As newlyweds living in 600 square feet, Kendal and her husband decided it was time to buy a house and get more space. So they searched and searched and fell in love…
…with an 800 square foot house. Hah!
Happily, it turns out 800 square feet is ideal for their family. I can tell you’re really going to enjoy this home tour. There are a lot of things you won’t want to miss — including dramatic housing price changes, cross country moves, and a visit to the pet shelter.
Hello! We’re Kendal, Pierre, Frankie Rose and Archie. Frankie Rose is 14 months old and Archie is three years old, ballpark. We adopted him from Toronto Animal Services in 2014 after I decided (somewhat impulsively) that I just couldn’t live another day of my adult life without a cat, which was something I’d wanted desperately as a child. My husband Pierre was a bit reluctant, but I can be very persuasive and I convinced him that all the post-its stuck to Archie’s kennel (“Feral!” “Wear gloves!”) were nothing to worry about. I was right ─ he is a huge sweetheart and our family wouldn’t be complete without him.
Frankie Rose is the world’s loveliest baby. Besides a growing belly, I didn’t have a single pregnancy symptom and she was born without issue on her due date. She loves music, splashing in the water, pushing carts, hiding things on us and doing giant belly-flops on our bed. She is friendly with everyone and attracts attention wherever we go; she’s a huge flirt. I was a bit reluctant to become a mother at 29, but Pierre can be very persuasive and he convinced me it was the right time to have a baby. He was right ─ she is a huge sweetheart and I couldn’t imagine my life without her.
And that pretty much sums up our marriage. We’re two people with very clear ideas about what we want out of life, sometimes those ideas come into conflict, but we really try to take turns and support each other’s dreams. I’m grateful to have been pushed into areas (like motherhood) that I might have put off otherwise and I hope Pierre is grateful to have been pulled into areas (like home ownership) that he might have put off otherwise.
We live in Toronto. It’s home to over 160 neighbourhoods, some as small as a few blocks, and we call the neighbourhood of “Danforth Village” home. It’s slightly east of Greektown and slightly north of The Beach, both tonier neighbourhoods, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the city. Apparently, a lot of people feel the same way ─ housing prices have jumped huge in the decade that we’ve lived in the area. After renting nearby for a few years, we bought our 800 square foot detached bungalow at the end of 2010 for $380,000 and, without making any changes to the layout or size of the house, we sold it last month for $982,000.
In the past year (since having my daughter), I’ve grown to love my neighbourhood more and more. If you’re reading this, you probably know how difficult it is to stray too far from home with a baby who needs to nap every three hours (more often in the early days!) and eat all.the.time.
Absolutely everything I need is steps from my home ─ a weekly farmers’ market, park with a wading pool, toy store with music and storytime programming, three different library branches, the beach, ravines and trails, two bakeries, a butcher, a larger grocery store and the subway for when I do want to venture to another part of the city.
I found the early days of motherhood to be pretty isolating, but this beautiful and supportive community helped me overcome that feeling. Being able to walk five minutes and reach three different coffee shops or drive five minutes and reach the beach made it so easy to leave the house at least once a day and combat some of that cabin fever.
Shortly after Pierre and I got married, I got hit with a pretty bad case of house lust. We had created a wedding registry and, predictably, received a lot of gifts for our wedding ─ a ten-piece china set and matching teapot, towels that actually matched, a queen-sized mattress ─ and, all of a sudden, our lives felt bigger than our 600 square foot apartment.
At the time, Pierre was working at a gold mine in Suriname in South America. He’d work for a month and then be home for a month. It was hard on our new marriage, but it was even harder on my aspirations to home ownership!
The Toronto real estate market has reached new levels of crazy in recent years, but even back in 2010, a good house in our neighbourhood was usually snapped up within a week. The only way a house would hang around on the market any longer than that was if there was something wrong with it. Luckily, there was something “wrong” with our house: it was tiny.
It hung around just long enough for me to drag Pierre to see it on the first or second day that he was home in Toronto after a month away. He told me it was much too small for us ─ barely any bigger than the apartment I wanted to move out of ─ and I remember locking myself in our apartment bedroom, clutching the real estate brochure and sobbing. (Trust me, he remembers it, too.)
