Minimal, Small-Space Living for A Growing Family

by Sabrina Smelko

In Alison and Trevor’s home, there is only room for what’s truly important — literally. The couple, who welcomed their first child Theo into the world in 2013, live within 600 humble square feet. Their condo in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood has been home for over six years, and although many urged them to find a place that offered more space when they became pregnant with their son, Alison and Trevor couldn’t imagine leaving. “Instead, we decided to stay and make our small space that we love work for us,” Alison explains; a journey which she documented on her blog, 600 Square Feet and a Baby.

Knowing they were welcoming a third family member was a bit daunting, but what began as a trial turned into the shift in perspective that forever changed their outlook. “I was so nervous to try…” Alison begins, “[but] to our surprise, what began as an experiment has changed into a way of life and we are loving living small in the city with a toddler.” Instead of focusing on what they don’t have, they instead view the entire city as their backyard. Steps from cute shops, restaurants, great coffee, breweries and parks, their space boasts high ceilings, large windows and an open floor plan. Although they couldn’t imagine being anywhere else, the family did undergo some renovations to make the home more livable as Theo grows. Alison shares, “When [he] was about 6 months old, we invested in a Wall Bed that we installed in a nook in our living room and gave up our bedroom to him.” The couple also removed the butcher block kitchen island and replaced it with an extendable dining table to function better at regular meal times and when hosting friends and family. These changes — combined with Alison’s heavily-curated furniture pieces — keep the apartment feeling spacious, bright, comfortable and uncluttered. “A benefit of owning less things is that we can make sure we really love the things we do have,” Alison says. “Every chair, lamp or book takes on a special meaning when you only have a little space.”

Their space continues to be a work in progress and they are constantly evaluating their belongings and asking questions such as “Do I love this piece?”, “Do I find it useful and beautiful?”, “If I was shopping for this today, would I still buy this same one?” Despite furniture and things being called into question constantly, there are some permanent changes they wish they could make, namely the addition of clothing storage. With 11-foot ceilings and four seasons in Vancouver, Alison says, “I would love to extend our closets with custom doors to take advantage of all the overhead storage space [as] we end up with a lot of coats, shoes and gear.”

For the family, it’s all about being happy with less. “Living in our home keeps our priorities in check,” Alison shares. “We love that there is only room for what’s most important,” and at the heart of that is family which, as it turns out, is growing. The couple is happy and excited to announce that they are expecting their second child this summer, and when asked if they plan to stay in their humble abode, Alison replied, “Yes… I am excited for the challenge of changing our home again to accommodate two little ones. I hope it will be an [exercise] in what is really important, and l hope we can do it with beauty and grace!” –Sabrina

