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Creating a Family-Friendly Living Space

Living in a condo with four kids

Silicon Valley has one of the world’s highest costs of living. So, when we moved here, we jumped at the chance to get into a (much more affordable than other options) condo owned by Mike’s employer. We didn’t even see it before agreeing to live there, but it had MORE square footage to our little ranch in Massachusetts, so we figured we could easily make it work as our home. Now it is working great – but it took some creativity to get there! Sometimes creating a family-friendly living space means thinking outside the blueprint.

When we moved in, we set things up mostly by following the condo blueprint. That approach seems logical enough, but the condo was designed to be lived in by a couple with one, maybe two children – preferably older children. The main living area was a lot smaller than our previous home, because bedrooms were larger and there were three full-sized bathrooms instead of one and a half small ones (our Massachusetts half bath was an incredibly tiny but very effectively used 3 by 4 feet). We also stored a lot of toys and food in our attached garage in Massachusetts. Here we have a garage, but it’s not by our condo – out of sight, even. The garage is a great storage space for our bikes (we park in a parking lot), but anything we use daily really needs to be in the house. Our larger-square-foot condo was feeling much smaller than our house, and up until Memorial Day weekend when Mike and I made a major overhaul, it usually looked a disaster zone – even though it isn’t THAT small.

Set your home up in a way that makes sense for your family

I’m not a neatnik, but I don’t like trying to get my toddler to eat solid food while she sees toys that she wants to play with EVERYWHERE. The dining room table would quickly become covered by toys between meals, and I missed having a space where I could sit and visit with friends.

Our condo has three bedrooms: a small downstairs bedroom that we were using as the computer room/library, the upstairs room our four kids sleep in, and a large master bedroom – also upstairs. The master bedroom was eating up a lot of our square footage, and we were hardly spending any time in there. It is also the only room in the house with a lot of natural light, and I am a natural light addict.

Thinking outside the box to make small space living work

After a lot of thought and discussion, we emptied out the library and turned it into a master bedroom. A very small master bedroom – we actually still keep our clothes upstairs so that we can use the closet in this room for coats and other things we want on the ground floor of the house. A small master bedroom that, it turns out, is much nicer to sleep in. Our room no longer faces the street (no more cars coming and going, and no more people standing out on the sidewalk having loud conversations in the wee hours), and the house stays cooler downstairs than upstairs. Double win!

Thinking outside the box to make life in a condo work for a family of six

The upstairs master bedroom was supposed to double as my craft space, but I wasn’t crafting there at all, in spite of having a lovely dedicated craft table – and storage. My kids love hanging out with me, and I love having them nearby, but not when they are jumping on my bed because I’m trying to use the sewing machine.

Finding and making use of wasted space in a home

With the master bed out, we were able to fit the kids’ toys upstairs. Now they hang out there and play – and I get my craft projects done. We are making full use of the room’s high ceiling (loud play is much more bearable when there are high ceilings!) and natural light.

Making the most of the space in your home

Even when Anna is the only one at home, she is very happy to play with her little kitchen (affiliate link – we love this little kitchen, and people ask where we found it all the time) while I work. When I’m not crafting, the kids still enjoy hanging out up here. We are working on decorating the walls to make it an even nicer space!

Getting creative - making creative use of the space you have

I did keep our DUPLO bricks downstairs. They are easy to clean up, and it means we have something for little friends to play with who want to stay close to their moms who come to visit.

Small space living solutions

We’ve had this new setup for a little over a week, now, and the house is so much more peaceful! The kids like to read on the living room rug and couches, and they are reading their library books so much more now! I had wondered why library books were no longer being read, since they were always out in Massachusetts. In our old home, the kids would read in the living room and play in the playroom. By trying to combine the two spaces, we had eliminated the kids’ favorite reading space.

From living room chaos to peace - small space living solutions

The kids are also much more cheerful about keeping the playroom clean than they were about the living room. I think they feel a lot more ownership over the master bedroom turned playroom because they see it as their space. They are also better at keeping the living room clean – because they see it as my space.

