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Fitting families into smaller spaces

Two people can live as cheaply, and in as little space, as one. One bedroom for two people just makes sense for us.

Families, however,  need private space for their children — and space is at a premium whether you live in a condo or a small house.

When I was a child, lo these many years ago now, my sister and I shared a room for many years with bunk beds.  Eventually we had our own rooms, small spaces but completely our own with our own closets, dressers, desks and beds. But putting two children into one room is possible — and many people are doing it with style.

Apartment Therapy has some great ideas for when two children have to share one room:

Some people like to give the children identical spaces.


This room is for two sisters.  In another space (below) shelves hold the personal belongings of each child, even though the spaces look identical.


Good use of vertical spaces.

Sometimes the different spaces are indicated by colour or pattern:



And sometimes a single room can be divided by shelves or wardrobes (I did this when my kids were small and sharing a bedroom):



And you can even put up a physical barrier in the room to split it.  If the kids get along well, a curtain will be fine.


But sometimes an actual barrier will serve the purpose better (I think my sister and I would have needed something like this):


This is a good idea if one person is a neatnik and the other not so much.

Even if you can have one bedroom per child, a small space means the play area and the sleeping area can overlap.  From this Houzz Tour we see how this family fits four bedrooms into 1500 square feet.  The kids’ rooms are very small, but have beds that fold up into the wall to create more floor space for play:

Contemporary Kids by Inglewood Architects & Designers (fer) studio
Contemporary Kids by Inglewood Architects & Designers (fer) studio
The little boy’s bed is hinged at the side, like a Murphy bed; the little girl’s is hinged along the side, like a Pullman bed.
Fitting more people into less space is kind of a mission with me.  I’m glad to see these stylish and comfortable options for families living in small homes.



Springing ahead

Well, despite what good old nurturing Mother Nature is doing to various parts of the country, here in Vancouver it is definitely spring.

Last weekend I did my spring planting.  And I also checked out out shrubs to make sure there were little buds on their bare limbs ready to turn into leaves.

But what about inside?  What’s springing up there to make us think the season has finally changed?

Cushion covers for our sofa — nice green with dots.

Our cozy corner

Our cozy corner

Plus a little round tray for setting your coffee upon (ottoman doubles as a coffee table).

To finish the look, a bowl with the same green for fresh fruit and matching linens.

What other ideas can we provide for freshening your decor?

Well, you can start small with placemats and napkins. Here’s a set from Style at Home’s website.

Spring napkins

Those would brighten your table — and look great with your winter-white china.

To change out a whole room in one go you could paint an accent wall or follow SAH’s advice and apply a wall decal.

Spring decal

Centsational Girl added some coral cushions to the cool grey of her front room, then created some artwork to match!

Spring sofa

She painted that simple botanical above the seat, and some colour-matched abstracts to pull the colour into other areas of the room.

Spring abstracts

Apartment Therapy reminds us that rain also means rainbows. In accessories.

Spring cushion


And art:

Spring art


If you’ve been living with winter for a while be sure to start your re-newal with a good spring cleaning, open the windows, bring in some greenery and celebrate.

It’s Spring!

No new (stuff) is good news

Last week we went through our belongings in our storage locker and renewed our pledge to live with less.  It just makes sense.

But how do you resist the lure of retail?  After all, temptation is all around us — we see new and shiny things (or in my case, old and patinaed things); advertising is everywhere reminding us that we NEED NEW STUFF.

At this point it's mostly toys anyway, isn't it?

At this point it’s mostly toys anyway, isn’t it?

In the nick of time comes two articles from Apartment Therapy to help strengthen our resolve to fill up our lives with useless items.

First of all, avoid the idea that you are missing out on a bargain if you don’t buy that particular shirt or shoes or chatchka.

1. Avoid high pressure sales tactics.

We’ve all done it, gone into a shop for one thing and felt the pressure from the sales staff to get more.  Hey, it’s their job to sell you stuff.  But it’s not a personal rejection if you don’t submit to their wiles.  It’s your job to stick to your original plan.

Don’t have an original plan? Well,

2. Keep a list

You should always be aware of what you need, and what you buy frequently.  If you don’t keep a list in your head you may find yourself prey to the next item.