Photography by Mary and Joel of Blue Window Creative

Despite the small footprint of their living room, an oversize down-filled sectional from ScanDesign sits at its heart. "We call [it] The Vortex," Alison says, "because once you sit on it you will never get up." They had to split it up in order to fit their Wall Bed, but what seemed like a compromise at the time has proven to be beneficial: "We have been surprised how many more people fit on it now and how conversations carry on from the new layout."
The happy family all together. "We recently got rid of our TV, which allows for more room for art," Alison says.
The surfboard was a wedding gift made by Alison's dad and the shag rug is from Rugs USA.
This teak sideboard is one of Alison's favorite pieces, and one which has passed the test of time and her scrutiny. "It hides away all the electronics and cords I don't want to see!" she says.
Some of the only items within their home that exist purely for pleasure are plants. This mother-in-law's tongue "is one of the only plants I can't kill," Alison laughs, "and this planter [from Modernica] makes me so happy."
The living room opens up to the rest of their space, and aspects of it even bleed into the kitchen as well, where books are displayed atop the kitchen cabinets. No space is wasted in this condo!
To the right of the kitchen is a wall-bed from Resource Furniture Ulisse that the couple installed a few years ago. "Yep," Alison begins, "that's our bed beside the kitchen!" During the day, it's folded into the wall to make space for Theo to play or for guests to spread out, and at night, going to bed is as simple as letting it fall to the ground.
"The Nelson Bubble Lamp came with our apartment," Alison says, "and I know a light fixture shouldn't influence a house purchase, but this one did!" Alison found vintage accordion lamps on Etsy that complemented the fixture for bedside reading (which can be tucked away during the day).
Beneath the bed is a large, soft carpet which is not only a nice surprise for their toes in the morning, but a perfectly comfortable spot for Theo to romp around on.
"One unexpected benefit of a Murphy Bed is that you HAVE to make the bed every day," Alison says, "so every night you get into a nicely made-up bed." The bedding is from West Elm.
The casing that contains the Murphy bed functions great as a shelf and is home to many plants.
Beside the bed and across the fridge is their dining space, which used to be host to an island. "This table brings us together like nothing else," Alison says, although she's still on the hunt for the perfect folding chairs for guests. "Right now we pull up a stump that doubles as a side table in our living room."
As you walk past the kitchen and dining area, you'll be in the family's entryway, a work in progress "as we try to accommodate multiple coats, shoes and our laundry into one small hallway!" Alison says. The Oaxacan rug was found on a trip to Sayulita and helps add some color to the otherwise neutral space.
The table was found on Craigslist (originally from Design Within Reach) and the molded chairs are from HAY Design. The family painted the small section of wall that separates Theo's bedroom and the bathroom with black chalkboard paint.
"We added this simple bentwood shelf to keep sharp and breakables away from curious chubby fingers," Alison explains, "and these quick-drying, super soft towels are a small luxury I'm so happy we added to our space."
In the bathroom, they swapped out the generic light that came with the apartment with this beautiful brass light fixture from Cedar and Moss.
Theo's room only has one small window, but to bring in more of the outdoors, Alison blew up a photo of a forest to create the illusion of a second window. Keeping the walls white also makes it feel airier.
"The best solution for toy clutter (besides regular purging and donating) is toy bins," Alison says of these adorable bins from Tell Kiddo. Tidying up after a day of fun is also a great activity that Alison encourages Theo to participate in.
This IKEA hack shelf holds all of Theo's books and toys for display and easy access.
Above Theo's minimal wood crib is a handmade garland and pennants from Trevor's hometown.
For this family, less is more.

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  • Love the sectional. Can you please provide the web address for ScanDesign? No luck locating it online.

  • This is so inspiring! We have been tackling a similar goal but this gives me hope it can be done. Would love any suggestions for companies or websites for businesses you have found which help aid living small!

  • What a charming home! I love all of the efficient uses of space. “There is only space for what’s important” is one of my favourite reasons to love a home. :)

  • Thank you so much for sharing our home!

    To answer some of the questions… the Wall Bed is from Resource Furniture http://resourcefurniture.com/. Our couch was purchased over 6 years ago and is no longer in production unfortunately. Though I do think the secret to its comfort is that it is partially down-filled. The growth chart was a handmade gift from a friend.

    • I love your home! Would you mind telling me where the dining table is from? It’s perfect!

  • So love your apartment and have been following you on Instagram for a bit! My husband and I live in a one-bedroom, 700 square foot apartment in DC and LOVE our neighborhood. We’re expecting our first child this year and I’ve already been rethinking our furniture and storage as we get ready for our little one. Thanks for sharing your home and providing a beautiful example of how you can live an urban life with a family!

  • This is such a lovely home that shows creative ways to live in a small space with a family. Thank you for sharing it and inspiring other people to do the same.

    • Thank you so much! I’m always a bit nervous sharing as some people thing we are crazy! Really appreciate the encouragement and support.

  • It’s in our nature to want more and more, but that way we just clutter our homes. Alison’s apartments is a real evidence that a happy family can live in a small space with having all essential things. I really loved your home! Congratulations!

  • Congratulations Alison on the newest addition to your family! And your home is so inspirational. I can’t wait to see your creativity with adding another baby to the mix!

    • Thanks so much Laura! We are nervous to add another in the mix but hope we can make it work. Appreciate the encouragement more than you know!

  • Such a beautiful space, Alison! I’ve loved following 600sqft.com for well over a year now. Congratulations on adding another little one to your family!