Today I’d like to introduce you to Judit Fortelny. When Judit and her husband were younger, an opportunity came up to move into a small (700 sq ft) flat in the heart of downtown Vienna, Austria. They moved in, unsure of how long they planned on staying, and are still there many years and two kids later. They have done a few renovations to make separate spaces for kids and adults, but have found a lot of happiness living an urban, cozy and minimalist lifestyle. Welcome, Judit!
Hello from beautiful Austria where we have wonderful nature, the Alps, beautiful little villages and historic cities, and of course Vienna, the place of inspiration for so many artists and musicians.
We live in the historic old town of Vienna, right in the city center. If you poke your head out far enough from our bedroom window at a very specific angle, you can see the tip of St. Stephen’s cathedral. I am half Finnish and half Austrian, and grew up in both countries and can’t still decide which one I love the most.
My husband is from one of those idyllic villages in the Austrian mountains and still has strong ties to his hometown, where we spend quite a lot of time.
My husband and I have been together for 12 years. We met at a mutual friend’s birthday party and have been friends ever since. At the time he was working in Graz, which is a 2 hour drive away. After a few years of long-distance relationship, we decided to move in together.
My husband works in real estate financing and I am a graphic designer and illustrator. At the time I was working at a big publishing house and starting my master’s studies, so moving to Graz was not a real option for me, though I considered it. After looking into available job offers, we reassessed and he found a job in Vienna.
Now we have two wonderful daughters, who are 7 and almost 3 years old. They are so different and yet so totally the same. Even though they have 4 years of age difference they love to play together and are the best of friends. I do hope it stays that way. I see a lot of myself in my kids, which makes it easy for me to understand and guide them. The older one is a creative dreamer: she is an observer and comes up with so many things she can make, she sinks into her dreams and can spend hours in imaginative play.
Our little one is full of energy, from the time she opens the eyes until she goes to sleep. She is not even a bit shy, loves to talk and sing to everyone around her and is in that adorable age where you can forgive her ANYTHING. But at night she needs her mom cuddles to refill her batteries and to feel safe to conquer the world again the next day.
As we were figuring out our living situation it happened that our current flat became available through my husband’s family. It is in the heart of Vienna, in a historic small alleyway that leads to the oldest church in Vienna and the most prestigious synagogue. It can get quite loud in the summertime because at night the rather remote surroundings become somewhat of a party hotspot.
We live in the most expensive district in Vienna, and the prices here are pretty crazy. When we moved here, the square meter price was € 6,250 (more than $7100 US) and it has more than doubled in the past ten years. The average square meter price for our area is now € 13,000 (almost $15000 US.) So it probably doesn’t surprise you if I say that this is not a typical area for families to live in.
After 7 years of parenting and spending a lot of time on different playgrounds and in parks, we know almost every family who lives here. Which is so nice! The kindergarten and school are within a short walking distance from our home and we are lucky enough that right next door lives a family with girls the same age. So we often just open our doors and let the children run in and out and play in the hallway.
I grew up in the suburbs of Vienna and Helsinki and was very hesitant to raise a family in such an urban setting, where roaming free in the neighborhood just isn’t possible. But after living here for ten years I can truly say that I love living in the city center. We walk almost everywhere, I love all the beautiful architecture that surrounds us and all the museums that are only a short walk away.
Vienna offers a wide range of cultural activities for both children and adults, which we try to take advantage of as often as possible. We have annual memberships to the museum of classical music (great tip when visiting Vienna with kids) as well as the zoo. And if you get tired of all that city stuff you just take the tram or the subway and go to the Green Prater, Danube Island, Vienna Woods, or for a walk in the vineyards.
Vienna is quite a green city so there are also many parks within walking distance in our neighborhood. Our favorite thing to do in the afternoons is mostly just to hang out in the park next to the school or the kindergarten, where the children can play with their friends.
I was lucky enough that this apartment came with my husband, and as the young and childless couple that we were back then there wasn’t really any question about if we want to live in the city center or not.
