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Life in 120 Square Feet: Our Tiny House Loft

When Matt and I decided we wanted to build a tiny house we weren’t familiar with many designers. In 2009 we bought original Jay Shafer plans for the Tarleton model. Originally designed to be built on a trailer, the Tarleton, like many of Jay’s other designs, featured a loft space for sleeping. Having never built anything before, besides a shower platform which is terminally unsquare, we wanted to follow the plans as closely as possible.

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

A loft never seemed like a bad idea for us.

Our loft, which is over the kitchen and the bathroom space, is a little bit bigger than the original design. This is because we built our home on a foundation which allowed it to be slightly larger than the footprint of a trailer.

Once the loft was complete we needed to make some choices for the design and functionality.

Our first choice was to add FLOR to the loft. FLOR are modular carpet tiles made of recycled fiber and rubber materials. We had always loved the product but because of the expense waited until we were decorating the tiny house to use it. That way we needed less. We chose a bright spring green to add a pop of color to our space and to match the stain we used on the counter tops. And we liked the idea of a soft surface on the loft floor.

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

As an added bonus, FLOR is durable and Piglet can use it as a de facto scratcher without harming it in any way. We decided to put it on the storage loft floor, the rungs of our ladder, and on her loft access platforms as well.

Read more after the cut.

Once the FLOR was in place we needed to figure out a bed solution. The original plans suggested “building” a bed out of foam. While this sounded doable the thought of sleeping on a foam mattress of our own design as we entered our 40s didn’t sound comfortable long term. So we measured the loft and considered our options.

Our first thought was to purchase a nice air mattress. We camp frequently and have always found air mattresses comfortable but we decided against it because the mattress would need frequent maintenance to make sure it stayed inflated properly. Also, no feeling is worse than sleeping on a deflating mattress with an unseen hole.

Because of an air mattress failure I learned the hard way that sleeping on the rubber floor of a Honda Element is extremely uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be in this position in the middle of the night on our mountain.

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Then we had an idea that I consider a stroke of genius: a futon mattress. Long gone were the days of uncomfortable dorm style futons. We wandered into a local Futon store in Asheville and learned all about the new manufacturing techniques. We tested out a number of options and ended up with a really nice full size futon with springs just like a traditional mattress making it one of the most comfortable things I have ever slept on.

There is enough room for a queen sized mattress up in the loft; however, we opted for the full size to give us some space on either side of the bed to put things like battery powered fans, my glasses when I sleep, and my inhaler for asthmatic emergencies. Matt and I easily fit on the bed and don’t find that we are in each other’s ways at all. Your mileage may vary. Piglet is the biggest bed hog in our house. It is amazing how much room a 9 pound cat can take up if they try hard enough.

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

The ladder was the final consideration for the loft. So here is a secret: I am terribly afraid of heights. I don’t even have to be that high off the ground to have a panic attack. Before we had a permanent ladder in the house we leaned a construction ladder up against the loft. I could get up the ladder no problem but when it came time to get down I couldn’t do it. After a lot of tears and with a promise to hold the ladder I made it back down to ground level. Not wanting to deal with that again, Matt went about constructing a ladder.

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

It was originally intended to be temporary and we would eventually build a more graceful ladder but as it turned out a design of 2X4s was perfectly functional. With the addition of the FLOR we also though it was attractive so we never bothered to build another ladder. To make our ladder even more useful we added eye hooks to the top of the structure. These eye hooks match up to J hooks that we installed on the front of the loft. A matching set is on the front of the storage loft as well so we can move the ladder to access whatever we need up there.

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

I know a lot of people would prefer a single story tiny home or a set of stairs to access a loft or second story, but I really love our ladder and loft. With depth perception issues I have often struggled with going down staircases but the ladder makes me feel secure because I can back down and climb hand over hand. The loft is also a great retreat not only for sleeping but for reading and watching TV or movies on our tablet. Piglet also enjoys sleeping in the loft all day long.

The comforter matches the trees! Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

The comforter matches the trees! Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

What kind of sleeping arrangements do you want in your tiny house?