3. Avoid impulse buys.

You’ve got a shopping cart (in real life or online). Why not just slip in a couple of things that are on sale but are not exactly what you need RIGHT NOW?  Don’t do it.  You will regret that expensive impulse when you get the items home.  You know you will.  And if you bought it on sale you may not be able to return it.

4. Check the measurements and read the product info and reviews.

One of the great advantages of shopping online is being able to read the product reviews.  Those have saved me from many a foolish expenditure.  In a retail store be sure to check out the size on the package or you’ll come home with sheets that won’t fit your extra-thick queen mattress.

5. Eliminate temptation.

When we were stocking the laneway I subscribed to several on-line shopping services.  They were great when I knew I needed one white duvet and two sets of white queen sheets.  I was able to compare and was quite happy with the deals I got by waiting and checking often.

But I don’t need them any more.  There will come a time when I have to replace the sheets/towels, and I’ll subscribe again.  But right now I do not want to see a supermarket of attractive items coming through my inbox and tempting me to purchase them.

Maybe you know you have to buy a new shirt or blouse in an exact colour.  Find a sample of that colour and carry it with you to the stores.  It’s a reminder that you need THAT particular item and nothing else.

Yesterday DH and I took a little walk along Main Street, looking for a particular item.  I had a fabric swatch of the cushion covers I am making and we needed a little tray in a matching tone to sit on our ottoman and serve as a coffee table.  We whisked through second hand stores and thrift shops, zipping through in minutes because we knew exactly what we were looking for.  (We found it, BTW in the Vancouver General Thrift Shop for 50 cents).

So we’ve safely navigated the swamp of retail stores as far as impulse buying goes — what about the danger of (dun dun DUNNNNNN) Stocking up.

We can’t do it here.  We just don’t have the room for a giant case of paper towels or toothpaste.  So this article in Apartment Therapy speaks to us in the dulcet tones of truth. When you have limited room and are not expecting the apocalypse, store it at the store. What could be standing in your way?

Roadblock 1: Buy more, save more

You can save money on large quantities of things like paper and laundry products.  But we know well how much storage costs — we are paying for a storage locker.  How foolish it would be to use our in-home storage for bathroom tissue rather than bringing our good crystal home from that expensive lock-up.

Roadblock 2: Convenience

We have to go to the grocery at least every other day — our little fridge doesn’t hold very much.  And that is fine with us, we are close to 3 major grocery stores, two of which offer clothing, housewares, and yes, small appliances.  So stocking up on the bulky stuff just does not make sense when we’ll be back buying milk tomorrow.

Roadblock 3: You Might Run Out 

Once again, see Roadblock 2 above.  We are close to the store.  Running out means literally running out — the stores are open early and close late.  Plus we keep an on-going list of what we need.  We usually buy replacements for our dishwasher detergent or toothpaste just before we run out — and of course our neighbours can always help us out.

I think it’s a good idea to borrow a concept from our Zen teachers, but instead of mindful meditation we practice mindful spending.

Gettin’ down with the downsizing

Last weekend DH and I fulfilled an epic quest — we moved from a 10 x 5 storage space to a 5 x 5 storage space.  So we started out with 1100 square feet plus a 5 x 8 storage locker and we are now living in our eensy laneway plus holding on to enough extra junk, er belongings to fill just 5 x 5 x 8 feet.  And of course the big plan is that we will eventually get rid of all that extra, er, belongings.


It was good to move it all box by box and take inventory.  We could see where the trims could be made, and we will make them.  We will not make the mistake we did with our old storage locker.  We will not stick stuff in little secret corners and forget about it for 11 years.  We will have to move the stuff at the front to find the stuff at the back so will mix the contents of the locker and gradually take out what we need, and get rid of the rest.

That’s the plan.

Because we are currently living with less, and loving it.  And I can tell you why. I could have thought of my own reasons, but why bother when Life Edited already lists 5 Reasons to Love Less.

1.Less is better for the planet.

It hurts to see how much we throw out.  And it doesn’t take much brain-power to see that the less you bring into your life the less you have to toss.  Less waste.

