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Window Design for Small Spaces

by Rachel Lyon, Editorial Director for The House Designers®

Building tiny is big business, and it can be tricky to deliver a comfortable home with minimal square footage. Construction needs to be incredibly precise the smaller it gets to ensure all the pieces fit together and are up to code, and then creative design prevents the feeling that the walls are closing in. A good window design can make all the difference and transform a cramped interior into a bright and breezy one, so here are some tips and tricks to make the most of that limited wall space.

Marvin Micro House

This 430-square-foot home delivers all the necessities and seems larger than it is thanks to a variety of picture and hinged windows that keep views clear and expansive. See the Micro House case study for more photos of this compact yet spacious modern design!

Window Style

Most tiny homes are based on modern design principles, where simplicity is king and anything superfluous is avoided. This style was also born from the development of stronger materials and increasingly efficient manufacturing techniques, and for windows, that means single solid expanses of glass are favored over those with divided lites. Casement and awning windows that swing from the edges keep sightlines clearer and broader than sliding varieties that are divided by the borders of their sashes, so they are great to use when unobstructed views are the goal. It’s good to invest in hinged windows when space is limited because they make an interior feel more open.

Some people still prefer the look and feel of a traditional cottage when it’s downscaled, even though the finer details that project this personality can visually shrink the interior. If older-style hung windows are requisite, opt for fewer larger lites rather than many smaller ones; those muntins add up quickly and can crowd the space. Of course, hinged windows with lites are also available, and while they aren’t as authentic, they can deliver the look without the thicker sash frames. This is a nice happy medium for tiny rustic homes.

Marvin Ultimate Awning

Windows longer than they are tall maximize light infiltration and more seamlessly span wall lengths than those that are taller. Marvin Ultimate Awning windows were the perfect solution for this 380-square-foot dwelling because they are much larger than the usual basement awning window. Learn more in the Compact Living case study.

Window Placement

The type of window you use is important, but where windows are placed has a huge effect on the final atmosphere of the interior. Unfortunately, it’s easy to leave corners dark with minimal square footage, because walls that are closer together limit light diffusion. That’s why high windows are especially suited to smaller homes, as they allow natural light to fill the space from the top, and why so many tiny houses are designed with high and vaulted ceilings in the first place.

Tiny construction has come up with plenty of unique window solutions to consider as each case poses different challenges. Specialty picture windows are popular, as they can be shaped to maximize exposure in tricky spaces—like a triangle to fit on a wall that supports a steeply pitched roofline, or a pentagon to fill out a gable. A long transom window is perfect where privacy is needed, while a tall casement window can brighten a difficult corner. The dimensions of the home need to be considered to create the best window design, because lower ceilings look better with wide windows across the walls, but when high ceilings allow you to light from above, you can use taller windows freely below. It’s all about creating a good balance that doesn’t sacrifice natural light.

For the best results, a home at high latitude should be oriented with most of its windows to the sun to capture its rays in all seasons, while a home farther south can use overhanging awnings and eaves to limit direct rays and the heat they bring inside. Try to harness natural illumination whenever possible because it reduces the electricity bill and creates a comfortable atmosphere overall. Just as with blocking views, preventing natural light from filling the space available can make the house or room feel very confined.

Marvin Ultimate Sliding French Door

A Marvin Ultimate Sliding French Door is a gorgeous way to transition from inside to out; it opens twice as wide as a typical sliding door with twice as much glass to immerse the interior with views and daylight!

Patio and Scenic Doors

When exterior wall space is limited, you might be wary of using a large proportion of it for a glass door, but it’s actually one of the best ways to make a home feel bigger than it is. Blurring the line between the interior and its surroundings tricks the mind and does wonders to ease the impression of restriction that some people encounter when they downsize. Think about the practical aspects of each type of door—sliding varieties don’t have clearance issues, but a swinging door should definitely open out so it doesn’t eat precious floor space. Folding doors are a great choice for anybody who wants to turn a whole wall into a giant window, and they can be opened across their entire width to completely merge indoor and outdoor living areas. Door construction has improved so much that even a large one won’t devastate household energy efficiency, and you can make the choice to incorporate the best type and size based on aesthetics and what you have to work with.

Choosing the right windows for small spaces can be difficult, so shop where there are a number of options to address any need. Marvin® Windows and Doors offers every kind of style and a huge range of sizes, so they can help outfit any home with a design that is both beautiful and efficient. Find a local dealer to help you choose the best products for your needs!