and clever. We’ll be inspired by it” when any future renovations take place, she adds. An idea they’ve tossed around is to push the wall with the woodstove further back into woods so that the house would be longer. “We could add a bedroom and a deck in the very nice glade there,” she remarks.
Artful arrangements: A small still life dresses up the dining table. Judith is an artist as well as an architect, and her husband makes ceramics, but they keep the walls and most surfaces free of clutter
Meanwhile, her wish list includes installing a Clei bed, an upmarket (as in expensive) Italian-made Murphy-style bed that comes in designs that fold away in various ingenious configurations. It would keep the bed hidden during the day, but wouldn’t solve the biggest drawback of a one-room house. “It’s quite intimate, let’s put it that way,” Judith says. “Our daughter has slept on the couch from time to time, but there’s no privacy, and friends haven’t been thrilled at the idea of sleeping on an air mattress. We’re thinking of buying a little Airstream for guests.... Inherently, a one-room house is not going to afford a lot of roaming around. It gets crowded if we have more than two people over for dinner. Six, and we have to start moving furniture.”
On the plus side is the ease of caring for a compact house, the pretty woodland setting, and especially the dappled sunlight that filters through the house. “There’s a magical changing pattern of light throughout the day that’s delightful to observe,” Judith says. “I lie in the bath at sunset and watch patterns of light on the floor.”