In 2013, Colin Chee bought his first home — a Melbourne apartment that was a humble 37 square metres in size. At the time, he was looking for inspiration to decorate small spaces. Scrolling through YouTube, it was clear there wasn’t a lot of great design inspiration available online. A videographer and multimedia designer, Colin decided to start his own channel, Never Too Small, dedicated to small-footprint design.
Each episode features micro-apartments, tiny homes and self-contained projects alongside their architects and designers and explores different themes, including heritage-listed buildings, rural sustainability, and how urban design and architecture can shape our lifestyles for the future. The series now documents spaces all over the globe including locations in Argentina, Hong Kong and France. Its smallest featured home is just 13 square metres.
Since launching in 2017, Never Too Small has grown rapidly, recently reaching two million subscribers on YouTube alone. “We watch a lot of videos online — people telling you how to do this or that,” Colin says. “But Never Too Small is more like going to a concert without people telling you why they write the music. When you listen to the music, you get the gist of what the music is trying to tell you and get inspired through it.”
As well as giving DYI home designers some nifty inspiration, Colin says Never Too Small also plays an important role in shifting public perception around small places. Originally from Malaysia, Colin believes Western democracies could benefit from living more intuitively with one’s needs and lifestyle, rather than putting “big” before everything else.
“I think in Australia, people live in a big house simply because they can live in a big house,” he says. “It’s a waste, especially in a suburban area where you have a family of three in a house with five bedrooms. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should live in a small space, but we have to be more moderate with what our need is and what makes us happy.”
Big isn’t always better
Australian designer Nicholas Gurney has worked in the niche of tiny spaces for the past 10 years and his work has been featured in several Never Too Small episodes. He believes the series is a great way to debunk misconceptions around small spaces and showcase the immense benefits of “living small”.
“As people we occupy less than a square metre at any given time, so while we’re in a kitchen, the bedroom is dormant or while we’re in the lounge room, the separate dining is dormant,” Nicholas says. “A small space is just a lack of dormant space. Once you realise that, you can fit a great deal in very little.”
With growing populations and land scarcity squeezing out cities, Nicholas says more people are turning to smaller homes that are more affordable. “I think young people recognise that between now and probably the end of our days, we are going to be living in a period of production — whether forced or elected, because it is just the reality. So the number of people seeking bigger and better all the time is slowly dwindling,” the designer says.
The dream of buying a big house is becoming increasingly out of reach for many young Aussies who are being priced out of the booming housing market. In December, figures from leading property data provider Corelogic showed Australian housing prices had risen 22 per cent for the year — its sharpest rise in three decades.
The upward trend is seeing many people push back against contemporary culture, according to Nicholas. “It can be pretty overwhelming at times and the manifestation of resisting all those things is living small,” he says. “If you live small, there’s a strong likelihood that you’re going to live with less and it’s going to be more affordable. It’s going to be simpler and you’ll be less burdened.”
Since starting as a designer in this space 10 years ago, Nicholas says interest in designing for small spaces has grown exponentially, especially over the past five years with the rise of tiny homes on wheels. “There’s obviously a real hunger for this kind of thing,” he says. “I don’t know what portion of the world’s population is living in X number of square metres or less, but I daresay there’d be a lot of people living small.”
It’s not just home living that has the potential to benefit from a dynamic design approach. With many people spending more time at home over the past two years because of the global pandemic, once-buzzing commercial spaces like offices have become dormant. Even before the pandemic, many were only occupied during standard working hours.
Never Too Small creator Colin believes these bigger spaces have the potential to be multifunctional and to serve the greater needs of the community. “Looking more broadly, I think flexibility should be applied to commercial spaces like offices,” he says. “They could be filled with furniture you can move away easily so that after say six o’clock, the space can be used for yoga classes or other things. For me, I think that part is more important.”
It’s all about flexibility. Almost a decade on from buying his first apartment, Colin still lives in his 37-square-metre space — the only difference is he now shares it with his partner and their dog. “I stuck to it and I find myself quite cosy,” he reflects.
Simone Ziaziaris is a freelance journalist from Sydney who loves writing about the arts, sustainability and human rights. When she isn’t at her computer typing, she is out and about taking film photos. Take a sneak peek at her work @simoneziaziaris on Instagram.