Home Tour: Living with 3 Teenagers in a 2 bedroom Apartment

Sharing our home in a series of posts on the blog the last few weeks. Not included in the tour: our kitchen and bathrooms – they are straight up boring but you can see our super tiny kitchen here. The final installment: but what about the teen years?

The oft heard phrase I hear when people find out we have three children and live in a two bedroom apartment and that we hope to stay in this space is: just wait until they are teenagers! In fact there were some funny and informative comments of that exact nature in a few posts in this series. Carmen told me I may want to move out when the boys hit the teen years because of the smell. Maybe that is the solution? I rent a small apartment in my building during their teens years? Strangely enough there is a family in our building with that exact set up. Parents have one apartment and the teen/early college boys have another.

Don’t worry, we are both scared and daunted by the idea of our three boys – likely to be in the very tall range – living in this small-ish space with us. Scared but also aware that we have some choices.

One choice would be to rent a townhouse or upper portion of a house for three to five of the high school years. I think this is becoming a very acceptable idea in Vancouver’s crazy real estate market. Buy a home that works for most of your life, rent somewhere for the relatively small window where it doesn’t work. This would also give us more options for choosing a high school that has programs our children are interested in and a neighborhood that is walkable and has all the amenities we need and enjoy. I like this idea and I think it could work very well. The downside of course would be the hassle of moving and the increased cost. Plus, renting has some drawbacks in that you could lose your lease or the owner could sell and then you are stuck with the expense and hassle of moving again. We’d also pay tax on the rental income from renting out our home plus continue to pay condo strata fees each month and of course any repairs to our home. A townhouse or part of a house would also rent for more than what our apartment would rent for. This choice would significantly increase our cost of living for the duration.

Another choice, one that I also like very much, is to invest in some space saving furniture and renovations to create more space and privacy for teens and parents. Our space usage is terribly inefficient right now: our kids go to bed early and are small. We haven’t needed to increase our efficiency and make rooms multi-purpose because right now it works. Besides the baby sleeping in a portable crib in the office each night, most of our rooms are single purpose. But I can see that older bigger children will want more privacy and our small second bedroom won’t be a comfortable space for three teen boys.

And as someone who experienced having her own bedroom for the first time my sophomore year of college, I would like to give them their own space for some of their teen years. The great thing is, we can actually do that even in our small space. It will take some work and some money but investing in furniture and some small renovations is cheaper than moving and renting a bigger home for three to five years or selling and buying a bigger home.

Here are some of my favorite ideas for making our two bedroom apartment work for a family of five that includes three teenage boys.

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Master bedroom becomes younger children’s bedroom and parents take the smaller second bedroom. Our master bedroom is large for a condominium and fits a king sized bed. We could move all the kids in there in the next two or three years and then our oldest could have the den/office as his own room later on. Double wall bunk beds would greatly increase the floor space – I’ve linked to a few options below.

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Photo credit Resource Furniture

 

Second bedroom becomes the parent’s room. We move down to a queen sized bed and perhaps even a fold down queen size bed with a desk. When our oldest moves into the office the second bedroom works nights as parents room and days as a home office. 5kids1condo has this set-up with a fold down bed that is a desk during the day and it means his master bedroom can be used 24 hours a day instead of the usual 8-9.

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Photo credit Costco.ca

Our little office/den becomes the oldest child’s room. It’s a very small room but it can fit a twin bed, perhaps Murphy style with a desk attachment. From memories of my teen years I know that getting your own space is worth it even if it’s a very small space. When he moves out the next in line gets it, we move back into the master bedroom and then the two children still at home each have their own room.

The closets in our home are very small but I recently saw a smart idea from fellow Vancouverite Alison who writes at 600sqft.com (lovely blog! go check it out) about a small renovation that increased their closet storage space. A light went on for me – we could do this with our few and small closets too. So to keep up with the increasing size of the kid’s clothes we could knock the headers of the closets out and have more usable space. If we can keep all or most of the clothing in the closets we can have fewer dressers and more floor space. Which will be needed with five people in the 6ft to 6’5″ or taller range sharing 1100 square feet.

