Small Home Tours: Hilary and family of 4 in 860sqft in Victoria
I’m so excited to share a new Small Home Tour with you. This one from Vancouver’s sister city, Victoria, BC. Whenever I look to other Canadian cities to consider living, Victoria is at the top of my list. So I really soaked up every word Hilary shared here about living in Victoria in a 2 bedroom apartment with 2 kids and her husband. I found her positive perspective on small city living to be very uplifting and there are some great tips about hiding a TV and a toy library. I hope you enjoy her tour as much as I did!
A bit about Hilary…
I’m a speech-language pathologist working in cancer care. My husband runs his own furniture company (@arosteguistudio , www.arosteguistudio.com ). I love running and cargo biking my kids around Victoria’s bike trails and lanes. I met my husband, Cristian, while out for a run along Victoria’s waterfront with a dog I was taking care of at the time. He had just arrived from Chile and had started his travels in Victoria. We started dating and then moved together to Toronto for my studies a few months later and lived in a 260 square foot apartment for the next 3 years. So 860 square feet feels palatial haha.
How big is your home and what is the layout?
We bought our apartment just over six years ago when my partner and I moved back to Victoria from Toronto. It’s in an area called Vic West. I’d actually biked past the development where we now live years and years ago and used to imagine living here and commuting to work along the bike trail right out front. Our place technically has two bedrooms, although the second room is only about 6 feet by 8 feet, and two bathrooms. It’s roughly 860 square feet. The second bedroom started as my husband’s office, but he was eventually kicked out by our first son. Now the tiny room is being shared by both kids and Cristian’s office got moved into our bedroom closet. Even the closet office got taken over by our second baby’s crib for a while, but now that the kids are sharing he’s got one ‘whole’ side of the closet back haha.
Who lives there?
My husband, Cristian, myself, our two boys, Lucca (4) and Nico (1), and our Mexican rescue pup, Sofi.
Tell me about your choice to live small as a family. Was it a conscious decision or did it just evolve?
When we bought our place, we knew we wanted to be able to stay at least for a while after having a baby, but I don’t think we imagined being here with two kids and a dog. Since living here, we’ve fallen in love with the neighbourhood and it really feels like our community. Our kids are often playing on the balcony and I’ll hear neighbours chatting with them from below. We were fortunate to purchase our apartment before prices went way up and our payments are really reasonable. Staying here and living small has allowed us to prioritize spending more time with our kids while they are so young. I was able to take a part-time job that I really enjoy, and Cristian has been able to start his own furniture design business from home. We wouldn’t have that flexibility if we bought something bigger.
Is there a piece of furniture or accessory that you couldn’t live without that makes living in your space easier?
I can’t think of any one thing, but in small space every piece of furniture plays double or triple duty. Our coffee table is also a train table, the kids’ dining table when friends are over and a desk. Our console table is actually just some Ikea shoe storage with wood on top. We struggled with the TV. I wanted to get rid of it, but Cristian is a bit of a movie buff. In the end, he won but we found a nice wall hanging to cover it so we hardly notice it’s there. Plus, we have to remove it to watch anything so it harnesses our laziness for good and we tend to watch much less. We also ditched the dishwasher and really don’t miss it! Now we have a nice big recycling cupboard where it used to be. Friends think we were nuts for ditching the dishwasher, but we’ve never looked back. We’re lucky that Cristian is a furniture designer with an interest in small spaces so he’s made us some great custom pieces that work well for our apartment. When his office took over half of the closet, he made a beautiful shared closet for us. It’s open and forces us to keep our close to a minimum. There’s no hiding any mess.
Assuming you keep toys edited are there any you recommend that have survived many purges and provided entertainment?