2. Less gets us into the present moment. Despite our best efforts to prove otherwise, humans cannot do more than one thing at a time; paying attention to one thing will inherently displace our ability to pay attention to another. When we have less in our lives, we can pay attention more fully to the fewer things we do have and enjoy them more.

That’s a little deep, but if we appreciate what we already have we are less inclined to be always seeking more.  And vice versa.

3. Less is easier to manage.

This is really coming across as we downsize our wardrobes.  We do the laundry a little more often and operate on a strictly restricted clothing rotation.  But it saves time and effort — as it does when we deal with fewer pots and pans and dishes, less linen.

4. Less is usually more interesting.

I get a slightly different take on this rule than the author.  S/he feels

Try less. Be unprepared. You might find yourself with a more interesting life.

But to me #4 means that you have fewer things so you have to make sure that they are the best things you can afford/find.  You can’t make do with inferior goods, you have to have exactly what you need.

And finally

5. Less helps us find out what is truly important.

To take it to the extreme, we’ve all seen those shows on hoarders, who collect cardboard and old newspapers with the same manic passion as they collect fine china or crystal.  They honestly cannot make the differentiation between items of real value and ….things. Detritus.

When you have less, you give everything more value, so you make sure it has real, extrinsic value aside from the intrinsic value we give it.

Now the secret will be to keep our promises to live with less.

We have made a good start.

Read the rest of this entry

5 ways the laneway life is changing us for the better

We’ve been living in our laneway for over three months now, time for the first inventory of how living here has changed our lives.  The differences are subtle, but telling.



I feel more in control of the changes in my life these days.  I’ve always been aware that I couldn’t complain about my job or my home because as an adult I had made every decision that had landed me where I am.  Of course those were always restricted by the available options, but it was my choices that had determined where and how I lived.

So I like to keep track of how these decisions have steered my life in slightly different directions. Since moving into our laneway,

1.  I know more about what’s going on. I never used to watch the news.  In the morning I was busy in the kitchen and bathroom getting ready for work.  In the evening I was busy making dinner in the kitchen.  Then I was in bed before the late night news.  But now I watch the news while I prepare breakfast and dinner — I’m paying more attention to it. Whether that’s better for my peace of mind or not, it’s probably much better for me.

2.  I like shopping again. I don’t buy as much stuff.  That was going to be a given.  Our cupboards and closets are full.  But I am pleasantly surprised how much more fun it is to go shopping.  For one thing I will not buy anything that is not exactly what I want and need.  You must have been poking around a store and thought “I could probably use one of those” or “I need something like that” then you get it home and put it away and forget about it because it’s not exactly what you needed, it’s just sort of what you needed.  No more of that.  If it’s not exactly what I need right now, I won’t buy it.

3. I enjoy mornings more.  In our condo the clothes closets and dressers were in our bedroom.  I get up earlier than DH, so I had to get everything ready the night before so I wouldn’t disturb him rooting around for the clothes I needed.  The door to the ensuite where I performed my morning toilette opened so that any light would shine right on his sleeping face.  Small things, I know, but now when I get ready in the mornings I can shut off the closet and bathroom with a sliding door, creating a little dressing area for myself (this isn’t a lucky fluke, BTW, our designer created this for us). That gives me a lot more options when I dress.

Plus the light pours into our upstairs even when the day is grey.  It makes it much easier to get up and go. That means the whole day gets off to a good start.

4. We are eating better.  I used to make up meal plans at the beginning of each month.  It meant we were not duplicating meals but it also meant we were getting into a rut.  We would do a big shop on the weekend because we had a big fridge and lots of cupboard space.  But now we have a tiny fridge we can’t fill it up with food we are not going to eat right away.  So we shop every day, luckily we are right down the street from three major grocery markets, and we are trying out new foods.  Polenta.  Kale.  Quinoa. Radiccio. Plus we don’t throw food out because there is no room for leftovers to become science experiments, they are used up within a few days. DH is anticipating grilling season (and his brand new natural gas barbecue).