Our beloved IKEA Stockholm sofa could be traded in for a sectional. Not a chance it can seat what will be five adults. We’ll get something larger, give up our side table and maybe I will finally have a coffee table once there are no crazy toddlers in the house. The dining room table that now sits in a four person configuration will expand to it’s six person configuration permanently.

We put up a sliding barn door or put a wall with door up to divide our living room from the two bedrooms. This would create a better sound barrier between the living room and more privacy for our main bathroom.

Another way to create more privacy: spend less time at home. I know this sounds a bit strange but hear me out. I’m hoping my teens are fairly independent and that due to our proximity to so many things, including transit, they can manage their own lives and schedules without mom and dad chauffeuring them around. With so much at their door step I expect they will spend some evenings studying at the Vancouver Public Library a few blocks away, playing pick up basketball at the local outdoor courts or at the Community Centre, swimming in our condo pool downstairs or at evening band practice at the high school that’s a 20 minute walk or eight minute bus ride away. Or working their part-time evening and weekends job at a local coffee shop. Yes, this is a small space for two adults and three teenagers but one of the reasons we live down here is that we have a lot of public space and amenities close by. Our living room is limitless if we think of all the options in a few blocks radius to us to study, meet up with friends, read a book or listen to music.

Are you living in your ‘forever’ home or will you need to upsize or downsize as you age or your family grows/shrinks?

Home Tour: Master Bedroom & Office

 

Showing you our minimalist-ish two bedroom apartment for a family of five in this series. You can see all the posts here.

This is the most wasteful room in our home. But I love it. Our king sized bed is a space hog and a real luxury for an apartment dwelling family. We still have the occasional night where a kid or baby is sleeping between us and weekend mornings where all five of us are piled into bed together. Plus my husband is 6’5″ and I’m 6 feet tall. Big people love big beds.

Wasted and inefficient space usage gives us a lot of hope for the future. It means we can create more space without moving. Rooms can become multi-purpose, we can invest in some stowaway furniture, mix up who sleeps where or works where and create more kid friendly play space and, later, more teen friendly spots for privacy.

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King bed, one nightstand (only room for one) and a dresser are all that we have in this room. While it is a big room there aren’t that many spots for placing furniture: the closet, two doors (one to the ensuite) and the floor to ceiling windows that wrap around one side limit our furniture placement options. There is a nook in one corner that could be useful for a desk someday for older kids but we will have to get creative and likely invest in some wall bunk beds when we move all three kids in here.

The laundry bag on a hook over the door was a gift for my husband last Christmas (lost the battle with him on no laundry hampers) Sometimes the kids table and chairs live in the corner nook if our toddler is in a climbing it phase or if one of the other kids wants to draw/build/do in peace. Having free floor space comes in handy for creating impromptu work areas and solutions for infrequent or temporary needs. I’ll share our future planning in another post but I think with a light renovation on the closet in this room we could do away with the dresser and be able to store all of our clothing and household linens in the closet.

 

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Our master bedroom is very simple and I haven’t put much on the walls. I think our three kids could be in here sooner than I have planned and that has held me back from decorating. Plus, when I am in here and not sleeping I am reading. A book and this night view is really all I need to enjoy this space.

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The second most wasteful room in our home is the office. Another good sign for making this home work for us in the years to come. We’ve been living here for almost a year and I still haven’t decided on what or if we should put a book shelf or storage unit in the office.

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This room is south facing and it’s a challenging space to use. It’s very hot in the summer and the light in the afternoon makes it very hard to work on a computer. I’ve turned the desk around a full 360 degrees to find the right spot and nothing works for the full day. In the evening our youngest sleeps in here in a portable crib so if I face the desk to the large window it makes it very awkward to bring the crib in with enough room for the large glass door that opens inward. Eventually this will be our oldest’s bedroom and eventually my work space will be in my bedroom so I haven’t felt compelled to figure out a better solution or invest in furniture or black out shades or screens. If I’m working in the afternoon I just move to my bedroom and use my dresser as a standing desk.

