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Like many baby boomers, Mila Cotic grew up in a large suburban home with a big backyard. Meanwhile, her European-born husband, Les, was raised in a city apartment. When it came time to have children, Cotic expected they would sell their 870-square-foot condo in the West End and buy a house in the 'burbs.
It didn't happen that way.
"We grew to love and appreciate the convenience of living in the city, so we decided to raise our three kids in our three-bedroom condo," she explains, adding their two daughters shared a room, while their son had his own bedroom. "For Les, it was normal; he didn't see any reason to move."
That was 22 years ago. It would seem that this couple was years ahead of what is now called the growing "new normal" for many young families in Vancouver. Today it isn't unusual to raise children in condominiums because for many people buying a single detached home in Metro Vancouver is out of their reach.
Pros and Cons of Family Condo Living
Although Cotic concedes there are challenges – a lack of storage and bathrooms were definitely two of the biggest – the benefits are many.
"We became really innovative when it came to storage solutions, but we also didn't collect as much superfluous stuff as we might have had living in a traditional home. You can't overstuff your physical space and not end up living in chaos."
But kids also need space to run, play and climb.
"My kids' backyard was the school yard, Stanley Park, the beach and Science World," Cotic says. "My children didn't sit round watching television; we were always out exploring."
With the condominium building boom of the past few years, the increased density is attracting everything a family needs: grocery stores; restaurants; green space; events; libraries; schools; and easy access to transit.
But Where to Put all the Stuff?
However, anyone who has had children knows they accumulate lots of stuff, lots and lots of it. And when it comes to small bedrooms, Sarah Gallop, principal at Sarah Gallop Design Inc., is experiencing an increased demand for storage ideas from clients living in condos with young children.
First off, says Gallop, decorating a small bedroom doesn't have to be daunting if you choose a peaceful palette, great lighting and simple, yet smart, storage solutions. These allow you to meet the challenge with style and ease.
"Also, it's a good idea to design a space that your child can grow into rather than just for the present," she says. "Choose a design that is flexible and can adapt to their changing needs."
Ask yourself how they will use the space as they grow older so you avoid redoing it over and over again. Choose larger storage containers for your toddler's toys that can convert to games storage as they get older.
Tips from a Pro
Built-in storage is a great solution. "Many of my clients are asking for built-ins to add extra storage space by taking advantage of all the nooks and crannies," says Gallup.
She also recommends:
- Buy multi-functional furniture.
- Look for bunk beds with a desk underneath or captain-style beds with built-in drawers.
- Build a window seat so your children have their own private little reading space.
- Look at all the other under-utilized areas that you might be missing – the backs of doors, the sides of bookcases – and use them for additional storage space.
Fold-up, retractable furniture is also on the rise, notes Gallup, mentioning that her company has just created a table that comes out of the wall. Additionally, she suggests putting beds on risers to give more space to place things underneath. Flat boxes, she says, are ideal for art or toy storage and fit easily under most beds – even those not raised off the floor.
Meanwhile, to help your kids stay organized, keep things at their height. That includes installing pegs or hooks in the closet at child height and putting a basket for shoes on the closet floor.
As for that closet… let your imagination soar. The bottom can be converted into a cozy, private little fort. That’s not Gallop’s only suggestion.
"I had a client who asked us to convert their child's walk-in storage closet into an art-making room," she recalls. "I've also seen closet doors taken off in favour of curtains, making it a special nook for younger kids to play on the floor. My daughter plays all the time with her dolls in her closet.
"I also tell clients to involve their kids as much as possible so they will feel a sense of ownership of their own space," adds Gallop.
Finally, Gallop recommends using mirrors to add depth and dimension to a small bedroom. Hanging several smaller ones in a group can add lots of visual interest, while using one large mirror will instantly create the illusion of more square footage.