Home Tour: Living in a 2 bedroom apartment as a family of five

One of the many reasons we love our beautiful yet unaffordable city.

Wanna see what a two bedroom condo for a family of five looks like?

I’m sharing my home on the blog over the next little while inspired by the Design Mom series Living with Kids. No, I’m not a designer or artist as many of the parents featured in the Design Mom series are. This is a ‘real’ family home – not a design aficionados or style blogger’s. The kitchen and bathrooms are from 1994 and not in great shape. We’ve decided to put off renovating and focus paying our mortgage down faster and saving. Our home is focused on being simple and functional and my picture wall is a work in progress.

Living in a smaller home has been surprisingly easy for us. We’re very much used to this style of living with kid’s sharing bedrooms and rooms having a few purposes. There is no formal living room or precious kid-free area. I do discourage the kids from playing in our bedroom but even then, if my six year old wants to work on something without his little brothers sticking their hands into the mix, I’ll send him off to our bedroom for peace and quiet.

Our last home on the Isle of Man was roughly the same size as this one but spread over two floors and while there were some pros – kids rooms were away from the living room so no worries about noise waking them up – the con of treacherous Victorian stairs and having kids and babies way out of ear shot made me see that split level living wasn’t my favorite for this stage of life with little kids.

It’s more than enough this space. We’re actually using our 1100 square feet rather sloppily with the big master bedroom not getting a lot of use during the day and the office/den only being used for a few hours in the morning by me and then overnight as the baby’s room. You can see from the floor plan above that there is a lot of open floor space and we’ve made a conscious effort to have less furniture. There is room to move around and space to lay out long and complicated train tracks.

homefloorplan

There is very little closet space in this home. One of the reasons I may have felt so crammed and frustrated with this home when our first son was young is that there is very little storage space. You can see the closets marked off in yellow on the floor plan. Hallway closet for coats and shoes, very small closet in the boy’s room, modest sized closet in the master bedroom and that’s it. We have a small room off the kitchen that the washing machine and dryer are in but it has a huge hinged door to it that opens inward. The laundry closet stores hand-me-downs and seasonal decorations, a shelving unit for household sundries like cleaning products and our suitcases. There isn’t room for much else. Unlike our almost 600 sq ft condo that we lived in prior to this home, there is no walk-in closet or condo storage locker to hide your stuff away to.

This condo looks and operates better with less furniture. Every room except the kitchen and bathrooms has at least one, sometimes two, walls that are floor to ceiling windows. Having furniture against a floor to ceiling window is not only awkward but it reduces the amount of natural light coming into the room. Natural light makes us happier and healthier condo dwellers. The floor to ceiling windows also make our rooms feel bigger than they are. If I lined the windows with dressers and furniture it would greatly reduce the enjoyment of living here.

The floor plan above and the photos I’ll share with you may not seem like much. I know for many families this is not a dream home. When we first moved in it wasn’t my dream home. The kitchen is very dated and claustrophobic. We don’t have a balcony. But a funny thing happened in the last few years: the real estate market went INSANE and I spent some time away from Vancouver.

Nothing about our home has actually changed but now, six and a half years after we moved into this condo, it is my dream home. I am so thankful we bought this home when we did: we couldn’t afford this unrenovated 1995 build two bedroom condo today. This humble little home in what is now one of the world’s most unaffordable cities to live in has increased in value by 45% since we bought it (30% of that in the last year alone). Yikes. Lucky we didn’t sell back in 2011.

After being away from this city and neighborhood I can appreciate what a wonderful place this is to live. Parks and the water and amenities and galleries and concerts and bike paths and friends and neighbors all right here in this small corner of the city. Not to mention the biggest one: family! We have a great life here.

More to come with photos of IKEA toddler bunk beds, an office that also works as a nursery and how we’re planning for a future with three teenagers in a small space.

P.S. If you are curious about simple city living with kids I listened to a great Tsh Oxenrider  The Simple Show podcast on the weekend featuring Kristen Kill: mom of 4, soon to be 5, in NYC. Her four kids share one bedroom and she has lots of great anecdotes about how they and their neighbors make small space living work.

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  • Very excited for this series! I have two kids and we live in a 2 bedroom condo. We have sort of the opposite situation about why we’re still living here: we bought at the height of the housing market in the states. We’re not underwater anymore, but we still don’t have enough equity to sell, despite living in the condo for a decade! Still, we make it work, and it’s amazing how efficient you can be in a small space with kids. And I also totally love them being within earshot no matter where we are, and that I never had to worry about baby proofing stairs!

  • I always love posts like this about how real people live and make things work. Thanks for sharing! Do you think you’ll end up with the kids in the master at some point?

    • That is the phase 2 plan in the next 2-3 years. Phase 3 is the oldest gets the office as a bedroom and we use the small second bedroom as a master/parent bedroom and office. Constant change :)

  • Oh, I’m so excited about this series! We have a family of 5 in about 1300 sq ft. I really think it’s just right, and we’re lucky to have neighbors who are doing similar things, but there are times that it seems a little nuts. (We’re outside of Dallas where 2000-2500 sq ft for a family of 4 is normal.) So, I’ll be using you for stick-to-your-guns inspiration. Looking forward to it!

  • It’s interesting to see how other people make smaller spaces work. We have a house, but we rent out the entire basement, so we have the same square footage of living space as you, then a leaky garage where we can store things that can tolerate dampness. I have been trying to get rid of stuff for YEARS, because our place feels so cluttered but it’s hard to find time to do it & hard to let stuff go sometimes.

