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Our home: the big idea of small

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by Carmella

Some call it simplicity; they call it life. Former interior designer Carmella Rayone pens an assorted narrative on living with less in their 665 square foot home in the foothills of Wyoming’s mountains at assortmentblog.com.

I wouldn’t call it tiny, really. But wonderfully small? Most assuredly yes. By the standards of the day, it’s most definitely pint-sized.

But there’s room here.

In this little wooden cabin, built just last year, there’s room for the five lives that fill it. There are places for gathering, and spaces for seclusion.

There is room for what matters the most, like the heirloom rocker, the books, the bean bags, and the football gear. There’s room for overnight guests, and dinner with friends.

And, yes (because I know you’re wondering), there’s even room for the boots, the coats, and the hats. With the length and width of this house multiplying out to a mere 665 square feet, it’s a wonder, I suppose, how this is really possible.

vase
All photos by Carmella Rayone.

Let me tell you about this big idea of small.


A few years back, when we were in the middle of The American Dream and the bigger house with its bigger things and bigger mortgage, an inkling would flicker into our minds and conversation now and then.

It was a feeling that said, somehow, there was another way. A way other than subdivisions, and HOA rules, and postage-stamp lots.

A way where time wasn’t crammed heavy and traffic wasn’t roiled. A way where home wasn’t tied to a mortgage, or to a realtor’s opinion of resale value. A way to wide open spaces where there was room for souls to breathe.

Indeed, there was another way. What we didn’t know was that getting there would require nearly everything of us.

banquette

Could anyone have anticipated the grinder that was the real estate market crash of 2008 and 2009? We certainly didn’t. Nor did we see double job losses headed our way.

Before we could pause to find our bearings in the middle of that horrific upending, nearly everything we had that was worth anything was gone. And there we were, barely standing, trying to catch our breath.

Then, in the darkness, that inkling flickered. It flickered faintest light onto a shift in perspective and new way of life.

It lit a new definition of home and necessity. It grew brighter with a fresh understanding of our wants and our needs. It shined on simplicity.

We realized that we no longer wanted the “this and that” of before. Instead, we wanted to know the more in living with less.

The idea of a small cabin came into our minds. Would it be possible to build such a thing that could house the five of us now, and become the guest house down the road? Could it be full of character and be built to last a lifetime? Was it possible really to live comfortably in small?

bedroom

Drawing upon my experience in residential building and interior design, I began to sketch. Years of inspiration and study were funneled into the intentional design that formed beneath my pencil.

Curiously, even as a sketch on graph paper, this little house began gently schooling us in simplicity. This house required things of us.

It required an off-loading. It required giving away. It required a reckoning. It helped us recognize what our treasures were, and what they weren’t; for it would hold the necessary and the loved, but nothing more.

With our lifestyle, interests, and possessions thus mindfully edited, the cabin was then tailored to fit.

Over the next year and a half, this little house rose up off the plans and came to life. A builder built, and we finished.

When the sawdust had settled and the paint had dried, we looked around and saw our dream: a little house with a front door that opened into the great room where windows were placed to catch the sun’s path and the cross-breezes.

The kitchen stretched across the far end, simple in its painted cabinets and open barn wood shelves. The dining banquette was tucked beneath an adjacent window; a high dormer in the vaulted ceiling spilled light down.

kitchenanddining

Full-size furniture gathered near a window, and floor-to-ceiling book shelves lined one wall. Down the hall was a simple single bath, and the master bedroom with its writing nook and built-in wardrobes.

livingroom

A ship’s ladder stair near the front door lead to the enclosed loft where private bunks were carved out of an open room for our three boys.

This was home.

Our home.

And it was, really and truly. Because through careful steps, patient sacrifice, and straight-up miracles, this little house was debt free!

I sit now at my desk in the writing nook,

a quiet place that waits for me; waits for these times when words arrive. The afternoon sun is here and warm, but not too warm, and I see the wind fluttering the green of the tall cottonwood outside the window, all those leaves flipping like a million little flags.

writingnook

And above me, there above the ceiling that’s over me, I hear the sounds of three boys in the loft up there, doing what boys do after having spent hours at the riverbank on a summer afternoon. Happy muffled boy voices, I hear, and muted footsteps; chair legs sliding on wood plank floors, and glass marbles rolling.

The sounds of the largeness in the small.

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Comments

  1. ‘It helped us recognize what our treasures were, and what they weren’t; for it would hold the necessary and the loved, but nothing more.’ This is why I love to regularly de-clutter. My friends don’t seem to understand why (I think they just believe I’m a neat freak), but your words explain simple living and the art of having less ‘stuff’ so beautifully.