We ended up putting an offer on a larger home on a busy street ─ three bedrooms, two bathrooms, two storeys ─ but, in 2010, you were still able to put conditions on an offer to buy a home and we had asked for a home inspection. The bigger house had major electrical issues so we backed out of the deal. Our little bungalow was still available and I begged and wheedled and we ended up buying it for $19,000 under the asking price. At the time, no one else wanted it but us (well, but me, my husband wasn’t very excited about it).
It turns out I adore living in a small space. I can clean it top to bottom in under an hour, Frankie Rose is always in sight and it’s impossible to lose or misplace anything. We stayed with my parents for the week that our house was on the market not too long ago and I was amazed by how frazzled I was, owing to the larger space. Up and down stairs all day long to change diapers and fetch things that had been left on a different level and a million surfaces to set things down upon, only to forget where you’d placed them. I was so relieved to get home to our small space, which feels infinitely more functional to me than a larger home.
We absolutely limit our belongings to fit our space and that doesn’t come naturally to us, so I’m grateful for the size of our home for that reason. We’re the accidental minimalists! Surely we would fill closets and rooms if we had more of them, but because I don’t feel like we’ve deprived ourselves of anything ─ we have enough clothes, books, toys, kitchen utensils ─ I can only conclude that extra closets and rooms wouldn’t hold anything that was necessary.
The biggest challenge of living in a small space with a young child is the noise! Frankie Rose’s bedroom is dead centre on the floor plan ─ it shares a wall with our living room and our bedroom and it’s directly across from the bathroom. Once she goes to bed (around 7:30 pm) we tiptoe around like mice, trying not to wake her. We watch TV with the subtitles on and hover around the kettle, grabbing it at that moment just before it starts to whistle.
We bought this house when we were both fairly young. I was 24 and Pierre was 26. My father is a builder and he was very excited by our purchase ─ a detached home on a decently sized city lot. Right away he was imagining the gourmet kitchen, skylit yoga loft and wet bar for us. Because of his connections, he told us he could complete this massive renovation/expansion for us for $100,000. Plans were being drawn up before we even took possession of the house and we kind of got swept up in it.
Luckily the City does not rubber stamp things too easily. There is a very large maple tree in our yard that tripped us up with Urban Forestry and the third floor yoga loft put us over the height bylaw so the plans got returned to us for revision. Pierre was working in South America, gone for a month at a time. When he was home, we argued about the plans for the house and how we were going to afford the renovation ─ that $100,000 budget was looking like it would cost us more like $250,000.
One night I said to him, “What if we pull the plug on this whole thing and just live in the house we bought?” We hadn’t made any changes to the house at all since moving in because we’d been waiting to do this renovation, but I knew there were things I could do to improve the house for us without moving any walls or adding any square footage.
We felt so much relief immediately ─ all the notices from the City and our money worries evaporated. The hardest part was telling my dad. I actually called my grandmother to ask for her advice ─ how to break it to him when he was so excited about building us a house. He took it very well, of course. He was only doing this because he thought it was something we wanted. We’ve never regretted our decision for an instant. Not even when Archie and, later, Frankie Rose moved in with us!
The changes we made to the house to make it work for our evolving family and our small-space solutions are too many to list, although I’ve blogged about every little detail if you’re interested.
Though we still live in our 800 square foot house, I mentioned earlier that we recently sold it. Why? At the moment, we’re embarking on a new adventure as a family to pursue one of Pierre’s dreams and my career as a children’s book editor is taking a bit of a backseat. Pierre is a geologist who has been stuck behind a desk for a few years because his busy travel schedule has been tough on our marriage in the past. He has long-wanted to return to field work so, after quite a bit of deliberation, we’ve decided to pack up our lives in Toronto and move 4,000 km west to Victoria, British Columbia where he’ll be starting a new job in June.
In fact, as I write this, we are fresh off a plane after spending two weeks in Victoria looking for a new home! Our new house is slightly bigger; it’s 1177 square feet. Still two bedrooms and one bathroom, single-level living (and still a five minute drive from the beach!), but it has a bonus “piano room” at the front of the house, and a hallway separates both bedrooms from the kitchen, living and dining areas. I think it’s going to be a lot more functional for us while still giving us the benefits of living in a smaller home. We are in love with our new house and neighbourhood and excited to explore it more thoroughly starting in May.
