Small Home Tours: Jessica (@small.solutions__) and Family of 5 in 650 square feet
I stumbled upon Jessica’s page recently and sent her a message almost immediately. I was instantly in love with her small, and smartly designed apartment (with built-ins!) that seemed filled with joy and records. Beyond her beautiful space and beautiful children, she brings a humour to small spaces that I think is sometimes missing (sometimes I can to be too earnest about it all! sometimes living small is just plain awkward and hilarious). Plus she used one of my favourite quotes by William Morris and gave us a new quote that might be a new favourite “we only need space in our hearts”. Thanks to Jessica for sharing her home and life with us here.
My name is Jessica, I am 36 years old and raising a family in central London; I’m mostly at home with my baby right now, but I freelance as a stylist. I also sometimes teach art workshops for children as well as grown ups.
Four years ago I set up @infant_art_club as a social media outreach to inspire and support parents to use galleries and museums more and expose their children to art and design as young as possible. My Instagram account promotes current exhibitions and occasional child-centered and focused gallery meets, which take place at various art spaces across London and further afield (ed. note: couldn’t love this idea more!).
Recently I set up a new Instagram account @small.solutions__ as a creative outlet while navigating living small in a city as a now family of five, I hope to make others feel like living small with a family is more than possible, while reminding myself that it can be done well!
Who do you share a home with?
My partner Steve and our 3 kids, aged 1, 5. the not so kid-like almost 17 year old and a very, very big record collection...
How big is your home and what is the layout?
I think our home would be considered pretty small by a lot of people’s standards, especially given the size of our family. We live in a 61 sqm (656 sqft), 2 bedroom flat on the 2nd floor of a refurbished Victorian mansion block in Clerkenwell, Central London.
My eldest son has his own room (as a teenager I think it's important to have your own space and privacy) and my 5 year old has the other bedroom, which he’ll eventually share with the youngest. We're lucky with the layout of the main living space and last year, after sharing a room with our middle son for four and a half years (and by then a baby as well), we gave him his own room and created a sleeping area for us and the baby, using our vInyl collection as a wall. It was important to me to keep defined spaces and for us to still have a bedroom - even if it isn’t much bigger than the size of our double bed. I was very certain I didn’t want to feel like I was camping in my own home and have to make up a sofa bed every night or fold away bedding every morning. So far the set up is working really well thanks to some really clever carpentry work we employed to separate the one room into two. It was a little less straightforward than simply putting our bed in, as our tiny kitchen is also internal with an open hatch into the living room. We hired a joiner to make us some bi-folding shutters that we can close at night, or whenever we feel like. It really does feel like we have a little bedroom without the need for any permanent structural work.
Tell me about your choice to live small as a family. Was it a conscious decision or did it just evolve?
It just is what it is really, there wasn’t much choice involved as such. We rent from a social housing landlord, meaning we have subsidised rent prices but little choice about where we ended up living. I moved in as a young single parent when my eldest was 4 years old, luckily we mostly love where we live and it is affordable for us. London’s private rent prices are disgustingly high, I can understand the pressure/obsession people seem to have to own property.
How would you describe your home style? ex) modern, minimal, bohemian, vintage?
I’d like to think that our home is unique to us, it definitely reflects our interest in music and modern and mid century art and design. I try my best to stay minimal with things like colour, and I do like to paint the walls white, letting our belongings take centre stage instead, but no matter how hard I try, I guess I’m more of a maximalist at heart. I think we prove that you can live in a small space and still enjoy collecting things and have stuff out on display without it feeling like the walls are closing in on you; there is a fine line though, I will admit. Perhaps it’s an art form!? Sometimes I get it wrong and have to reign it in a little. I live by the famous William Morris quote “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” It makes sense to move things out as soon as they're no longer being used, especially as having kids means having lots of stuff is inevitable. Pay more and buy quality brands (second hand will do) or sought after vintage pieces and re-sell when you're done using them.
Is there a piece of furniture or accessory that you couldn't live without that makes living in your space easier?
