Interiorssneak peeks

A Vancouver Condo with Mindful Design

by Karla Dreyer

When Joanne and Tony Ma were expecting their second child, it came down to either moving out of the city and into the land of suburbia, or sacrificing space for the lifestyle they loved. In the end, they chose to live minimally in a 1,100-square-foot apartment, right in the heart of Olympic Village in Vancouver, British Columbia.

If anyone was up for the challenges that come with living with kids in a small space, it was Joanne. Prior to starting Modern Fort, a platform for mothers to unite and for individuals to give back to the community, Joanne was a behavior consultant helping families living with autism. A lot of the decor and layout of her own family’s space has been organized strategically to increase certain areas of development in their children. “With my background in behavioral sciences and education, I’ve come to realize there are many little things we can do to help improve a child’s planning, organizing and social-communicative skills,” Joanne explains.

The couple’s decorating goals for raising their kids, Alexa and Ari, in a condo was to create a space where they can function, live and grow. This meant a dedicated play area and a relaxing space for the kids. “Keeping with the monochromatic theme, we kept all our shelves white with large black storage boxes to help the kids easily identify where their toys are located. With a small living space, our goal was to keep things visually simple and minimal.”

With kids, clutter can come easily, so making sure things are organized was important. A key thing they did was to categorize the toy bins for the kids: “One for my daughter and all the things she can do independently, one for my son and all the things he can do independently, and one where they require our participation,” Joanne shares. Everything else is placed in smaller bins, which helps separate the play activities and increases the children’s ability to plan and organize. “For example, all my daughter’s Playmobil fairies are in one bin, and the large Megablok legos are in another. This is so that she can easily organize her play in a more functional way,” explains Joanne.

They also have a lot of open shelves. The reason is twofold. Firstly, it increases independence by allowing kids to easily access what they want to play with without having to seek assistance all the time. Secondly, it allows parents to place highly desirable items to increase communication. “We do this a lot with our younger child who just turned one,” Joanne says. “Strategically placing items he highly desires where he can’t reach, but can visibly see, is one way to increase the opportunity for him to communicate with us his needs.”

The Ma family’s space is a lesson in living a lifestyle and how great, mindful design can really change lives. Enjoy! —Karla