Selling our current home was bittersweet. We are excited to move across the country and agree it’s time for a change of scenery. But we have such happy memories here and it feels as though those memories will be diluted by time and distance. We love our neighbours and our community and we will miss our friends and family.
That being said, we are not the type of people to live all our lives in one spot or have just one career, so we would have made a move sooner or later and it probably would have been a drastic move as it’s unaffordable for us to move within the city limits. Canada is a huge country with lots to offer from coast to coast to coast. Vancouver Island offers a totally different lifestyle than Southern Ontario, than the Maritime Provinces. We are so blessed to be able to make this huge change without leaving our country’s borders.
My favourite detail in our little house is our solid-core shaker-style doors. When we bought the house, the previous owner had gone to a big box store and put new doors on every room. They were cheap with gold handles and I despised them.
It took me two years of scouring renovation sites in our neighbourhood and visiting ReStore stores to find five doors that fit the dimensions of our doorframes (they’re all different) in the right style and enough mortise locks and crystal doorknobs to complete the look. My favourite of the doors is the one on Frankie Rose’s nursery. It’s a French door to which I added window film and I always get a lot of compliments on it.
One of the hardest things about selling our house and leaving our neighbourhood is the knowledge that Frankie Rose is not old enough to remember anything about this house, which has been so instrumental in our lives. Luckily we have lots (and lots and lots) of photographs and what we hope are lifelong friends to tempt us back to the neighbourhood for visits. I do hope she remembers how her arrival completed this home for us and made us feel like it was finally “finished.”
My favourite thing (so far!) about living with Frankie Rose has been the exercise of creating a home for her in her different stages of babyhood. I have a Masters degree in Education with a specialty in holistic education. I am particularly interested in Waldorf education and so I think environment plays a huge role in child development.
At a time when I am not working outside the home, it has been both an intellectual and creative exercise for me to create an environment for her that is stimulating, calming, inviting and safe. I love seeing her enjoy or explore something I have selected or planned carefully for her, whether that’s a basket of books, a little obstacle course or nature treasure box.
There is nothing that I miss, only more to look forward to! I have always known that I only want one child, so I try and be fully present with her and enjoy each stage, even if it’s a particularly frustrating or sleepless one.
I wish someone had told me that I should march to the beat of my own drummer. We’ve made some pretty unconventional decisions in our lives, the latest of which is taking a large pay cut and moving ourselves 4,000 km away from friends and family ─ to a city we’d never even visited before last week ─ just because we wanted to.
I’m 31 and still working on not worrying too much about what other people think of my decisions, unless those other people are Pierre. We really just have to do what feels right to us, whether that’s where we live, what we do for a living, how we raise Frankie Rose, even if that means a lot of sidelong glances come our way.
Thank you for joining us here today, Kendal. That was a treat!
So much good stuff in this tour! I love all the little details, like the post-its warning (that she ignored) about the feral cat, the 2-year search for the perfect vintage doors, and couldn’t you just feel the relief when the scratched the big expansion plans? Speaking of which, I loved her thoughts on the advantages of a small home:”I adore living in a small space. I can clean it top to bottom in under an hour, Frankie Rose is always in sight and it’s impossible to lose or misplace anything.”
Are you the same? Do you prefer less square footage to more? And what do you consider a “small” dwelling? It seems like it’s all relative depending on the place you’re living, and whether that dwelling is an apartment, condo or a stand alone house. What feels like the right size to you?
The wooden exersaucer (turns into a chalkboard table) in our living room is a Bobbin Triple Play Centre, handmade by a company here in Toronto called Three Pears. The Eames-style Eiffel chairs in our dining room are colourful knock-offs. The hanging angel wing pendants in our living room and Frankie Rose’s nursery are custom designs by Eclectic Revival, a small shop in The Junction neighbourhood of Toronto. On the nursery door is a pattern called Metro Window Film. All of the artworks in Frankie Rose’s bedroom are from children’s books that I worked on over many years with the publishing house Owlkids Books.
Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.