I am pretty ruthless about keeping toys to a minimum. The more toys we have, the more they just get dumped out and not actually played with. There is an awesome toy library just down the street from us. It’s full of all the toys that kids love for about two weeks, then forget about, like giant battery powered roaring dinosaurs or big plastic trucks. It’s taught my son to let go of toys more easily too. He’ll say things like ‘maybe we’ll get that out again sometime and understands that other kids get a turn with the toys.I’m not minimal at all with kids’ books. I’ve tried to purge some before, but I get sentimental about pretty much all of them. I think I’ve successfully given away about two books in total haha. Other than that, Lego, wooden blocks, dress up clothes, musical instruments and the train set get used all the time.
What is something you love about living small?
I love lots of things about our place! I love how quick it is to clean. We can have a bunch of friends with kids over for dinner and it will look like a tornado hit the whole place, but it’ll be easily tidied in about 10 minutes. I love how low maintenance it is. I know lots of people hate the idea of paying strata fees, but for me it just means that someone else is doing all those important tasks, and my time off can truly be my time off to spend with family and friends. I love being able to use active transport and walk or bike to most places around us and I love that it keeps us creative about how to best use our space. We were nervous about the boys sharing a room and thought a lot about the best time to put them together. Then one day Lucca just announced that it was time for him and Nico to share and we ceremonially wheeled them in the mini crib into the room and they’ve been sharing ever since. Of course there’s been a few rough bedtimes, but overall it’s been great.
What is something you hate?
I think alone time is a struggle no matter what with small children, but maybe more so in a small space. I’m lucky that I’m an extrovert so I can feel pretty recharged by heading out to do pottery or a drink with friends, but Cristian and Lucca are more introverted. It can be a challenge to get them the space they need to refuel. We’re planning to get bunk beds for the boys so Lucca can escape alone to the top bunk. Sometimes Cristian hides in the bathroom and watches a tennis match on his phone haha.
What are your best ways to beat the rainy winter blues and keep from going crazy with kids indoors?
For me, small space or not, we need to get outside, rain or shine. And in Victoria there’s lots of rain! On my last maternity leave, I tried to go out no matter what. Throw on all the rain gear and head to the park or beach. On really icky days, we’ll often head to a local kindergym and then a coffee shop with friends. The weather always looks worse from inside, once you’re out it’s not so bad. I know for us, having walkable kid friendly places in the neighborhood really helps with small living. Would love to hear some of your favourite places to get outside with the kids in Victoria (Ed. note: I always think if I didn’t live in Vancouver, I would live in Victoria). We are lucky to have lots of great parks around us. The closest elementary school just made a natural park with huge tree stumps and wooden structures for climbing. It’s amazing. We also live right on the Galloping Goose, which is a huge bike trail. Once Nico was strong enough to go on the cargo bike this last maternity leave, our world really opened up and we would often bike to Gonzales beach or Thetis Lake. Downtown now has more separated bike lanes, which makes me feel much safer with two little ones. On lazier days, we’ll pick up a Pain au Chocolat from Fry’s Bakery or Fol Epi (Lucca knew how to request Pain au Chocolat at an embarrassingly young age…I think that’s just how it is for Vic West kids with such good bakeries around) and head to a park.
One of the reasons I started this blog was to have a positive space about living small with a family and hopefully have people let go of the shame associated with it. Thank you soooo much for being so open with your beautiful home and life. Is there anything you would want to say to someone who wants to stay in their small space with a child/baby but are nervous or feeling external pressure not to?
For me, it’s all about priorities. In an expensive place like Victoria, most people can’t get work/life balance, location and the quintessential family home with a big yard. Lots of people can’t find housing period so we are grateful to be in a place where we even get to have these discussions. We really value living in a walkable and bikeable neighbourhood and having flexibility financially that allows us to spend more time with our kids. Those priorities are different for everyone, and I certainly don’t think that there is a right or wrong way to figure out what trade-offs are best for every family. This is what feels right for us now. I do hope that blogs like yours help people who are considering living small feel more empowered about their decision. I am passionate about living small, and still I doubt myself at times! One day when I was feeling especially guilty, I was biking with Lucca and we were looking at some cute houses. I asked him which ones he would pick to live in and he said ‘I don’t want a house, I have a whole building.’
Thank you Hilary for opening your home and family up to us! Cheers to small city family living.