An eco-friendly cottage by designer P. Allen Smith shows you 33 ways to get the biggest bang for your buck without sacrificing style.
Small cottages do not charm on looks alone. Sure their petite proportions make them very photogenic, but cottage style homes also pack a powerfully efficient punch inside and outside. The smaller the square footage the cheaper the construction costs, furniture budgets, and power bills. There is a universal appeal to living in a small cottage that hits home to both empty nesters and first time homebuyers. Take a cue from P. Allen Smith’s personal challenge: to build a 1500 square foot cottage for under $150,000 using lasting materials and maxing out every inch. Smith found that living in less square footage actually makes his life larger. Why not embrace living in a manageable cottage style where you will look forward to tending your garden and decorating your home instead of fighting feelings of being overwhelmed by a larger home. Check out some of these small cottages and you just may be looking to downsize soon.
Smaller But Smarter Cottage Style
Designer P. Allen Smith loves a challenge. So when he built a guesthouse at his Moss Mountain Farm just outside Little Rock, he gave himself some limits: 1,650 square feet completed in 150 days for just $150,000. But that's not all. It would also feature the most up-to-date green construction principles, and its design would be inspired by vernacular precedent—the 19th-century Southern farmhouse. "This home is the anti-McMansion," says Allen. So how did he fare? Well, the house came in just $14,000 (or about 9%) over budget, but it checked all the other boxes, including Allen's mandate for comfortable and charming decor. Here, he shares 33 secrets for packing big style into a small space without breaking the bank.
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1. Long-Lasting Metal Roof
It wasn't cheap, but the payoff here comes in the form of longevity, because this standing-seam metal roof will far outlast its asphalt-shingled counterparts. Bonus: The metal reflects the sun's heat, thereby reducing energy costs during the summer.
2. Low-Maintenance Siding
It looks just like traditional wood, but fiber-cement siding by HardiePlank (jameshardie.com) is more durable and comes with a 30-year warranty.
3. Efficient Windows
One place where Allen never skimps is windows. "You don't have to sacrifice curb appeal in the name of energy efficiency," says Allen. Here, his four-over-four versions (from Marvin; marvin.com) have historical precedent and keep the interior free from drafts.
Love It? Get It!
Windows and doors: marvin.com
4. Rainwater Collection
To reduce dependency on local water sources, Allen installed a rainwater-harvesting system. Gutters and rain chains direct water into underground pipes that connect to a cistern. The water is used for the lawn and garden.
5. Outdoor Living Areas
The front porch and back deck add an extra 650 square feet of living space. "They make the cottage feel larger by creating an illusion of expansiveness," says Allen.
6. Entry Hall
7. Painted Furniture
It's an easy and affordable way to transform any room.
8. Ready-Made Trim
Custom millwork on the interiors was not in the budget, so Allen used standard trim and made his own moldings from scrap lumber.
[Nos. 9-15] The Living Room
"Learn to love what you have with the help of a few inexpensive upgrades."
- P. Allen Smith
9. Exposed Floor Joists
Allen left the upstairs floor joists exposed, which added 10 inches of height downstairs. "Nine-foot ceilings really help the scale," he says. "They're also characteristic of 19th-century homes, which inspired the guest cottage's design."
10. Black and White Paint
For an airy feel, Allen used black paint (Benjamin Moore Black Bean Soup) for the floors and a creamy white (Benjamin Moore Snow White) for the walls, ceilings, and trim throughout the living spaces.
11. Faux Grass Cloth
To create the look of a woven wallpaper in the living room for a fraction of the cost, Allen applied burlap-wrapped, particle board panels to the walls and then painted them.
12. Original Artwork
"It's more affordable than you might think," says Allen, who mounted old farm tools above the fireplace to make a big impact for little cost. Other sources for one-of-a-kind pieces: school fund-raisers and charity auctions. "Original artwork adds so much soul to a home," says Allen.
13. Antique Mantel
The distressed finish on this 19th-century relic lends historic character to the new wood-burning fireplace (from Monessen; monessenhearth.com).
14. Sleeper Sofa
15. Oval Mirrors
This pair bounces more light around the bright white room and draws the eye up, underscoring the lofty ceiling height.
[Nos. 16-28] The Kitchen
"This house is all about using ordinary things in an extra-ordinary way."
- P. Allen Smith
16. Metal Ceilings
Typically used for barn roofing, this corrugated material adds authentic farmhouse charm for only about $15 per sheet.
