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The Luxury of Living Small with Laura Fenton

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I was introduced to Laura Fenton, (the former lifestyle director at Parents Magazine), several years ago when she interviewed me as an expert for an organizing story. We instantly bonded over our shared interest in minimalism, home organizing, and small space living. I was thrilled to get to work with her again this year, and have our home featured as a case study in her gorgeous and inspiring new book, The Little Book of Living Small.

Small Space Living with Shira Gill Home

In addition to the featured case studies and design tips from an array of small-space dwellers, the book features practical hacks for living well with less, and digs into the motivations one might have for doing so. I was thrilled that Laura was willing to reverse roles and let me ask her questions about the book, and her greatest takeaways when it comes to living small.

Q. What Prompted You to Write The Little Book of Living Small

I’ve been living small since I moved to New York City for college, and I started writing about it on a personal blog way back in 2006. However it wasn’t until my husband and I moved into a small apartment when we were expecting our first child that I became a small-space evangelist. At that time, our families had wondered why we hadn’t “stretched” to afford a bigger apartment. For us, keeping our costs low and having less to worry about and maintain just made more sense. Once we had a kid, I felt like I had even more to say about why living small was something to be celebrated.

Q. You interviewed home owners from all over the country. What were the most common themes that emerged?

There are of course many people who live in small space because they have to, but the families and individuals in my book had consciously chosen to live small. In many instances they downsized from a bigger place, or like you and I, the homeowners chose to stay in a city they loved even when it meant having less space than they could in the suburbs or another city altogether. Sustainability is definitely a common thread for all the homeowners (and renters) we met. People want homes that they can maintain in the longterm–both financially and physically, and they also want mortgages and rents that are sustainable for their budgets. We saw everyday efforts to lead sustainable lives in every home.

Q. Can you share a few of the space maximizing tips from the book? Any creative solutions you especially loved?

Murphy beds! Gosh, I love murphy beds. They feature prominently in two homes in the book and I owned one myself in my 20s. A murphy bed just makes so much sense in a small space: You can free up the floorspace that your bed requires by day and then just fold your bed down at night. And I promise, they are just as comfy as a regular bed.

Custom furnishings are often worth it. In so many of the spaces we photographed, a built-in or custom piece of furniture made all the difference in the world. People are hesitant to commission custom work, but it’s often not that much more expensive than an off-the-shelf option; for example, we had wall-mounted nightstands made from a woodworker on Etsy that were similar to one Crate & Barrel sells, but made to exactly the size we needed.

Give the kids the big bedroom (or the only bedroom). So many parents had taken the smaller bedroom–or the converted dining alcove or the former sunroom–as their bedroom and given the kids the best bedroom. This makes so much sense because grown-ups only need their rooms to sleep, but kids need space to play. Plus, it’s the best way to keep the kid crap contained.

Small appliances rule! I loved all the 18-inch dishwashers, 24-inch stoves, and slim fridges–kitchens have gotten so BIG in recent years, but they don’t need to be. Great meals can be turned out in fifty square feet just as easily as they can be made in five hundred square feet. In fact, I might argue it’s easier to cook in a smaller space where everything is close at hand. Having worked two summers for a catering company, I know that you can cook just about anything just about anywhere, with whatever you have on hand.

Also, edit every day! All of the homeowners confess that keeping their small spaces looking great and staying organized is work–but worthwhile work. These are all people who care deeply about their homes, so they take the time to put things away each night and set up systems to keep their clutter in check.

Shoes off! Almost every single house was a shoes-off house, which sort of surprised me. It’s not for everyone, but it really does keep your place cleaner.

Sonos is the small-space sound solution. We haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, but there were so many of these speakers in the book that I am convinced they’re a great sound system for tiny homes.

As a small home owner yourself, what have been the biggest benefits of living small for you and your family? 

The biggest benefit for us is the financial freedom we have with our smaller mortgage and maintenance, especially now when the economy is so uncertain and we’re both working less than we normally would. My family lives in the city we love, but we have less stress with our lower costs. Plus, when we moved in our renovations were relatively cheap because our space is small.

We have less clutter in our lives and our son has fewer toys for us to pick up. Our kitchen is a model of efficiency (though I’ll admit I would like a tiny bit more space there–hah!). Our wardrobes are edited down to things we love. If my husband and I stay for the long haul, we have a place that will feel quite spacious when our son moves out. And we have peace of mind knowing we’re living lightly on the earth.

Small Bathroom Spaces with Shira Gill Home Thank you, Laura!

Looking for a little inspiration? You can order your copy of The Little Book of Living Small RIGHT HERE.

Image Credit: Weston Wells for Gibbs Smith

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