5. I worry less.  Because there’s less for me to worry about.  It’s very odd.  The less I have, the happier I am or at least the greater my sense of satisfaction. Of course I don’t worry about our laneway home because everything is brand new, so I am not concerned about things breaking down. And since it was built specifically for our needs everything is right where we want it all the time. But experts at Baylor University have found that materialists — people who have to have things to be “happy” are less happy than other people because they have no gratitude. I am grateful every day for our home and our new life and that gives me a sense of satisfaction and, yes, happiness.

Who wants to live the small life?

Have I convinced you to live in a small house yet?  Lots of people love living the small life — and bring great gusto to it. And not just on mountain tops and deep in forests.  These people found smaller is better even in the biggest cities.

Designer and architect Rohan Walters built an 1100 square foot “Driveway House” in Toronto in a space that was just 12 by 40 feet.  Read more about it here where Humble Homes drew our attention to it.

The use of glass walls and frosted panels allow lots of light to penetrate into the interior of the home.


I particularly like how the electrical outlets are placed high on the walls along a silver-coloured strip.


And it’s super efficient, too, using as small an environmental footprint as it does a physical one.

In the heart of Paris, clever use of design by Julie Nabucet and Marc Baillargeon allow comfort and style in just 130 square feet. Thanks to Tiny House Talk for the heads up.


The bed pulls out from underneath the raised kitchen area.


And I love the bold touch of the red kitchen cabinets. This angle allows you to see how they’ve brought light into the kitchen through the clouded glass of the bathroom door.


Of course, there are lots of opportunities to create a great small space in New York City.  This Houzz story shows a 300 square-foot studio in Manhattan.  Are you expecting more sleek finishes and mid-century modern lines?  Nope, this space has gone all Boho in Soho. (Actually in the Upper East Side, but who could resist…?)

Eclectic Bedroom by Brooklyn Photographers Rikki Snyder
In decorating her studio, she was inspired by both New York City and rural Chilean Patagonia. She wanted to create an urban refuge but was also drawn to rough woods, thick wools and warm colors, which were naturally suited to the apartment’s existing brick wall.
Even this tiny NYC apartment shows us warm wood and rich textures.
This story from Life Edited shows how they’ve fit so much into the tiny area without looking cluttered or “stuffed”.
From Apartment Therapy we learn about another tiny home, right across the bridge in Brooklyn and just 460 square feet.  They have used light wood tones as well to make their house look warm and yet clean and elegant.
But the secret to living in such a small place is in building up.  Looking the other way in the suite we see how they have created a second story in their sleeping loft.
Lots of clever use of built-in storage, plus an office area tucked under the bed.
Big cities and small homes.  The perfect combination.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? And how many?

I ran across another great article on Life Edited, this time on household size.

All along I have touted laneway homes as a good method to increase the densification of neighbourhoods without changing their character.  These houses, by nature of their small size, will only house one or two people each.  What about the housing density of the rest of the neighbourhood?

Not this kind of housing density.

Not this kind of housing density.

We tend to frame the density issue in terms of housing size, because it’s easy to understand that big homes, as a rule, reduce overall density. But there is something else, just as important as housing size, that must be factored in to understand how density works, and that is household size.

The article quotes a paper in the online journal Population and Environment.  Looking at the population/housing ratio in the past 400 years,

the number of households grew faster than population size in every country and every time period. These findings suggest accommodating housing may continue to pose one of the greatest environmental challenges of the twenty-first century because the impacts of increased housing present a threat to sustainability even when population growth slows.

There are fewer people being born per capita, true, but

Progress made in curbing population growth, however, has not translated into reducing human
consumption of natural resources and impact on the environment.

Yikes!  Why?  Of course there are lots of reasons, and it’s not just because people are building larger homes (McMansions) for their smaller families.  People are also moving out of the family home at an earlier age.  The trend during the recent economic downturn for people to move back in with their parents after college is an anomaly, and probably will not be continued after the economy picks up again.  Also elderly people stay in their own homes longer rather than moving in with their families.  Plus they remain in their old family homes longer rather than moving to smaller ones.  There are other factors as well

The rising incidence of divorce also encourages increased household numbers. In the United
States, 15 % of all households had divorced heads in 2000 …. Although remarriage is common, the relatively high percentage of divorced households persists, and divorced households are 27–41 % smaller than married households

And that means?