    • Yes we talk to many Vancouver families that own homes and most of them are living in a similar or smaller space to ours because they rent out part of their house. Everyone is squeezed in this city.
      Agreed: clearing stuff out is a time and emotional suck. I did the bulk of ours while on maternity leave and it was basically a part-time job.
      P.S. My Yuba is stuck in customs… cannot wait!

  • I love this post. I am in a similar position that I bought my flat in a fashionable area of Jerusalem in 2001 when it was still relatively cheap but could never have afforded it now. I am trying to cut down on furniture. It’s not that I have so much stuff but that so much of it is in furniture sets and I find it hard to get rid of one piece from a set because they go together. Silly really but you have inspired me with this post.

    • Oh I understand about furniture sets. We split up a big bedroom set – bed, night stands, two dressers, bench – way back when we were decluttering. I was lucky that we sold most of the pieces in one go – I think we only kept the bed and night stands (later we sold those too when we moved overseas). Good luck!

  • I think ur home is just fabulous! I try and make people understand, more space isn’t always what is needed. When we bought our home we bought the worst home in the best neighborhood (there are 2 where we live) and we thot we would be able to have more children. I have learned through living here for 9 yrs that we waste about half the space we have (our home is 2400′ and we truly use 1200′) and even that i think i over estimated. I love everything about our home and property except how large it is, but the pro’s outweigh that con, so we will stay.

    • Turn part of the house into a rental suite and retire early? 😉 So true we use very little of our homes over the course of a day yet we pay for all of that space!

  • I prefer small homes. Since you mentioned that the master bedroom sits empty most of the day, have you considered switching room when the baby is older? Giving the three boys the bigger room might make better use of the space.

    • Yes our plan for 2-3 years ahead is to move all the kids into the master. And after that I think we will let the oldest have the small office/den. For now we arent’ feeling cramped at all. A good sign because these kids will get a lot bigger and we will have to make some adjustments (more on those plans later in the series).

  • I NEEDED this post/series today! We are in a similar boat – 3 bedroom house with three kids, bought before the market soared, love our house and neighborhood but we have been feeling cramped. We’ve looked into adding onto the house but something is whispering “no” to me! Can’t wait to hear about your ideas to live with three teenagers. Thanks!!!

  • Yay! Thanks for comments here, and I look forward to reading your post on Design Mom. We just found out that we have to move (again). The house we’ve been living in this year has been a beautiful 100-year-old house, but it’s HUGE by our standards (well over 2,500 feet). After having lived in 550 feet about 2 years ago, having space has been nice, but it’s been a bit too much. The rental market in this town means that our budget will limit us to something about the size of your condo, and we’re looking forward to going smaller again. I enjoy having less to clean and being closer to napping babies (3rd is arriving any day).

  • We’re also 5 in a 2 bedroom condo :) We moved the kids to the master bedroom where they have plenty of space to play and my husband and I moved to the smaller room. We weren’t using all that space anyway so it’s worked out pretty well and everyone is comfortable.

    • That’s our plan in the next two or three years. :) I’m hoping it coincides with fewer night visits from our kids because we won’t be able to fit the space hogging king bed in the smaller bedroom.

  • Sounds like you have it all under control! Fun to read about and looking forward to seeing pictures. (Also, I really like seeing the floor plan. Thanks for including it.)

    In the “it’s all relative” category: You mention that you kitchen and bathrooms are from 1994. Our house was built in 1907. The kitchen and baths were updated, but long, long ago. The kitchen was remodeled in the early 1970s and the two bathrooms in the 1940s or ’50s. So having a kitchen and baths dating from the mid-90s seems quite new by comparison. (But I don’t doubt that they are “not in great shape,” as you say.) :-)

    • Yes the construction was really poorly done for our bathrooms and kitchen. I’ve been into other condos of a similar vintage to ours and they are still in good shape. Bathrooms from the 40s and 50s! You’ve got me beat. :)

  • What are your secrets to getting your boys to go to sleep and not mess around after lights out? Our three boys are in one room and, lately, “lights out” equals crazy time to them. They sound like they’re having fun and it’s so cute but the older two have to get up earlyish for school and the younger one wakes up early too (despite the late shenanigans). We try and put them to bed earlier but it’s hard (they go to bed by 8-8:30) especially when big brother knows how to tell time :(

    • Really looking forward to this as well! When I first started down the path of minimalism I just wanted to know what it LOOKED LIKE for a family. I found many articles on the theological side but at the end of the day just really wanted to know how many forks a family of six really needed 😉

      • Whoops, didn’t mean that as a reply! Although Kara, we have our oldest three in one room (ages 6,4,3) and put a baby monitor in it so that we could hear the slightest noises and would go in right away because, like yours, our oldest complained about not being able to get to sleep with the others talking. We’re definitely the strictest at bedtime, no talking for any reason. Now we don’t even turn the monitor on and don’t have any problems :)

    • It’s harder right now with it being lighter later but they are mostly good about bed time: they get to take a few books into bed with them and that seems to help. If they are having a bad evening one of them goes to our room and we move him into his bed later once he’s asleep. We also have reward charts for staying in bed so that is motivating. Boys room coming up in a few posts!

  • I love this post and the ideas shared. We live in a 3 bedroom house with 6 children. Our master functions as my office and the baby sleeps in the same room with us. We make it work, but I am always looking for new ideas.

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