Our flat is in a post-war building right under the roof, which means it gets tons of light but is also unbearably hot in the summer. A/C’s are not a thing here, but by now we have a good system of ventilators, thermo roller blinds and a mobile AC unit to help us through the hottest weeks of the year.
When I first saw this apartment it was like a time capsule to the 1950s. It was dark, with wildly patterned wallpapers, wall to wall carpeting and all the original furniture and decoration from that time. The previous owners hadn’t changed a thing since moving here in 1950! The good thing about that was that beneath the ugly carpet was an untouched original herringbone parquet. Which we love, obviously.
Our flat is quite small, it has 65 sq. meters (about 700 square feet) so it never occurred to me that we would still be living here with two kids. But the truth is, we love the neighborhood so much that we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else right now.
After the initial renovation, when our first born daughter was about 4 years old we had a second renovation where we added a wall in the living room in order to have a master bedroom. So the kids have the biggest room in the house, with enough space to play, sleep and house all of our clothes (thank you Ikea for your awesome closets!).
Staying here and living a minimalist lifestyle was a conscious decision: instead of going bigger we can now enjoy a work and life balance where both me and my husband can spend time with the kids in the afternoons, take long vacations and not to worry too much about sick days which inevitably happen in a family with two kids.
Our furniture is a carefully curated accumulation of vintage, hand-me-downs from family and a few new pieces. We are known to change our home up every few years, our apartment is a place of versatility. Still most of our beloved furniture has stayed the same throughout the years. The best example is our white credenza, which originally was in an abbey in my husband’s home town — after serving as a kitchen cabinet, it now holds all the kids arts and craft supplies, because we love crafting.
But there are also things that we change out quite a lot, like the kitchen table. I can never seem to find the perfect thing. Our display case holds all our wonderful and weird stuff we have collected along the way.
We also have a mini art collection. I come from a family of artists, and I have inherited a few beautiful pieces made by my great-grandparents in the 1920s and ‘30s in Finland and by their contemporary artists. My mother also loves to gift the children unique pieces made by local artists from the Finnish city she lives in, so they have their own art collection as well. There are also a few of my own pieces — I love that every piece of art in my home has a special meaning to us.
I call ourselves “accidental minimalists“ because it wasn’t a lifestyle decision that we deliberately made. I have always been drawn to minimalism, I enjoy reading books and blogs about it and I remember even when living alone (in what in retrospect feels like a huge apartment), I would always get anxious about having “too much stuff“.
Sometimes I do get frustrated when I feel I have to constantly edit our belongings and think about whether we have space for something or not. And why do children have so much stuff? But during the week we don’t spend a lot of time at home anyway — we spend most of our afternoons outside and enjoy parks, nature and the company of friends.
That being said, we do spend quite a lot of time at what feels like my second home now, with my mother-in-law who lives in an idyllic village in the mountains. She has a beautiful house surrounded by gorgeous nature.
When we visit, we have the first floor (which is almost as big as our whole place) to ourselves; the children have a playroom and a huge garden to play in. When we are not on vacation somewhere else you are sure to find us there. So our kids are in the very privileged position of getting the best of both worlds, countryside and city life.
My husband’s cousin has a dairy farm so they sure know where milk comes from. Every other summer we visit my parents who live in Finland. So during summertime you won’t find us in the city.
Right now I enjoy our minimalist home and the escapes to the countryside and wouldn’t want to change it. I am aware that the time might come when the need for two separate rooms arises with the kids and we have to adjust our living situation. But this is still in the future.
I love that everything is easily accessible in the city. You don’t have to spend as much time in the car or on public transportation, which makes it also easy to get anywhere after school with the kids. Living in the center of a city like Vienna doesn’t mean that we miss out on all the nature, but sometimes I do miss a garden where I can just open the door and let the kids run about instead of packing all of our stuff together and going somewhere.
But on the plus side we discover so many new favorite places every year that it is hard to name only one. So when you are starting a family in an urban setting I would say go for it! And go out and explore — our kids love our weekend outings.
Before the kids, I worked at a publishing house doing editorial design. After my two-year maternity leave, this kind of work setting didn’t feel right for me anymore and I decided to pursue my dream and start my own business. Giving birth and raising a kid had been so empowering for me that I felt like now I can tackle anything. Funny how that goes.