From a more simplistic perspective, declining household sizes, from over 5 to approximately 2.5, will mean approximately twice as many houses will be needed per capita in any areas of the world yet to undergo the shift in household size.

Assuming that each of the additional households occupies a 210 m2 house (the average US
house size in 2002) (National Association of Home Builders 2004), then an additional
185,800 km2 of housing area would be required. This estimate may be conservative because land
area for household-related infrastructure (e.g., roads, yards, and retail) can require 2–4 times as
much land as the actual land used for the home …. Each of those houses would demand more household products and have lower efficiency of resource use per person because fewer people share goods and services in smaller households.

That’s why urban sprawl — taking more land to build more houses — will not solve all the problem.

One small caveat by Life Edited shows a glimmer of light in the tunnel of doom:

As a small space design blog, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that the amount of sprawl (i.e. the 72K sq miles) they calculate is based on a house size of 2509 sq ft–McMansions for all.

So smaller houses will help the problem well into the future.  And they give us a couple of options,

  1. Let things remain the same. Encroach on undeveloped lands and deplete all natural resources until the planet’s homeostatic environmental mechanisms are irrevocably destroyed.

  2. Reverse demographic shifts away from industrialization, the desire for privacy, divorce and so forth.

  3. Rethink housing. Adjust housing style to meet demographic shifts. Have smaller, more efficient houses with shared amenities. Creatively subdivide existing housing. Mitigate sprawl by keeping density high, even outside of major metropolises, permitting walk/bike/public transportation-friendly living.

That last choice seems the best to me.

Itty bitty bedrooms

Our builder is back today, finishing up (we hope) the last bit of work before the room is absolutely complete (no pix till it’s perfect).  The bedroom is definitely the smallest one I’ve ever had in a home — just wide enough for our queen size bed plus one small chair.  But I think it’s the perfect size for us — we love it. And we’ve even included some kitschy 50s-style touches to make it completely our own.

I’ve always known that other people have small bedrooms, and I’ve wondered how they managed.  So off to Apartment Therapy to look at what others have done with their tiny sleeping rooms.

First, some parameters, I was interested in areas that could sleep two adults — I know you can tuck a child’s crib into any corner, but that wasn’t going to help me.  Plus, it had to be set off from the main living space in some way, not just part of a studio apartment.  And I found some real winners — and inspiration.



This all-white room still manages to get that punch of colour with the wall-papered back wall.  And the kitchen cupboards set high bring in more storage while not intruding.



This all-white room grounds itself with the darker bedskirt — and brings texture in with that lovely heirloom coverlet.



This room is really tiny, but the high ceiling could make you think you’re sleeping in the bottom of a box!  It’s the light walls and minimal textures (just the brick wall) that make it a comfortable space.





By keeping the accessories in this room light and bright it manages to look cute but not cluttered.  And the shelf beside the bed means no need for a nightstand (spoiler alert–that’s what we did in our room).

But just because a bedroom is eensy doesn’t mean it can’t be dark and dramatic.



This narrow room has the bed pushed against one wall as we’ve seen in some of the other rooms, and thus has gained space for an unobtrusive night table.  But it’s that bright pop of wall colour repeated in the coverlet and that dramatic light fixture that makes it special.



The dark colours in the wall really bring the drama to this small bedroom.  Very clever use of colour, see how the ombre wood of the bed is picked up in the mustard tones of the wall-sized painting?  Plus the little punch around the white pillow also picked up in the quilt hanging over the foot of the bed.  Even the window trim is that same tone.  Very clever.

And as we have seen, even the smallest spaces can be dramatic.



This home is basically a studio apartment, but the owner has taken what might have been left as storage space and managed to fit a bed into it.  what makes it a bed ROOM is the dark blue wall colour, so different from the light tones of the rest of the space.  Here’s another look at it:



Glossy wall paint reflects the overhead bulb and the wall-mounted bed lamp.

Lots of ideas that show that clever always trumps large when it comes to decorating — and small is beautiful.

Affordability? It’s a relative thing.

