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