flexibility in a small space


i think i have figured out the secret to living in a small space, long-term, with a growing family: flexibility. this front room (pictured) is the largest room in our house and it has served us as a dining room for the past five years. but, our lives have changed a lot in the past year and gone are the days of large gatherings and drawn-out meals (for now). in 2016, our large dining room wasn’t getting much use, but our sofa and netflix subscription (housed in our chilly basement) sure was. our dining room table is a special piece of furniture, though, and this is the only room in the house big enough to hold it. it was a tough call to disassemble it and put it into storage downstairs (so long, old friend), but i also knew it was silly to have roughly 20% of our limited square footage taken up by something that wasn’t serving us in our current season of life.

i think if you’re open to reimagining your space and you have the patience, energy and creativity to get after it, then you’ll never really run out of room, no matter how small your space might be. i try and think of our house as 800 square feet and not as a living room, dining room, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. because our second bedroom was, in fact, an office for a while. and before that it was a walk-in closet. and our living room was a dining room and our dining room was a living room and our family room downstairs was a gym and now it’s just empty — waiting to be repurposed (master bedroom?) if we stay in toronto. of all the most common uses of indoor space — bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms, family rooms, dens, dining rooms, breakfast nooks, playrooms, music rooms, craft rooms, gyms, offices, etc. — most people don’t need all of these things all at the same time. at one point, i needed an office because i was working on my graduate degree in the early mornings and on weekends. it was very helpful to have a room where i didn’t have to tidy up my books, notes and computer after every use. but i completed my degree about six weeks before frankie rose was born. at that point, we needed a nursery and i didn’t really need an office anymore; we changed the function of that room and, just like that, our space still fit our needs.


of course, being open to reimagining your space means being willing to break down your rooms, rearrange or discard old furniture and (if you’re me) repaint as your needs or interests change, but that’s a lot easier and cheaper than moving, especially if you’d be looking to move to a bigger space. at this point, i still don’t know if we’re moving west this spring, but decision day is nearly here. childcare is a competitive sport here in toronto and frankie rose has been on wait lists since she was a mere thought. our first choice place will be letting us know if we have a space for september by the middle of march and pierre and i decided that, if we still don’t have a firm offer to relocate to bc by the time we hear from the preschool, we’ll be accepting the spot (assuming she’s offered one) and staying in toronto for at least a few more years.

if we stay, i can already imagine all the different ways we can rearrange these six rooms as frankie grows up. when you include the basement, we actually have more room than i know what to do with. the point is, as long as we’re open to reassessing and changing how we use our space and don’t let an idea of what a room is supposed to be or what it has been trap us into using limited space inefficiently, then there’s really no reason we’ll ever need to move. we may be moving on for another reason (c’mon oceanfront), but it won’t be for lack of space! do you use any of your rooms unconventionally? or have you made any dramatic changes to rooms to accommodate growing kids? please share!

6 thoughts on “flexibility in a small space

  1. The room looks amazing!! And I have to say you’re quite brilliant about your approach to space! This resonated with me. We’ve been in our house a short while so have only used it one way – but the previous owners were there 20 years and did just that – shift space around (which is why we removed a large dining room chandelier from our master bedroom after moving in). It’s a one and a half storey bungalow with a square mainfloor divided into 4 rooms and 2 large bedrooms upstairs. My first instinct (like most people’s) would be to say – blow-out the walls! But having rooms IS more flexible! So we (since we have kids but not babies) used the four rooms on the mainfloor like this: big LR, big eat-in kitchen (fits a full-sized dining table), master bedroom and an office (hubby works from home a lot). The 2 bedrooms upstairs are for the kids. I think someone with a baby would use the office as a nursery and move the kids up as they get older – or would just use the bedrooms upstairs. The previous owners used the house the way we did originally I hear – but after their kids moved out (and gained spouses and kids) they converted the master bedroom on the mainfloor to a large dining room. They had two desks in the mainfloor office/2nd bedroom (both were retired then). They then used the two bedrooms upstairs as a guest room and a bedroom. The wife, an artist, took over one end of the large rec room in the basement for painting (which we use as a play room – the other end is our TV/family room space) and she used the oddly large laundry room as a sewing room. I really wanted to knock down the wall between the eat-in kitchen and the living room when we moved in to have it open and to have a more formal dining space. Now I find that we don’t host “fancy dinners” right now – but I do have messy kids doing homework and crafts and a dog and cat trolling around – the casual eating works – and we suck it up when we do host. In future I think I might want to have a big dining room in that master bedroom (conveniently behind the kitchen) once the kids move out (or even when they take over the basement as boys often do). But for “aging in the space” having the option to be on one floor is handy. Our last house was on three stories – and the stairs got really tiresome as we *may* have moved past our 30’s.