Through a little creative thinking, we were able to create a lovely, family-friendly home – without spending a penny! I still dream of getting back into a house someday. I miss having a yard with grass, and my neighbors sometimes play their music a little too loudly, but our current situation WORKS!

What creative, family-friendly living solutions have you come up with?

MaryAnne lives is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

29 thoughts on “Creating a Family-Friendly Living Space”

  1. I think the problem here is too much furniture and I do see we have 2 floor beds, 1 crib and a king sized bed! not to forget huge sofa, 6 seater dinning table, 1 huge almirahs and a computer table! ALL in use in a 800 sq feet 2 BHK! hmmmm! I NEED to do something :(

  2. mel@thedizzymom

    We are planning a family closet to make chores easier and open up space for a reading nook etc

  3. Such a great overhaul! We just moved a week ago and I’ve completely turned the former student house on its head — the only logical rooms are the kitchen and living room! We’ve even made the smallest “guest” bath our family bathroom. I always think a formal dining room is such as waste of a good room ;)

  4. Great idea! I’ve been contemplating utilizing some rooms in our house differently too. You’ve inspired me to move forward. P.S. That IS an awesome play kitchen.

  5. I think you made the right changes. We are thinking that one day we will probably move our office up and move our then teenager down to give her more space and more independence. Of course, that assumes that she will be a responsible teenager :)

  6. I love the play/craft room!! In August we are moving into a home that is smaller than where we are now but with more rooms and I’m trying to figure out how we’ll set it up. I’ve always been drawn to open plan homes and this one is not. We will definitely not have space for toys in the living area so I’m thinking of making one of the bedrooms a playroom. I hadn’t given changing the master bedroom much thought but your post has me thinking that might be a good idea.

    1. I adore open plan homes, as well. Good luck figuring out how to make use of the layout in your new home, and with your move!

  7. One of our neighbours is selling their house. It is a new build and the master bed + bath is simply enormous… about the size of half our house. The playroom, on the other hand, is about the size of our bathroom! Overall their house is roughly 6x as big as ours (fills the lot and is two-storey), but they don’t have a lawn and the space is just not well-thought-out for a family. More square footage does not equal a better house! :)
    Your solution is terrific!! I’m so glad you thought “outside the blueprint”! :) For us a big change was moving our bedroom to the back of the house (now we hear different neighbours’ music at night ;) and making our former bedroom (at the front of the house) the new music room. Music instructors no longer have to enter through our kitchen/dining area and give lessons in the living room. They can just come into the music/play room through French doors off the front porch and leave the same way. So much more peaceful for me, especially as I look forward to the first few months with a new baby!

    1. Your rearrangement sounds excellent, particularly with a new baby on the way! Peace at home is priceless.

      I couldn’t agree more about more square footage not equaling a better house! I would prefer some grass for my children to play on over the extra square feet we have here any day. This rearrangement is going a long ways towards making this condo a home, though!

  8. Sounds like some great changes, I’m trying to think through how we’re going to make some major changes with the toys. It’s driving me crazy, and today I found myself wnting to get rid of all the toys.

  9. Great idea! One of my favorite things about my house is that the original owners had the atrium built differently than the others. Instead of a back wall of windows, they kind of jetted out the living room more. I’m not sure if you remember pics from my blog, but that is where all of the toys and Christmas tree goes at Christmas. None of the other houses in the neighborhood have that. That 8×8 space makes all the difference in the world!

  10. Your switches sounds great! It’s hard to make a new space work from the get go, I think. You have to live in it to figure out how to make it work. Sounds like your Memorial Day weekend was busy but productive!

  11. That’s great, MaryAnne! I’m a natural light addict, too. Our house in S. Africa has very little natural light in the kitchen and living room and I really don’t like it, but it’s about making the best of situations which is what it looks like you did with your space. Awesome job!

    1. Our kitchen has no windows, and I find that really challenging. It’s all about getting creative to make it work, though! We put brighter LED lights in there this past week, and it has made a huge difference!

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