ASK AN EXPERT: Living With Children in Small Spaces

Editor's Note: I've found so many smart answers to a lot of my parenting questions simply by talking to other parents. Rather than keeping all this good information to myself I'm adding a new column called "Ask An Expert" to hear from these brilliant minds on a host of topics. First up is Barb Alvarado, an architect by training and the founder of Mont + Merk, a professional organizing and design service in San Francisco. She helped us transform our home to separate our office and Mia's room. We all love it! Even better, she was on time and on budget! -Lesly

By Barb Alvarado

Many people feel that once they have children they have to give up their “grown up” space. This can be especially true when living in a small home where parents and children’s belongings have to coexist in the same (tight) spaces. The following tips can help you navigate the two without having to surrender your sense of style or all of your space to your children.

Consider double (or triple) duty furniture pieces

A round side table can move about the house easily, can serve as a stool when extra seating is needed at the dining table, a step stool to reach higher items, and a play table for the kids.

This stool From West Elm works all over the house and can even serve as a stepstool in a pinch. (Photo courtesy Barb Alvarado/Mont+Merk)

This stool From West Elm works all over the house and can even serve as a stepstool in a pinch. (Photo courtesy Barb Alvarado/Mont+Merk)

Pare down children’s dishware and store it with yours
How many sippy cups does your child really need? Instead of dedicating whole drawers or cupboards to store them, pare down your children’s plates, bowls and cups, and put them away alongside your own dishes.

Choose children’s furniture that blends in with your decor
Choosing children’s furniture such as high chairs that blend in with your space and match your decor will create a more cohesive look in your home, will make it seem bigger and less busy.

This Stokke high chair blends nicely with more adult furniture pieces, keeping a cohesive look in the kitchen. (PHOTO COURTESY BARB ALVARADO/MONT+MERK)

This Stokke high chair blends nicely with more adult furniture pieces, keeping a cohesive look in the kitchen. (PHOTO COURTESY BARB ALVARADO/MONT+MERK)

Lose the coffee table and opt for a sofa table instead

Not having a coffee table can free up valuable space for playing. A sofa table can keep items such as lamps and other breakables out of reach of little hands. The space under the table can also be used to store larger toys and as a “hiding” spot for kids during playtime.

A sofa table behind the couch frees up valuable floorspace for playtime! (PHOTO COURTESY BARB ALVARADO/MONT+MERK)

A sofa table behind the couch frees up valuable floorspace for playtime! (PHOTO COURTESY BARB ALVARADO/MONT+MERK)

Share your existing spaces

Consider making room for clothing and toys in spaces you already have. Use a double hanger in your closet to hang kids clothes. Share your bookshelves with kids, by emptying the bottom halves to store toys. You can also add doors and make toys “disappear” once children go to bed.

A double closet rod makes room for smaller kids clothes in the same closet (PHOTO COURTESY BARB ALVARADO/MONT+MERK)

A double closet rod makes room for smaller kids clothes in the same closet (PHOTO COURTESY BARB ALVARADO/MONT+MERK)

Rotate and swap toys

Rotating your kid’s toys every few weeks instead of having them all out at once will keep things interesting for them and make it easier for them (you) to clean up. You can also arrange a toy swap with a friend with children similar in age to yours. This way you don’t have to store many extra toys, and children get to play with “new” toys more often.

Buy collapsible, nesting and multiple-in-one items

Collapsible towers, nesting puzzles and multiple-in-one toys and other items are great space savers. They are easy and even fun to set up and to put away, and they don’t take up much space when not in use.  

These toys—Tallest tree stacking puzzle; Melissa & Doug Beginner Pattern blocks; (Sadly the Dwell Studios Animal shape sorter is no longer in production)—make a big footprint but all collapse into much smaller packages for storage. (PHOTO COURTESY BARB ALVARADO/MONT+MERK)

These toys—Tallest tree stacking puzzle; Melissa & Doug Beginner Pattern blocks; (Sadly the Dwell Studios Animal shape sorter is no longer in production)—make a big footprint but all collapse into much smaller packages for storage. (PHOTO COURTESY BARB ALVARADO/MONT+MERK)

Borrow books

Keep a small book collection for your kids that only includes their favorites and borrow other books from the San Francisco Public Library. Children can check out books with their own library cards, which don’t accrue late fees. Take kids to the library every week to pick out “new” books, and make it a fun tradition (visit any branch to pick up your card and take advantage of the many kid-focused events at libraries all over the city while you're there).

(Author: Barb Alvarado is the owner of Mont + Merk, a professional organizing and design service that specializes in helping clients make the most out of living and working in small spaces. She coexists happily with her husband and 14-month-old daughter in a one-bedroom apartment San Francisco.)

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