In the past year we got bespoke, floor to ceiling shelving made for the main bulk of our 10,000+ record collection, it has made so much difference having made to measure storage, the back of which forms our new ‘bed-room’ wall, I’m so pleased we did it.
What is something you love about living small?
I absolutely love living in central London, it would be difficult to live elsewhere now I think. We are a walk or short bus ride from most places. I feel very lucky to have grown up in London and to now be raising my own children here, in a city with so many galleries, museums and culture right on our doorstep; most of it often free, to name just a few things.
What is something you hate?
Probably the lack of alone time. I really notice how much I do miss it whenever I finally get some here or there, though from experience I know that this has a lot to do with being a parent to small children also! Bad moods are a lot harder to hide in in a small flat.
Household mess can be overwhelming if you haven’t kept on kept on top of it as well as you should. It’s best if you can tidy as you go and that doesn’t come that naturally to us unfortunately. Again, having young children creates a lot of housework, they’ll grow and before you know it you’ll be missing the mess...probably...
Although our block does have access to the roof, I would so love to have a little garden of our own and of course, a big kitchen is the dream I don’t often let myself have - haha!
What are your best ways to beat the winter blues and keep from going crazy with kid(s) indoors?
We try and use all of the space we have and we often take turns taking the youngest out so that one of us can spend time at home, getting whatever done. I guess London’s parks and museums have become extensions of our home. Free public spaces such as parks and playgrounds, Tate Modern, the Southbank and the Barbican help to keep us sane on a weekly basis. At home we do a lot of building, modelling, playdough, colouring etc. - a lot of focussed activities, strict tidy-up rules apply to everyone of course!
Do you see yourself and your family staying in your small space for a long time?
So far we’ve been here 12 years in total - 6 years as 2 then 3, 5 years as 4 and a year now as a family of 5 and we’ve managed to adapt at each stage so I don’t see us moving any time soon. The latest changes we’ve made mean we can probably stay here indefinitely if we want to.
I think Small Space-ers need to stick together and share all their best tricks. Do you have any storage or organizational tips you want to share?
If you can afford it (or can save up like we did) go made to measure when it comes to storage. Adequate storage as well as hiding the clutter is definitely key to successful small living. Maximising your space and having uniform storage installed to fit your exact needs will make all the difference. It never ceases to amaze me how much more storage can be gained by replacing freestanding furniture.
Having said that, do your research, it might be that storage systems such as those available from ikea will do the job just fine if planned well. Last year when we were expecting our youngest and preparing to give our little boy the bedroom we were sharing, we built ikea PAX wardrobes across an entire wall to house all of our’s and the kid’s clothing, bedding, toys and yet more records. We couldn’t afford fitted wardrobes and the beauty of ikea is how easy it will be to change as our needs change. We had our joiner build some sliding doors to cover it all up making them look bespoke from the outside but with a cheap and simple inside.
Another thing that I have mentioned previously, is our decision to have a specific laundry day once a week when we take our washed clothing to the laundrette to dry. We have no space for a tumble dryer (I also don't think that domestic dryers are all that good), doing this means we don't have to use up precious space at home with clothes horses full of dripping wet washing.
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 open with your beautiful home and life here. Is there anything you would want to say to someone who wants to stay in their small space with kids but are nervous or feeling external pressure not to?
This answer is probably going to be exactly the same to when I’ve spoken about the subject previously, but only because not much has changed for me...Living small as a family is definitely a challenge! It often isn’t a choice as such, let’s face it. I'm asked the same questions from people about our space, or lack of it...The inevitable: 'so when are you moving?' is incredibly assuming! I'll admit I've felt embarrassed about our living arrangements or allowed other's nosiness to make me feel inadequate somehow.
However, I think that there are lots of positives to raising a family in a small home, a slightly greener footprint to start with. I love being so close with my children especially while they are so young, I couldn't imagine it any other way. It has definitely made us much more thoughtful about what we bring into our home, therefore there are potentially less expenses and waste.
My partner and I used to have a little joke: that ‘you only need space in your heart'.
Ha! There's definitely something to be said for that...but actually, the longer we’ve spent living like this, the more we’ve come to understand that you just need really good storage. ;-)