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After Thoughts on HGTV’s Design Star Tiny House Competition

Before you read any further you should know that I normally do not watch Design Star. This is the first episode I’ve ever watched because I don’t have cable.

I was interested in watching this episode, as you already know, because they had the final three contestants design tiny houses.

The homes we’re talking about here are actually three of Jay Shafer’s Box Bungalow designs which he just recently released through his Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

Actually, I put together a video you can watch about his new designs (which are featured in this episode) right here. Link opens in a new tab/window so you can save it for later.

Tiny House Design Competition on Design Star

So in the beginning of the episode the contestants are told that they will each have to design their own entire house. From top to bottom. They seem excited and nervous but they don’t seem to have any idea that the homes were going to be so small.

Then they are shown the three 99 square-foot houses. They’re pretty much in shock as soon as they see them. I don’t think any of the three contestants had ever heard of the homes before but it was cool to see how they mentioned that it’s a growing trend.

HGTV Design Star: Tiny House Challenge
Photo Courtesy of HGTV Design Star

From left to right that’s Karl, Meg and Mark right as they first witness their tiny house design project.

My Thoughts on this Tiny House Design Episode

Each of the contestants gave it their all but with most of their experience being within larger homes you could tell it was a challenge for each of them.

I think it would have been helpful for the contestants to have had a mentor with more experience in designing small spaces.


I think Meg’s design was great looking but it had very little practical elements. In other words, to actually live in it you’d need to create some more storage somewhere.

It might do for a backyard guest house but not as a true residence as it is.


Mark set up a great little kitchen but he also completely missed most of the practical features you’d need in a small space. The belt and patterns really seemed to have thrown the entire design off. I didn’t like that.


Karl seems to be the only one of the three who actually asked himself, “How would I design this house if I were to need to live in it?”

He made sure that there was enough storage to store everything you would need including space for office supplies.

Your Thoughts on the Challenge

What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below and if you liked this post share it with your friends!

Watch the Full Episode

To watch the entire episode of HGTV Design Star: Tiny House Challenge click here.

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Mike McDonald September 8, 2011, 3:14 pm

    I thought they should have explained more about the small house movement and the segued into the designs. Some of their design features were not bad but they should have thought more about storage as Karl did. If small house living had been prefaced first, more of the design features would probably have been geared differently. The bungalows looked great though. We need Jay shaffer to do a small house documentary. I have his Pompono plans and will start next year.

  • Timaree September 8, 2011, 8:43 pm

    I asked my sister to watch the show and I just watched it. We both think the belt design was too much! My sister liked Meg’s design the best as it was cute and homey. I liked Karl’s for the same reason as you – he actually asked what you needed to live in it. He had a full bed in his where Meg’s is the width of the house leaving a claustrophobic head space and no wiggle room (hope you don’t fall off). I liked her open space and colors although I also liked Karl’s color scheme even if the judge didn’t.

    What did I take from this? Did you see the ladder up to the bed? One side was flush to the floor where the other side had a longer piece sticking up giving a good something to hold onto to get out of the loft. I liked that.

  • Alex September 8, 2011, 9:05 pm

    I actually didn’t catch that on the ladder. It sounds like a great idea though. That was in Karl’s, right? I think I remember now… lol

  • Alex September 8, 2011, 9:13 pm

    I’m glad you brought that up Mike. I think you’re right, if they would have focused a little bit more on small house living then the contestants would’ve done better. It was still pretty cool though. And yes, the bungalows look great. I like them. I’ve got the Popomo plans too. Let me know when you start!

  • Kathleen September 9, 2011, 5:11 pm

    I thought that Meg’s decorating (minus the knick-knacks because in a tiny place like that, there just isn’t room for anything that isn’t actually going to be USED) combined with Karl’s storage space would have been great. I liked her bathroom and closet at the front to form a foyer; with a loft bedroom above that, her layout would have worked better. Mark had some good ideas but blew it with the crazy design and the belts — it was too busy and distracting for such a small space. Actually, I don’t think I would have liked that even in a larger space! It made the small space seem even smaller and more cluttered, though, and you’ve got to shoot for open-ness and peaceful (uncluttered) in a tiny house.

  • Alex September 9, 2011, 5:14 pm

    Meg and Karl’s designs combined would have been nice. I like your point on Mark. It was distracting and made it seem cluttered. Thanks for reading Kathleen!