17. Cased Opening
The extra-wide, doorless opening that connects the kitchen to the living and dining rooms makes the entire space feel larger without adding a single square foot.
18. Ductless HVAC
This mini-split system (by Fujitsu; fujitsugeneral.com) has small ceiling vent units in every room that are connected to the outdoor unit by tubing and wires instead of space-hogging ducts. It cost Allen around the same to install, but the monthly energy bills are about 30% less than with a traditional system.
19. Classic Subway Tile
Tried-and-true basics like this are readily available at home-improvement centers and lend charming cottage style without blowing the budget.
20. Maple Countertops
Allen found these for next to nothing at Lumber Liquidators (lumberliquidators.com). The most cost-effective part: They look even better with a little patina and require less maintenance than you might think—just condition with oil if the wood shows signs of cracking.
21. Makeshift Island
An antique butcher-block provides additional workspace in the kitchen, which is not large enough for a traditional island. A simple tripod with casters elevates it to standard counter height and enables it to be moved around easily.
22. Painted Floors
Two coats of paint specially formulated for floors plus one coat of polyurethane create an extra-durable, low-maintenance finish on the lower-grade pine floors.
23. Secondhand Cabinets
Allen snagged as many matching cabinet doors as he could find at a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore (habitat.org), a home-improvement outlet that sells gently used goods to support the nonprofit.
24. Open Shelves
The incomplete set of cabinet doors worked to Allen's advantage. Leaving a few off gives the effect of shelves, which helps open up the small space.
25. Bright Serving Ware
Pots, pitchers, and casserole dishes splash saturated color around a white room without an added decorating expense.
Similar Dutch oven: dillards.com
26. Salvaged Pendants
A few coats of white paint took these salvage-store metal fixtures from dull and dated to sleek and modern. "Painting vintage items is a win-win: It's an inexpensive way to update old stuff and keep it out of landfills," says Allen.
27. Consistent Finishes
28. Bare Windows
Skipping curtains where privacy wasn't a concern saved room in the budget for more essential items.
[Nos. 30-33] The Master Bedroom
"I never let a perfectly good piece of scrap material go to waste."
- P. Allen Smith
Love It? Get It!
Bed: Church Architectural Salvage Arch Headboard; paulmichaelcompany.com
29. No-Frills Shade
This ready-made Roman one easily fits Allen's standard-width window and provides privacy without the bulkiness of curtains.
Love It? Get It!
Roman shade: theshadestore.com
30. No Hallways
Forgoing a corridor between the living area and master bedroom allowed Allen to make both rooms a little larger.
31. Cozy Color
Allen played up the room's snug factor with soothing taupe paint (Benjamin Moore Quicksand). He clad the ceiling with the same corrugated metal as the kitchen but painted it flat white (Benjamin Moore Snow White) to tone down the shine.
32. Lower-Grade Lumber & 33. Local Materials
He used No. 2-grade pine boards for the walls' horizontal planking, which cost him less than drywall. "It typically has more knots, but once they're sealed and painted, you'll never know the difference," says Allen.
Soybeans and pine are both readily available in Arkansas, so Allen used soybean insulation and pine timber to cut back on material-transport costs and support local industries.
Live large for less with Allen's ideas for turning trash into treasure.
The dated chandelier and chairs were freshened up with bold red paint in varying shades.
Budget-Savvy Solution: Scrap-Wood Wainscot
Allen made this Mount Vernon-inspired wainscot with leftover 2-by-8 boards cut into beveled blocks.
Budget-Savvy Solution: Converted Console
Budget-Savvy Solution: Colorful Slipcovers
A bold pattern revives club chairs that belonged to Allen's grandparents.
Budget-Savvy Solution: Personal Collections
Budget-Savvy Solution: Overhead Shelves
Made from leftover lumber, they provide extra storage in the mudroom, taking advantage of typically wasted space.
Budget-Savvy Solution: Repurposed Paneling
In the living room, simple Shaker-style cabinet doors from a lumber salvage yard mimic the look of a custom paneled wainscot for much less.
Budget-Savvy Solution: Chicken Wire Cabinets
Allen lined some of the kitchen-cabinet door frames with this inexpensive, airy material that adds farmhouse character.
Budget-Savvy Solution: Architectural Salvage
The reclaimed traditional 19th-century front door adds old-house charm to the brand-new facade.