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Laura LaVoie

Contributor and Tiny House Owner at 120SquareFeet.com
Laura M. LaVoie is a professional writer living in the mountains of North Carolina in a 120 Square Foot house with her partner and their hairless cat, Piglet. Laura graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Anthropology. She has been published in magazines and anthologies on the subjects of mythology and culture. She spent nearly 15 years in the temporary staffing industry before deciding to become a full time writer. Laura works closely with the Zulu Orphan Alliance volunteering her time and the skills she's learned building her own small house to build a shelter for orphans and other vulnerable children living near Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Laura also enjoys simple living, brewing and drinking craft beer, and popular culture.
{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Jerry
    June 13, 2013, 10:30 am

    Thanks for posting this, and so much more info Laura! I had never heard of flor, but will definitely be looking into it now. I also suffer from the same prejudice against futons you had, think I’ll be making a trip to a local futon dealer to check out how it’s improved in the 20 years since I was in college! I also have always thought the loft would make a good mini theatre for watching movies, so I’ve designed my TV to be hanging in front of the loft, with the ability to move up and down and spin around. This will allow viewing from the great room, and the loft. With appropriately placed speakers, I imagine the loft will be a great place to escape to when the feeling arises!

    • June 14, 2013, 4:58 pm

      Thanks, Jerry! I love the idea of a fold down flat screen TV in the loft. You’ll find yourself not wanting to come down!

  • _sd_
    June 13, 2013, 10:43 am

    ‘It is amazing how much room a 9 pound cat can take up if they try hard enough.’

    Hehehe, I love this sentence, and I can imagine a bit what it looks like. We used to sleep on a bed with our black lab mix (40 lbs) who could also take up a lot of space. I love snuggling with furry (or not so furry) pets in bed ! I bet you guys get some snuggle time with Piglet too 🙂

  • john
    June 13, 2013, 11:04 am

    I had a similar revelation at a futon store, in fact i used the futon and a very nice mattress for close to ten years. Cheap futon mattress’s are lousy after a month, they get lumpy and compacted into hardness, but a high quality sprung futon mattress is as good as a true bed mattress if not as long lasting for a big guy like me.
    After retiring from the military my father sold furniture for twenty years, one piece of priceless advice to me was when it comes to a mattress you will always only get what you pay for and that sleeping well is one of the few things in life that will have a great affect on everything you do.
    I would rather buy a second hand high end mattress than a new cheap one, and i’ve done both so know first hand my dad was right. I slept on my high quality futon mattress for ten years and for most of that time it was in couch form instead of unfolding to a bed if i was alone…i found it more comfortable for me that way.
    Passing on my dad’s great advice i tell you this; Never go cheap on the important things, it will always cost you more in the end…even for just a mattress.

    • June 14, 2013, 5:00 pm

      Thanks so much for the advice. From my own experience I’d say this is spot on. I know several tiny home builders who made sure they could fit a nice, conventional mattress in there homes.

      Our futon is super comfortable. I’m really glad we went that route and I would do it again.

  • David Ridge
    June 13, 2013, 3:50 pm

    Hey, I like the carpeting on the ladder. Nice safety feature.

    • June 14, 2013, 5:01 pm

      Thanks. It is really nice on your bare toes in the morning and it provides traction not only for us but also for Piglet to go up and down.

  • Lee-Anne
    June 13, 2013, 5:23 pm


    I’d really love to see the Piglet’s loft access platforms!

  • June 13, 2013, 9:16 pm

    I slept in a loft with a ladder for about 8 years (two by fours in one house, two by sixes in the other – nice!) I, too, have issues about coming down a ladder, due to a misstep on one when I was a small child.

    Three things that helped were having a good, solid handhold above the ladder top, to get me started going down; a ladder extension a couple of feet or so above the floor level, to hold onto while I turned and eased over the edge; and handholds on the wall beside the ladder. I didn’t always use the latter handholds, but knowing they were there made me feel much more secure.

  • June 14, 2013, 9:06 am

    You could also make an angled book case and use the edge of each shelf as the stairs. This is great for tiny houses because the ‘ladder’ has a second purpose.

    Also, love the Flor idea. I have multiple Papillons, some of whom are ‘in tact’ and like to ‘mark’ so having removeable/replaceable Flor sections is brilliant.

    Thirdly, when shopping for affordable/small solutions for my tiny house, I found a lightly used sunroom couch with a firm foam mattress cushion. I bought the couch for $29 and harvested the mattress, the casters & the bolster pillows (great for against the loft wall) abandoning the frames and left them at the thrift store!

    Had I not found such a bargain, I was going to purchase the BEDDINGE LÖVÅS mattress from ikea for $99. It is a foam mattress which can be folded in half lengthwise to form a couch/futon. Again, space saving & multi-purpose.

    Your post is adorable. As someone earlier requested, please post photos of the cat’s loft access steps.

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