Design & DIY

6 ways to maximize your cottage space

Tiny cottage

When people decide to buy or build a cottage, they do so for a variety of reasons, but most go into it because they want a retreat from the chaos of the city.

For three years, former Vancouver residents John Paolozzi and his wife Tammy Everts called a 10′ x 12′ shed converted into a cottage their getaway.

“We fit four people and a dog in there,” says Paolozzi, who now lives in Nelson B.C. with the family. “My wife and I slept in the loft, our oldest son slept in an IKEA single bed that we modified to serve as a couch by day, and our youngest slept in an IKEA trundle drawer that I reinforced and fit under the bed. The dog would sleep in the most inconvenient places, like right in front of our fridge.”

The cottage—which was located on a five-acre piece of land on Gambier Island in the Howe Sound—had a total of 180 square feet of living space, which meant Paolozzi and Everts had to use every inch to the fullest.

“Everything that we needed for living off grid without power and plumbing needed to have a place in the cabin, so every shelf, surface and hook was agonized over,” he says.

With the tiny house and cottage concept taking off, more people are embarking on the exciting world of designing function spaces in teeny cottages. For those who have a small cottage, or are considering getting one, Paolozzi offers these tips:

1) Be realistic about your needs and envision how you’ll use the space.

With small spaces like Paolozzi and Everts’s, the parents needed to consider the lack of indoor space when the two kids went to bed. Paolozzi also says their cabin was too small to fit a wood stove and still comply with building codes: “The four of us could really have used it comfortably all seasons [with a stove]. If I were to do it all over again, and wanted to maintain a small footprint, I’d probably go with a 12′ X 14′, and a larger covered area.”

2) Build your own furniture.

Or, if you’re not handy, purchase basic pieces of furniture that you can easily modify. Paolozzi and Everts built the shelves, the ladder to the loft, and the counter in the kitchen area, so those features were specifically made with a small space in mind.

Photo courtesy of John Paolozzi and Tammy Everts.

3) Design your cottage to include lots windows.

Paolozzi and Everts were using their cottage more like a camping structure, which meant they weren’t concerned with insulations. “That meant we were free to use fibreglass as a wall. This brought in loads of light, which was crucial in such a small place. If we hadn’t done that, it would have felt dark and cramped,” says Paolozzi.

4) Location is everything.

While a cottage with a breathtaking view from a rock or vista may seem like the perfect place for your cottage, consider the long-term use and function of your space. On long summer days, cottages built in areas with little shade can quickly become more like saunas than sanctuaries. Paolozzi and Everts decided to build in the shade, which he claims was a great decision because they could sleep in.

5) If you want to build on the cheap, don’t go so cheap that your materials fail you.

Make budget cuts where it makes sense. If you start cutting costs in the wrong places, you might end up doing repairs and maintenance on your cottage sooner than necessary. For Paolozzi, one place they decided not to skimp was on the plywood ski for their building. They blew the bank on marine-grade plywood, which uses a waterproof glue and won’t deteriorate as quickly as standard plywood. “We also wanted cable railings on the deck,” he said. “But those are insanely expensive, as was copper pipe, so my accomplice suggested we use rebar. This cost a fraction of what cabling would have, and I think it creates a more unique look.”

6) Hand-pick everything.

In a small space, every stud, joist, and beam is exposed. Instead of taking whatever load of lumber the yard is willing to deliver, consider going through every piece of wood so that they maximize the look of your space. “We painstakingly went through every piece of wood that went into the building,” said Paolozzi. “We made a huge effort to include wood that had been damaged by pine beetle infestation, since it has a beautiful bluish stain. We figured this would add a touch of history to the building and date it nicely for its era.”



Megan Cole is an award-winning Victoria, B.C.–based journalist and freelance writer. She most enjoys writing about food and music, and when she isn’t behind a keyboard or camera, you can find her in the kitchen or at a concert. Visit her other blogs at: or