    In the previous house on three stories (new in-fill housing in an old neighborhood) we followed the builder’s plans and ended up with a large LR/DR and a kitchen/small family room AND a “media room” for the TV on the second floor. That was 3 lounging places with couches for 2 people… why? Once we had babies – the family room in the kitchen became a play area with those padded floor tiles (and one couch was lost). And once we had toddlers I was sick of walking back and forth to the kitchen from the dining room… so moved the dining room table into the family room and used the dining room space for mainfloor play (they were too young to have a play room on another floor). So I guess I was always re-purposing space – but have to say – although there’s less square footage in our smaller/old fashioned style house – the simpler layout is more easily flexible. But it can certainly be done in a new or old house. Having power tools to unscrew bolts in furniture always helps too 🙂

    1. you certainly sound like an old-hand at switching things up! phew! i’m a little exhausted just reading about all those room rearrangements, haha.

      i think a small 1.5 storey house is just perfect. from the way you describe your layout, i’d probably use your house in the exact same way — maybe with the office as a nursery for now, then, as frankie was a bit older, move her bedroom upstairs with the second bedroom acting as her playroom. that’s exactly what i’m on the hunt for in victoria, minus a basement, which isn’t that common there due to the substrate.

      our current main floor is six little rooms, living/dining at the front, nursery/bathroom in the middle and kitchen/master at the back. if we stay, i’d like to move frankie into the master and move our bedroom downstairs (with some flooring/insulation/drywall upgrades to make that habitable) and then turn her nursery into a kind of yoga/meditation space. we toured a two-bedroom semi when we were house hunting several years ago, owner was a single guy, and that’s how he used his second bedroom — it was just this beautiful room with plants, candles and a gorgeous rug on the floor and that was it. it has always stuck with me!

  2. I LOVE the idea of a beautiful little calm space you can escape to and relax! I did our bedroom in a very minimal way to carve out a calm place – but it’s not the same as a designated “escape”. Don’t let go of the idea! My sister-in-law made one of the basement rooms in her suburban split-level into a dojo for herself… but the nearby playroom overflowed into this space too.

    Speaking of toys though – can I say how much I LOVE your “exersaucer”?! It looks like art! Mine was bright plastic (and made animal sounds…grrr).

    I love your plan to move your little girl into your bedroom (that beautiful closet is just perfect for a little girl!) and to have a little master “suite” downstairs. Great use of space! Your plan on how to use a 1.5 storey sounds very ideal – you’d need guest space and having a playroom that could do double duty gives you flexibility. Also – it’s easier to contain the toys if they are on one level.

    It sounds like we re-arranged a lot – but it’s really just every few years as kid stages change. It also gives me a chance to switch things out and re-discover things – which is refreshing without being wasteful or expensive. In no time you’ll be able to bring your dining room back – but I know at the little kid stage – you need open space (and let’s face it – a TV handy). Our friends had babies when we had babies and visits became more geared around nap-times (and sitting on couches drinking coffee). We then had small kiddies that we’d feed first so we could buy some peace to have our meal (quickly) but they needed to be in sight/supervised. Now we’ve been able to host a nice meal! The kids still eat and run – but they don’t need to be watched while they play so we can linger. And we got back to the dining table stage far, far too quickly (and some days – not quickly enough). Although there’s always this background noise of elephant-stomping, scrambling and shrieks. Never music. 🙂

  3. We’ve done the same moving around of rooms as needed. Right now, we live in a 3 bedroom 2 1/2 bath 1800 sq ft townhome with 9 kids. We gave the master bedroom to the boys since they have 6 sleeping in there right now (the baby boy is in with the 2 girls). My husband and I just took one of the smaller rooms which is the perfect size for us. We also use the formal dining room as a “library” since we homeschool. Our table fits in the kitchen dining area (although it is set up on a diagonal to the room so there is room to move around it) so we don’t need a formal dining area but a place for homeschooling books and materials was a definite need.
    We’ve always done this in the many places we’ve lived- sometimes putting shelves and bins in a small closet so it’ll hold 5 boy’s clothes, sometimes using part of the dining area as an art area, using a loft or bedroom as a library/homeschool room, using some of the kitchen counters as science experiment counters, etc.
    Many more options to live small(er) when you look at space flexibly.

    1. wow, a family of 11 in 1800 square feet! kudos to you for making that work. and to have to make room for homeschool supplies, too — that’s impressive.

      our new house is 1177 square feet (so plenty of space for the three of us), but we’re still figuring out what rooms will serve what purpose. we’re living about 4000 km away from family now so would like to have some guest space and both my husband and i are doing some work from home so we both need office space — new challenges for our new space, it’s exciting!

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