  • Marsha Cowan September 11, 2011, 8:46 am

    I loved Karl’s design the best and especially the colors. Since when does color not belong in a tiny space? If it is done right, it actually defines the space and makes it flow better like Karl’s did. I have been working on my tiny house plan for about 6 months now, gleaning from everywhere (I don’t think there is a tiny house picture on the internet I have not seen) and I have often been disappointed by the interiors of these homes, so seeing interiors like Karl’s (and I liked Meg’s, too, some areas) was a real treat for me. I plan to have plenty of storage, but also have my family pics (I have 4 children and 5 granchildren) and special things around me as part of the color of my decorating. Some special things will do double duty like in Karl’s plan. I loved watching this episode (it was my first also). It gave me plenty of food for thought. Thanks!

  • Alex September 11, 2011, 1:23 pm

    I like what you said about the colors. Please keep us updated on your tiny house plans and thanks for reading!

  • BigWarpGuy September 11, 2011, 10:02 pm

    I like Meg’s design. I can see where one can add storage. I like the color scheme. I like Karl’s design more. I like they way he has items has that have dual purpose; the place mats are also cutting boards, the plates can be used to cook in. I agree with them with Mark and his belts on the wall and the design. It is different.

  • Alex September 12, 2011, 1:50 pm

    Thanks BWG. I pretty much feel the same. See ya!

  • signalfire September 16, 2011, 6:37 pm

    I couldn’t even watch the entire show, the personalities were that painful, as well as the whole uber-citified, competitive nature of the show itself. Uck, thanks for reminding me why I killed my teevee!

  • Alex September 17, 2011, 12:48 am

    Good points Signalfire. They did make it pretty competitive. So much that it made two of the designers barely think of the usability of the space. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

  • Denise September 25, 2011, 9:10 am

    I loved Karl’s tiny house design the most. Is there any way that we can get his floorplan that he created on HGTV? The colors and use of space really was the best.

  • Alex September 27, 2011, 2:01 pm

    Good idea Denise. I wonder if we can contact anyone there to release that for us.

  • Jeannie October 14, 2011, 9:44 am

    I think if they had more info PRIOR or WERE GIVEN MORE TIME or HAD A CHANCE TO LIVE IN ONE FOR 24-48 HRS it would have played out differently.

    Aesthetically, I preferred Meg’s design…

    I love looking at how people who really live in tiny houses set them up…everyone has different priorities, so they set them up accordingly. Me, I don’t really cook per se, so if & when I get into a tiny house, the emphasis would be on a living/social room, storage & incorporating a few pieces of my furniture into the house…

    If anyone looks @ Tim Guiles house, he has a social room w/ a high up shelf circumnavigating most of the living room that has room for “chachkas”- so someone who likes knick-knacks could have that in their living space.

    A tiny home has to be a HOME for people, not just a utilitarian space. Dan’s mother’s house also incorporated her artistry into her home w/ her stained glass hanging designs & her hand made tiles, etc…

    All in all I think tiny houses will reflect the personality of the occupant(s) more so, because the person has to squeeze or condense it all into a smaller space!

  • Alex October 14, 2011, 2:52 pm

    So glad you shared your thoughts Jeannie. I esp like what you said about tiny houses and people’s personality because if you think about it… A tiny house should fit like a glove.

    It’s like a custom tailored outfit specifically made for your body and for whatever it is that you enjoy doing. And you’re right, it’s not just about being a utilitarian… It’s about meeting our individual needs (and not much more).

  • Roseann January 6, 2013, 5:33 pm

    I watched this episode and was intrigued. Overall, the only good feeling I was left with was surprise. From watching the three designers plan the space, it made me re-think how much space there really is to work with in a tiny house. Individually…

    Meg: I liked the concept of creating a foyer; it left the rest of the space very open. The thing that threw me off was her stereotype that tiny houses are “kitschy” and that everything has to be cute. This thinking left very little space for practical use and storage.

    Mark: I loved the feel of the kitchen but that’s where it ends. Although I appreciated his efforts to make the place artful, the argyle didn’t fit the house. I think he would have been better taking the nature theme in the kitchen and transferring it to the rest of the house.

    Karl: While I wasn’t particularly fond of the color palette, he was the only one who really understood the concept of living tiny. He created plenty of storage while still giving the place a modern and comfy feel.

    I don’t think this show did the small house movements any favors other than making people aware that it exists. If anything, perhaps it will inspire designers to look more into helping people decorate small spaces.

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