  2. Several months ago, someone else pointed to your blog and I really enjoyed reading about your little cabin. And like then, I’m wanting more pictures… floor plan… details about where did you put this, where is that, how does this flow into that room there… I love the idea, but am doubtful we could do it (we have *way* too many books! But we love them all! Maybe that’s whats need to change?). Anyhoo, thanks!

    • Hi Rachel! Good news! If you’d like to see more, you can peruse several tours that I’ve posted on my blog that share more detail about the cabin’s rooms and how they are organized and the space is used. Don’t forget to check out the conversation in the comments on the posts as well, as I’ve answered many questions there.

    • We have lots of books, too! To solve the storage problem we were having me and my husband built easy, track-mounted adjustable shelves along one wall of our living room. They are only 12″ deep, but store SO MUCH STUFF! About a year ago, we removed the bottom-most shelf and replaced with a shelf that 24″ and braced it with scrap-wood legs to create one big, long desk with room for three kids to sit at and play. It was my idea and my husband is so proud of it. Everyone who comes to our house says they need one too. :) Hope this helps!

  3. I fantasize about small houses–I truly do. Currently with my large family (by modern standards) and a husband who works from home and needs dedicated office space–it really isn’t an option.
    Someday though…someday

  4. Somehow I stumbled on a post about your house elsewhere. Maybe last year? Maybe a few months ago? I was ENTHRALLED. Ever since reading an article years ago about tiny apartments in NY, I’ve been drawn to small spaces.

    You are living the dream, as far as I’m concerned!

  5. this is EXACTLY what my husband and i are planning to do! and actually, beforehand, we’re planning on building an even smaller house (140 sq ft built on a trailer). thanks for sharing your home! it’s so encouraging to see other people doing something similar to us. especially because our families just look at us like we’re crazy :)

  6. What a lovely home you have. Goes to show that big isn’t always better and stuff often is just clutter.

  7. This sounds so wonderful! Congratulations on determining what is most important. You lifestyle sounds so freeing!

  8. I’m in the “fantasize about a small house” camp. Your home is so lovely, and I’m so glad that Tsh has shared it with us here–so I could discover your blog. My emerging theme for this summer is that “no is the new yes.” You personify that idea to me. More and more, I am seeing that when the world seems to be saying “no” to us, it is opening up a space for something we can embrace with a giant “yes.”

  9. I love keeping a a clutter-free home and your words reminded me why I need it: to keep focused on what matters. As a Navy spouse I moved 6 times in 11 years and it taught me to keep things trimmed or by the time the movers would come back I’d still be organizing our belongings. Life is a lot simpler with less.

  10. What a wonderful post! I think more & more people are feeling the strain of bigger houses, more toys & infinitely busier lives. We began our journey to voluntary simplicity years ago and the difference in us is amazing. Finding the time to catch your breath & focus on what’s truly important in your life is a very freeing act indeed. Thanks so much for sharing this!

    ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
    Wolfe City, Texas

  11. Beautiful! Thank you.

  12. avatar
    Ty Osborn says:

    I LOVED this article! It was so captivating… like Rachael mentions in her comment, I was left wanting MORE. Please share more pictures, such as the boys’ loft and the bathroom. Do you have any technology in the house, like a TV, Wi-Fi, computer, etc.? I didn’t see a laptop in your writing nook, so let us know how you work that out.

    Thank you so much for this peek into your life. It looks absolutely lovely and charming – a true inspiration and refreshing point of view.

    • Thanks for the interest in seeing more, Ty. You will find detailed ‘tours’ of several rooms in our house posted on my blog. Just go to the 665sq ft tab on the nav bar. Remember to check out the comments there, too, as I’ve written the answers to many of these questions there. The loft has not been published, as its not quite ready for the cameras yet. In answer to the electronics question, there is a flat screen tv in the loft that doubles as a monitor for the boys’ desktop computer. All the electronic equipment we use – computer, receiver, ps3, router, modem, etc , is housed out of sight in a built-in cabinet in the loft as well. I use a laptop at my writing desk – it was removed for the picture- and the printer is kept in the closet to the right of my desk. We have a speaker dock for our iPhones behind the gray curtain in the shelving unit in the living room.

  13. What a beautiful home! We’re house hunting as I type (like my wife is literally viewing houses with family members… and we’ll likely buy a house I never see until the inspection…).

    I’m not much of a “house” or “car” guy, so I don’t really care either way (hence not needing to tour a house… and we’re looking far away from my work and I couldn’t get the time off)…

    But I was telling a coworker of a house we were going to put an offer in on. It is 2350 sq. ft. and we have two small kids. His response: That place will be way too small if you have any more kids.

    Seriously?!?!

    Love what your’e doing!