So now I do graphic design and illustrations for companies big and small. I work with newspapers, small one-person businesses and really anything in between. I have so many different customers from all lines of business that no workday looks the same for me, which I love. I have also a label under which I create stationery and art prints, which I sell online and in brick-and-mortar stores in Vienna. This is a creative outlet for me, as I love to paint and illustrate. I also do interior design and consultation, where I work mostly in the private sector.
Until recently I worked from home, which worked well for us since our little one started kindergarten only last September and so we were able to split the childcare duties plus me working during naptime etc.. But I always felt a little stressed doing both things justice (hello mom guilt!), so after she settled at kindergarten, I needed a change and to separate my work life from my home life in order to work on that balance.
I looked into office space and had viewed quite a few places before I settled on my current place, which is also only a short walk away from home, school and kindergarten. This was also important for me so as not to waste any time on a long commute. It is a shared office in a historic building. The office space used to be a bakery and you can even find some old ovens built into the cellar walls.
Here I have enough space to hold my stuff such as books and my stationery. The best thing is that I can just leave my worktable as it is and be sure to find it in the same arrangement when I come the next day, without worrying and watching over what the children will do with it.
I try not to take any work home in the afternoons or weekends and really keep these two worlds separate. I do take work with me when we spend a longer time at my mother-in-law’s, and illustration work I do mostly from home, where I love to sit and paint at the kitchen table.
With my first child I spent two years on maternity leave but it was always clear to me that I wanted to work in the same field again. After working for 20 years in the creative industry, it actually feels less like work and more of a lifestyle and, despite it often being tight scheduled-work, it is still so much fun.
I feel like since becoming a mother and having a more limited time frame in which to work, I am less willing to compromise on what I spend my days with. Being a mother has made me a more confident designer as well. I know what I want — I am pursuing my career dreams and at the same time striving for a balance that works for me as well as for my family. I feel like designing and being a mother are both such big parts of my life that I wouldn’t be complete without one or the other.
When we moved here I’d never imagined that this would be the home where we would welcome both our children into our lives and where they would spend a big part of their childhood. So it will always have a very special part in my heart, as I hope it will in theirs. This is the place where we can unwind, and be together as a family.
I hope they will remember all the meals we have as a family (even if they contain way too much greens for my kid’s taste), and that their friends were always welcome here. I hope that they forget the moments when their mom forgets herself, gets impatient and stressed about things like homework or cleaning up.
The best part of living with kids are all the little things, like when they bring me a drawing they made for me, and the fun and the joy and the spontaneity of the day to day life. The wonders of the world seen with fresh eyes, that is something that always takes my breath away. And curling up and reading a good night story makes me want to press the pause button, forever.
I wish that someone had told me (and I had listened!) that the days indeed go slow, and the years go fast. Because, despite those really long days and long nights I already miss holding my babies and breathing in the beautiful baby smell.
Thank you, Judit! I can’t get over all the sunlight in that apartment. When you think of small spaces, especially small spaces in big cities, I think sometimes we imagine tight quarters and small windows. If I didn’t know, I would never guess that this flat was small. It seems incredibly livable with two kids. And the way Judit describes their accidental minimalist lifestyle seems incredibly attractive too. Not having the extra space to just stash something really forces you to think about why you have what you have.
I always love hearing about the different paths parent’s lives take in regards to their careers. So often the conversation is made in terms of “working parents” and “stay-at-home parents.” But there are so many different paths. Judit stayed home for her two year (Europe is doing it right!) maternity leave, went back to work for herself, but worked from home so she could work around kid schedules, and now goes to an office space nearby. Flexible work options are so important for parents, and it’s great to see great examples of how well it can work.
Has your career taken a creative path due to having kids? Have you had to invent your own jobs and roles to make your schedule fit? Or are you in a more “traditional” job where you had a few weeks of parental leave and then you were back to regular hours?
Bunk Bed & kids table
Children’s Paper lamp
You can follow Judit on Instagram here and here. Her website features more of her work, and check out her Etsy Shop, too! Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.
Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org