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Everyone has a place or room they throw stuff to deal with later – even me the minimalist-ish mom – and for my family this is the office. I have a box with a kite to be repaired, small electronics to sell or recycle and the Hungry Hippo game that we’re trying to keep out of our baby’s sight line (he loves the small red plastic balls for the game). There are three picture frames I haven’t put up since we moved and this foam dinosaur construction kit thing that the oldest got as a gift that we started but haven’t finished (it has dozens of tiny foam pieces that our youngest would love to eat so we have it stowed in here to keep him out of it). The desk drawers quickly accumulate things and I find myself sorting through them every other month to return Lego bits to their proper home and recycle old school notices and receipts. Our office is definitely the family clutter hot spot. I’ve spared you the photos but know that it is there!

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The office also doubles as the baby’s room at night right now. It works quite well as the older two are staying up a bit later now that it’s so light out. Does he look like he minds sleeping in an office in a portable crib with no nursery to call his own?

As I have said before, it’s a positive that we are using two of our rooms inefficiently. It means we have room to grow in this space.

Are you using any rooms in your home inefficiently? Do you have single purpose rooms that only get occasional use like a home office or guest bedroom?

Home Tour: One Bedroom For Three Boys

Sharing our home in this series on the blog. More here and here.

Three boys. One bedroom.

My best tip for making a small space work for three kids isn’t a design hack or even a space creator like having less stuff. My best tip for making our small space work for three kids is this: get outside. We don’t have a yard nor space to have an indoor mini tramp or rec room you could play soccer in. Our home has to meet our big needs – place to sleep, relax and dine – but it can’t meet all of our needs. We can’t own all the toys or all the books. So we let the library and our friends and the tot drop in at the Community Center own and store a lot of toys and books that we use on site or borrow for a few weeks. Grandma has the water guns and the mini soccer goals and big remote control cars at her house. If you don’t have an attic or garage or basement you are forced to just own what you use most of the time and find other ways to enjoy your occasional toys and activities.

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Technically this room houses three but at the moment the youngest sleeps in the office in a portable crib but plays and has his toys and clothing stored in this room. Our plan is for the three boys to share this room for the next two to three years and then do some shuffling to give them more space.

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The IKEA hack toddler bunk beds (originally our neighbor’s 5kids1condo.com) are fantastic space savers. Our older two – age 6 and age 3 – fit nicely in them. I won’t disclose too much about the design (because it’s not mine and I don’t want to be sued!) but this is two IKEA Gulliver beds stacked on each other with four supports keeping them together and a custom ladder. It’s very sturdy and we all love it.

On the other side of the room we have a play corner centered around the ubiquitous IKEA Expedit unit. I try to keep the toy collection contained to just these boxes plus another box in the living room but I will confess there is a Paw Patroller and Air Patroller out of view. The boxes: two are full of wooden trains and train set pieces, the rest is Duplo, Lego, dress up clothing, wooden puzzles and some Hot Wheels cars and tracks. We cull the toys a few times a year via the methods in Simplicity Parenting. Some of the books are displayed on picture rails that just fit in next to the closet and there are more books stacked around the house.

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The small but deep closet in the kid’s room holds two IKEA units for clothing. Sometimes I KonMari all the clothing… sometimes the three year old pulls all of it out looking for his pajamas (they were on his bed). Sometimes the baby pulls all the clothing out just because it’s fun. So yes, I don’t KonMari their clothing frequently. I have a rule that if the clothing can’t fit in unfolded then we need to pare it down.

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The rug is very second hand Pottery Barn and was incredibly dirty when I got it. A number of runs with the Dyson later it’s nubby and worn but pretty clean. The little chairs can fit at our kid’s table to increase our hosting options.

A big comfy reading chair that the kids could sit in with me would be nice. But it would eat a lot of floor space and make the room feel crowded. Instead I sit on the carpet or the kids come into our bed or we all sit on the living room couch. When the kids are waking each other up or pestering each other and not falling asleep I think it would be nice for them to have their own rooms. I’m not immune to the “wouldn’t it be nice to have” thoughts but when I go there, and I do go there, I then try to remind myself what the nice to haves come with: eventually feeling squeezed out of our small-ish home.