The news this week is that Vancouver housing prices are the 2nd most unaffordable in the world.  The prices are not necessarily the 2nd most expensive in the world, just when compared to what you could earn if you move here from another large city.  We are hit with the double whammy of pricey real estate and lower wages.  Or, as Tsur Somerville of the Sauder School of Business at UBC says,

“Places that have a lot of amenities and are places that people really want to live, pushes up house prices, but also lowers wages, and employers are paying people less who are willing to take a lower paying job to be there. So you get a higher price-to-income ratio.”

I don’t ski on the local mountains in the winter, I don’t wake board in the local waters in summer.  I live in Vancouver because my family is here.  So I’m paying for those amenities that draw people to the area even if I don’t use them.  But we have found a way to live in a comfortable home — our laneway house.  It’s the smallest place we’ve ever lived in, but for us it’s a perfect solution to the dilemna.

I don’t expect you to wander the streets until you find a nice yard and ask the people if you can build a laneway house in their garden — laneway living is one solution, it’s not the only solution to the housing squeeze in the Metro Vancouver area.

The sad truth is that if you move to Vancouver you are going to be paying more — maybe a lot more — for housing than you would in another city, which means you will probably have to downsize (one bedroom to studio, etc.).  But there are still ways to make an attractive and comfortable home with less space.

Today we have a few ideas for living comfortably in a studio apartment.  They are sometimes called bachelor suites — another term for a separate dwelling with its own bathroom and kitchen facilities, but no separate bedroom.

If you’ve some funds, you can get some swell built-ins to add to your space. From Life Edited, here’s a suite in Warsaw, Poland for a mother, her son, and a dog. It’s just 237 square feet.



the suite has “normal” height walls, it’s great to see someone doing something up high in that limited space.

In Barcelona, this bachelor completely built-in his life into this 258 square foot suite:

With bachelor suites you may not want to hide your bed away, but rather make it a focal point:


See the rest of this sweet suite at Apartment Therapy.

But Isabelle LaRue completely transformed her studio space with some clever hacks:

Isabelle is loaded with talent that way — check our her blog at Engineer Your Space.  But you could incorporate a lot of her ideas into your studio even if you are not as handy (maybe you have a few handy friends?).

Here’s another way people divided their space to get a private bedroom:


There’s more ideas on fitting a bedroom into a living room here.

The lesson I’m trying to jam down your throat here is that even if living smaller is not by choice (if, for example you have to live in a city with a tight housing market — I’m talking to you Hong Kong!) — you can still find a way to live comfortably in less space.

As I repeat — Small is the new Black.

Skip to my loo

I love our new bathroom.  Although it’s not really a bath-room, as we don’t have a tub, just a glorious, tiled shower with a rain head.

(Pictures?  Not yet.  Although the bathroom is nearly finished, we still have a couple of things that have to be fixed, and I won’t take pictures until it’s perfect.  Just take my word on this for now).

And we have surprising amounts of storage in the bathroom.  Our designer gave us, not only a Godmorgen sink and drawers

godmorgon-edeboviken-sink-cabinet-with--drawers__0172346_PE326412_S4which is super efficient, but she also carved a space for the Lilangen cabinet to sit inside a niche in the wall

lillangen-mirror-cabinet--doors--end-unit__0133086_PE288202_S4And she stacked two of them on one wall.  Giving us a full-length mirror and oodles of storage, with the mirrors flat against the rest of the wall.

You don’t need to have a small house to have a need of a small bathroom.  Who amongst you has ever wondered if you could get a shower into the same footprint as a powder room?  Have you never thought “it would be so handy to have a full bath right there?”

Well, there are ways of doing this. Houzz has 9 tips for fitting more into less space in the bath/shower room.

My favourite is the European style Wet Room.  The whole room is the shower.  All the surfaces will need to be wiped down after your shower, but if it’s a teeny room that’s not a big deal.

When inches count a wall-mounted toilet can really save space.

We couldn’t do it because our toilet is set against an outside wall (full of insulation, etc.) And we have a regular sink, not this eensy weensy one.

But that’s another way to save some space.  Apartment Therapy has some great little sinks — handsome, too!

ATBathroomSink1This one allows you to put a powder room under the stairs — great space saver.


No room for a toilet and a sink?  That’s what you think.

ATBathroomSink3Small space solutions.  Because small is the new black. (I just made that up but will be using it mercilessly in the future).

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