Transformation: thinking big in a tiny Sam Stephenson apartment

Tiny House Nation is a TV show that looks at inventive ways homeowners use tight spaces


Tiny House Nation is a TV show that first screened in the US in 2014 and is currently being broadcast by Channel 4. It looks at inventive ways homeowners use tight spaces from a reasonably roomy 90sq m (968sq ft) to just 10sq m (107sq ft).

What’s the appeal? “There is a belief that small homes are a more sustainable way to live, easier to manage and run and they cost less in terms of property tax,” says Stephen McMahon, a Co Tipperary-based carpenter who set up Tiny Homes last year. He makes homes for single people and so far has constructed two, including one which was just 20sq m (215 sq ft).

The same thinking applies to apartment living, no longer considered a short- term solution. Comprising 11 per cent of all occupied households in Ireland, according to the 2011 census, and one-third of occupied households in Dublin city, apartments are where more and more of us now call home.

And while planning guidelines have increased the amount of storage required in all new builds, there are many existing examples – boom-era and earlier – that don’t factor in life beyond the Marie Kondo decluttered simplicity of the show unit.

In real life, most people are tethered to belongings – books, sports equipment, art, photographs, computers, records and CDs they can’t part with, to name just the basics. But by thinking outside the blueprints to create the right space, light and storage can coexist happily.

Architect Eva Byrne of Houseology was recently hired to optimise the existing space in a 40sq m (430sq ft) one-bedroom apartment in Dublin 6 built by the late bold and controversial architect Sam Stephenson.

Every centimetre was important, she says. By moving a door and some internal walls and reconfiguring the bathroom she almost doubled the storage space from 3 cubic metres to 5.7cubic metres.

“I’m in the business of making things work. There is a place for all your belongings,” she says.

Byrne charges €300 for an initial two-hour consultation. John Lee of Cherryvale Builders estimates that a similar refurbishment, including building a kitchen and wardrobes, will cost in the region of €30,000.;

Living room

The living room needed the most work to make it a properly defined space. Originally this room had a carpeted area, and a tiled floor in the dining section. New oak flooring throughout made the room feel bigger.

A sofa that sat in front of the glass doors out to the terrace blocked light and any sense of space. Its natural home was opposite the open fire but a door out to the hall prevented this. Byrne moved the door, creating a natural nook for a small sofa. A narrow shelf behind the sofa acts as a side table for a morning cup of coffee or an evening glass of wine. A ceiling-height bookcase hides the kitchen.

The open fireplace was positioned off-centre in a large chimney breast. Not wanting the hassle of an open fire, Byrne installed a Gazco electric fire instead. On the same wall the TV set to the right at viewing level filled the gap presented by the off-centre fire.


The apartment had a U-shaped kitchen concealed behind leaded glass paneled fold-back doors. By removing these, and reshaping the kitchen into an L-shape with white MDF units put together on site by a joiner, she created a simple wall of storage.

Reconstituted stone worktops and a tiled splashback in a staggered pattern reflect light in. Bins are concealed beneath the sink and a hanging rail for pots and kitchen towels keeps countertop clutter to a minimum.


The apartment had a relatively big bathroom but a bath took up valuable space. By removing the bath and installing a shower on the opposite wall, as well as a wall-hung toilet and sink, Byrne reduced the footprint and used the extra square metre in a clever utility cupboard that’s accessible from the hall.

By using the same materials on the walls and floor, the smaller space somehow feels bigger. The concealed cistern left room for mirror-fronted cabinets, with adjustable shelving to take toiletries, toilet rolls and cleaning products. An electric towel rail is set on a timer, ensuring a cosy bathroom temperature only when required.


In the dark hall a terrazzo-like tile reflects light. Here also is the utility cupboard created from the excess bathroom space, with a washer-dryer plumbed in from the bathroom. The cupboard has full-height doors, a storage area tall enough for an ironing board and sweeping brushes, and hooks on the doors can take bulky reuseable shopping bags and wet coats . In the adjacent hot press Byrne added more shelving, set 25 cm apart, to stack bed linen and towels.


The bedroom got an additional square metre of storage by incorporating a hall cupboard into the room; this made a large wardrobe with double-height hanging, tall hanging and drawers.

The tall wardrobe doors are floor-to-ceiling with additional storage shelves above the hanging areas for less-used items such as extra duvets, pillows and suitcases.

The MDF wardrobes were made by a joiner, to Byrne’s specifications. The bedside lockers also “float”, to make the room feel bigger.

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