    • avatar
      MicheleStitches says:

      I find your co-worker’s comment absolutely hilarious considering the fact that our family (with 7 kids) lived VERY comfortably in a house that was just a little over 2,000 sq. ft. My children learned valuable life lessons by sharing rooms & stuff with siblings. (And they had friends who lived in 5,000 sq. ft. homes with swimming pools who wanted to come hang out at OUR house instead of their own.)

      • Wow! 7 kids! That’s a lot. I joke with my wife that if I have to share a room the kids can, too. She doesn’t find it as funny as I do….

        I think it’s wonderful what you experienced with your kids and am not surprised in the least that your home was where everyone wanted to visit!

    • I can’t think of a more fitting response that yours! “Seriously?!!”

  14. This makes me want to take several truckloads of our stuff to the Goodwill…

  15. avatar
    Carrie Taylor says:

    Yeah!!! So AWESOME to see Carmella Rayone over here posting!!!! I just LOVE her little cabin and her writing is sooooo AWESOME too!!! :-)

  16. avatar
    MicheleStitches says:

    What a lovely and very peaceful looking home. I can’t wait to read more about it…rushing over to your blog now! :-)

  17. I love this so much. Our family is on a mission to get rid everything we don’t need and love. Our future is unknown (move to an apartment? our house is 1400sqft for 5 of us, move overseas?), and we want to be prepared for wherever God leads. LOVE your home!

  18. Oh this.

    It puts words and hope to some inklings that have been brought up in this family of five too :)

    So good. So beautifully written. Yes.

    Thank you :)

    Kind Blessings,
    Kate :)

  19. A cabin in the woods = nirvana, momma. So much YES! in this post.

  20. Hi Carmella,
    I love your home! :) Where do you store sports gear, seasonal decorations, and outdoor/camping gear? Thanks!

    • For us it’s been key to have an outdoor storage shed that holds tools, gardening tools, sports gear, camping/outdoor gear. Even there, we’ve been learning how important it is to keep trimming and purging and have only what we use and love.

  21. Carmella,
    I do not even know how I landed on your post.
    All I know is that I was looking for a BIG ANSWER for years.
    House- gone under water in 2009. I still live in it, still in misery of mortgage that is upside down.
    I am interior designer and I was crazy about my home. Did all in it myself. Painting…sanding floors- everything. Gone to the bank. We both got really sick over it, and that is to my great shame. I was not as smart as you. Still holding on to something that does not exist. Still choking with mortgage. Then guests come and say how beautiful the house is and it breaks my heart. And because of that we have less and less guests. How stupid!
    I read every single comment and I finally understood the meaning of letting go. I think I got it.
    Carmella, I also love your writing style. It is very soulful and clear. Thank you, friend. You just made a difference.

    • Marina, your open-soul words are so touching. Yes, the loss of home is a deep one, indeed. I remember the feelings so well that you describe. Thank goodness hope doesn’t desert. I’m glad you found your way here, friend.

      • I wish a home with such fantastic interior to myself. It might be a bit difficult though as Scottish weather, very humid, is not very supportive towards beautiful wooden houses.

  22. avatar
    Kathy Kuegler says:

    I just found your blog and spent about an hour on it! I love both your decorating and writing styles. We downsized about 7 years ago, and it’s a great feeling. I am now feeling very inspired now to do a little more de-cluttering and simplifying!

    By the way, my dad’s family is from a small town in Wyoming (Greybull – along the Big Horn River). Although I grew up in Southern California, we spent every summer vacation in Wyoming as a kid. Such a beautiful state – loved seeing your pictures! (I’m now following you on Instagram!)

    Thanks so much for sharing you photos and thoughts!

  23. I have never liked big houses, and love small cabins/cottages. But my husband has the “McMansion Syndrome” and the bigger and more gaudy, the more beautiful he thinks it is. We really had a hard time settling on a floor plan when building our house, in the end I gave up and let him build it as large as we could afford. Something I wish I had been far more firm on now since we lost our home during the ’08 crash and we couldn’t afford paying the huge mortgage after hubby lost his job.

  24. WOW, Americans really do love their big houses. What is small to you, is actually gigantic to me. I live in Portugal in a 120 square meter apartment. Houses are about the same square meters (around 100 to 200 square meters). We´re going to be 5 in a few months and we have plenty of room. Most apartments average 80/90 square meters.
    665 square meters is a palace :) I would’nt even dream on having such a big house, it would be a nightmare to clean :)

  25. Wonderful post. I do often dream about a smaller house. One, that we design and build. Dreams for now (but hopefully not forever :-)

  26. Can’t.Get.Enough.

    Where do you start? Do you have any resources for how to build a self-designed home?

    This is amazing.

    • Hi, Mel!
      We started with a dream, and just put one foot in front of the other. Honestly, in the beginning, we didn’t think it was even possible. But, we literally took one step at a time to see how far we could go.