Photography by Janis Nicolay

Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
Both kids share this adorable room. One of the couple's favorite things is the mobile that hangs above their son's bed. It is a custom handmade mobile from Coral and Cloud that replicates the color scheme of Joanne's company, Modern Fort.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
One of Alexa’s favorite things in her room is her piñata style fringe number used for her third birthday. It was handmade in Vancouver by Kristina at the Swank Social. This birthday was the last one before her baby brother came into the world -- the year she became a big sister. The family kept it as a reminder of this amazing year.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
They recently transitioned their son from the crib to the floor. “We're in the midst of getting a house bed custom made for the space, and we needed a temporary solution to block the outlet that's currently at the head of the bed. So we took the towers of our daughter's cardboard castle as a means to provide a little barrier and protection. It turned out quite well for a temporary fix, plus... the kids seem to love it and have been using the bed as a castle now.”
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
Tony, Joanne, Alexa and Ari pictured here in the shared room of their kids.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
Multi-functional items are a must for this small space. Cake toppers are a favorite decor piece. Both kids have their name custom made in bamboo for their birthdays. Currently, they have them placed in the room and will use the toppers for decor, play, and of course, birthdays.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
Originally purchased for a pop-up market, this clothing rack adds function and whimsy. “One night after a long day at a local market, I decided to keep the clothing rack in place whereas normally I would take it down and put it in storage. As soon as I placed it down, my daughter screamed excitedly, ‘Is that for all my dresses!?!’ And so it stayed,” chuckles Joanne.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
The open space allows for flow and great sight lines when watching their little ones. The kids' play nook is right off the living room so they are able to utilize the space as they please. “The great thing about living in a small space is that we feel closer to our children; not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. In such a small space, there's nowhere really to go. There isn't a separate play room where I can't see my children, but a joint common room where we spend the majority of our time together” Joanne shares.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
This is where the work magic happens. The family put a floating work station here from IKEA rather than a floor-to-ceiling shelving unit because Joanne really needed a space to "work" and to call her own. They utilized the tall ceilings and built upwards.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
Hands down, the most treasured thing about this room for the Ma’s is their Scandinavian styled TV stand from Rove Concepts. “Every time I watch the television, I catch myself staring at its glory. The legs on this beauty [are] something really special and enhance the modern vintage look completely. It's probably one of my favorite pieces in the whole house and I'd sleep next to it if I could,” Joanne gushes.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
When planning their layout of the living area, the family knew they wanted a large built-in unit for the wall and a space for their daughter to call her own, especially when the baby arrived. So they decided to put up a wall unit and to create a little nook for her. She has all her arts and crafts organized within arms reach and can spend hours there moving from one activity to another. “My favorite part of this space is the little code we put up for her with the wall decals. It reads "I love you" in shapes. She knows this and smiles every time we talk about it, “ Joanne shares.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
This beautiful print is from a shop in Australia, One Tiny Tribe, and every time Joanne reads it, it makes her heart explode. Also shown here is an original book Joanne found at a used book store of her favorite American poet, Henry Longfellow. “The day I found this book I was so excited. I was almost in tears. My eyes immediately caught the large print "LONGFELLOW" on the spine of this old, dated book. My jaw nearly dropped to the floor when I realized what I had in my hands."
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
This floor lamp was meant to be a temporary lamp as Joanne wasn't sure of it at first. However, the more she looked at the lamp, the more she fell in love with it. The base is made of a solid block of Carrara-style marble and the industrial, slim body arches just perfectly to allow the bulb to be the center of attention.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
This black wall is the perfect addition that adds a raw, edgy element in a rather pristine space. The rubix shelf from Crate and Barrel, with its wood tones, works great against the dark colored wall.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
Joanne looked at over a hundred light fixtures before falling in love with this one from West Elm. The family still needed light in the space so they ended up purchasing several lamps to add softness to the living area.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
This wall is very special to the family. Framed and stamped in gold is Modern Fort's very first logo. The white print with black hand lettering was made by an incredibly talented friend as a reminder to stay present despite the challenges of our past.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
This family loves music. Joanne’s favorite genre is acoustic indie. “It saturates my soul. I have the guitar easily accessible so I can grab it whenever I can to play for the kids. Whenever my son crawls to it and picks at the strings, it melts my heart seeing the excitement in his eyes when it vibrates through his fingers."
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge
Who says a patio can’t have grass? Joanne and Tony bought turf so the kids can feel like they have a backyard. It's a great space for the family to gather for a rooftop lounge feel.
Condo Tour of Joanne Ma on Design*Sponge

Suggested For You


    • I LOVE everything about this home! I love all the little details and how everything is organized to engage the little ones.

  • Oh I love this! Seems like such a small home but so comfy inside and so well decorated. Reminds me of a scandi interior. :)

  • This is SO incredibly beautiful, practical, ‘homey’ and timeless at the same time – amazing decor and fabulous thinking to make it all work so beautifully. I love nearly everything and would easily also sleep next to the Scandinavian TV console…. You may keep the TV even!

  • What brand is the little high chair or bar stool at the table? We need exactly something like this for our own small, open place with little ones!

    • Hi there. I got the chair from IKEA. It’s very light and easy to clean. Perfect height and honestly… I often end up sitting in it :)

  • How cute is this space! Love the kids rooms and how easily accessible their toys are. Modern, yet homey. Very creative.

  • Hello!!
    Could you let me know where you found the bed? The white metal one?
    Thank youuu

  • Beautiful, well thought out space. Beautiful family too; I’m excited you were able to stay in your great location.