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What about when they’re teens? It wasn’t until second year university that I first experienced having my own bedroom. Oh how I loved it. The privacy and the ability to decorate and do as I please was such a luxury. I would really like our children to have a year or two of their own bedroom in their teen years. Which is why if we stay in this home we will do a room shuffle every few years so each boy can have a year or two of high school with his own bedroom. Here’s another “it would be nice to have”: It would be nice that they spend enough time sharing a bedroom with a sibling(s) that they learn how to navigate the rough and calm waters of living with people and also, that they really appreciate having their own bedroom when it finally happens.

Did you share a bedroom growing up? When did you first have your own bedroom? I feel like most kids these days don’t have to share but I like the skills learned from negotiating with a sister over what poster goes on the wall and who gets the top drawer.

Home Tour: 1 couch for 5 people

This is what my living and dining room look like when they’ve been picked up and children are not around. I write that caveat in because many days this place looks like we’ve been robbed and the thieves emptied the place looking for an illusive piece of Lego.

When we first moved into this home almost seven years ago we filled the living room and dining room. We had a couch, arm chair, coffee table, huge IKEA expedit entertainment and storage unit, a storage chest, dining table and chairs and a large storage cabinet for wedding china, wine glasses and such. Sure, everything fit into the space but looking back at the photos, and remembering how it felt to live there, the room felt heavy and crammed. When I was struck by the decluttering bug in the fall of 2010 I gave away the storage chest and cleared out a lot of what was stored in the IKEA expedit unit. Six months later we sold everything and moved overseas (it felt amazing to own no furniture!). Moving back four years later I knew that although we had added two more people to the family, we didn’t need all of the furniture we had before.

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This time around we skipped the big storage/entertainment unit and got two smaller pieces from IKEA. The bottom unit holds kids drawing items, games and puzzles on one side and the other side isn’t very full and holds some books and a few random decor pieces that we are trying to keep out of the baby’s reach. The shelving that is above the TV is storage for some electronic items and memorabilia.

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At one point we did have an arm chair but it wasn’t getting a lot of use, was bright red and we had received it basically for free while getting a grouping of second hand items. I gave it away and the space feels the better for it. When we need more living room seating we pull one of the dining room chairs over – the upholstered ones are actually quite comfortable. For now all five of us can sit on the couch together comfortably and the kids often prefer to sit on the floor to read or play or watch a movie anyways. In trying to live a life where my home functions for 90% of my needs, instead of 100%, we don’t have a second couch for guests. We do have visitors and we can fit three adults on the couch, with the dining seating another four seats and I can bring in the chair from the office. We had a birthday party here with ten or so adults and fifteen kids and we made do just fine with the seating.

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Our dining table has seen better days but was a good second hand deal and works with our space. Most of the time it sits in this compact square configuration leaving us a lot of floor space. When we have people over we take one or both of the leaves out, add in the office chair, pull out the kids table and party! *The kids table and chairs are actually my husband’s from his childhood. They rotate around our place for kid work/dining surface where needed. Currently they are ‘locked up’ in the master bedroom because the not quite 18 month old likes to stand on the table. If it’s a larger group than we have seating for we do two dinner shifts, kids eat first and go off and play while the adults eat. In a pinch we also throw down our picnic blanket and kids eat picnic style. Who doesn’t love an indoor picnic?

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Again, less furniture makes this room more livable. At another time I would have put a big book case along the wall where the kids table is and a china cabinet across the back wall of this room. Coffee table, add in a big arm chair or even a love seat, and this room has a lot less space to move in. We will have to make some adjustments when the kids are older and bigger – that couch isn’t going to hold all of us! – but I hope they are small. Plus if we are living in the city with teens I am expecting that they make use of the community centre, library and parks independently in the evenings. As Miss Minimalist says, “in pursuing a minimalist lifestyle, we must resist the temptation to recreate the outside world within our abodes.”

Next up: kids’ bedroom.

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.

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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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