      As far as designing the home, I’d been saving up ideas for many years. In the end, collaboration and inspiration came together to form the house you see now. I can’t say that I have any specific resources for how to build a self-designed home, but you may find such a thing with an amazon search. If you’re interested in home plans, I’m currently working on plans for a modified version of our cabin that will be available on my blog.

      I so appreciate your kind words!

  27. This is interesting and challenging! I live in a 630 square foot house in the city with my husband, three daughters (5, 3, and 7 weeks) and our dog! It is not what I imagined, we just are trying to get by with debt, a construction business and it is constantly a struggle. So I understand the small house thing, it is just not my dream. My husband specializes in energy efficiency and built a beautiful Passive House here in chilly New Brunswick which exceeds European standards. Our dream would be to build something like this, but more like 1500 square feet! Room for the business and our family. I have considered blogging about our small house, trying to make it more liveable by purging etc. It is such a journey, as I try to be thankful for what we have. Just a quick question – is the loft included in the 665 square feet? Thanks!

  28. (I have tried commenting three times and each time it does not show up, so hopefully all my comments don’t show up!!)

  29. this post really inspires me! We bought a small house (1100 sq ft) a year ago and are hoping to grow our family in this house. I don’t want to get caught up in a need for more space just to fill in more stuff. I am especially inspired by your kitchen! I am going to have to take a good look at it and think about how I can use some of your ideas in our tiny kitchen! Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Hi, Allison! You may like to know that there is a detailed tour of the kitchen on my blog. Click the 665sq ft tab on the nav bar, then scroll down to the Becoming Home: A Kitchen Tour link.

  30. Hi,

    Very nice article, thank you.

  31. Hi,

    Very nice article, thank you.

  32. avatar
    Christina Proulx says:

    How inspiring this is! I would love to see pictures of the boys bunks! I homeschool three boys in a small space. So I really enjoy reading about people who can make a small place work.

    • Christina, I know what you mean! I get very inspired by other people’s work. The bunks and the loft haven’t been published yet, as they arent’ quite ready for the camera…I know, so many people are waiting! Maybe subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss seeing it when it is shown?

  33. Beautiful post. We have been working toward and simpler way of living for the past year or so. It is amazing how liberating it can be to let it go. Our smallish house makes us choose what we really love rather than feeling like we need to have it all.

  34. I love, love, love this! It seems like everyone we know – friends, relatives, church leaders – are always saying how they’re “outgrowing” their 1500 sf home with four people. I always want to shout, “Really? I think you just want to keep up with the Joneses. Or you need to get rid of a lot of stuff.”

    I am not immune to this myself, as I have frequently whined for a bigger (i.e. newer and fancier) house over the years. But God has really been working on me and helped me to realize that 1348 sf is plenty of room for five people. I would hate having even more surface area to clean!

    I shared this with a friend who is often down about her small (800-900 sf) house that is home to six people. I hope she is able to get some inspiration from it. Thank you!

  35. Thank you for reminding me that simple is amazing.

  36. LOVE this! Our goal is to downscale to this size home. I would LOVE to see your floor plan and the boys bunk area. We’re currently preparing our home for resale so we can do this. We’ve been looking at assorted cabins and so far, the pictures you’ve posted have come closer than anything we’ve seen to what our “ideal” is!

    • Hey, Rebecca! Thanks for the kind words about the cabin! You may be interested to know that I am currently working on floorplans for a modified (even better) version of our cabin. The plans will be for sale on the blog, hopefully soon! As for the loft, photos have not yet been published, as it’s not quite ready for the camera. Maybe subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss is when they are?

  37. Love this post and the fact that so many are finding your blog. It is truly inspiring, and I’m taking all your posts to heart as my family is on the edge of a leap of faith in so many waves… moving, homeschooling. I am purging and praying for our time to come. Thanks for your encouraging posts!

  38. Very cool, Carmella! I’d love to see more pictures to get a better idea of the floorplan and features.

    If you don’t mind me asking, how much was it to build the house from start to finish?

    • Hi Stephanie!

      You may see more photos on my blog. Just click the 665 sq ft tab on the nav bar and scroll down to select the different tours linked there.

      We have about $65,000 into the cabin to date. This does not include installation of any utilities, as they were already on site. It does include the hook-up costs of the utilities, however. Materials and labor can run the gambit, depending on the materials themselves, the market, and where you are in the country. We did most of the finish work ourselves to save some money.

  39. Fantastic decorations! Your home looks so nice and cozy I would like to live there :)

  40. This shows that how to live in any situation and environment.We have learn’t from it.

  41. There is a nice collection of white color in the pictures.

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