I think you are really going to love today’s home tour. I can’t wait for you to meet Lesley! Lesley is a photographer and approached me a while ago about possibly featuring the home of one of her clients. We got to chatting and she casually mentioned that she might be interested in being featured as well, and I am so glad she took the plunge. You are going to oooh and aaah when you see her bright, beautiful, and stylish apartment in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Lesley’s style is simple and feels effortless. She almost has me convinced that I need to move to the Big Apple. Welcome, Lesley!
Hi there! We’re the Colvin family. There are six of us living in this cozy space we call home, and we love the life we’ve made in Manhattan. For now, we all still fit in one taxi cab, and we’re soaking up every minute of life in the city.
My husband Kyle and I met on a study abroad program in London when we were undergrads. The follow-up question to this statement is always: “Is he British?” No, he’s from Idaho. Our study abroad program had 32 female participants and eight male participants. I’ve never really gotten along well with girls, so I knew the key to my happiness was making friends with at least one of the guys immediately, otherwise I’d lose my chance to girls who were more assertive.
Although it was totally out of character for me, on the first day of the semester I walked straight into the packed classroom and made a beeline toward an empty chair on the front row next to a guy who introduced himself with a beaming smile I’ll never forget. We were friends at first sight and the rest is history. Fast forward fifteen years, and we’re parents to four children and living in New York.
Our oldest daughter Ella is ten and the lone family member with blue eyes and blonde hair. She’s constantly singing and writing songs and drawing, and wants to be an astronaut, ballerina, a schoolteacher, an artist, an author, and a mom when she grows up. We always say that she has her head in the clouds and her feet on the ground. Ella seems to fully understands the logic of life as it unfolds, and yet she expects her letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry any day now. We love her for it.
Jones is seven. He wants be dad and a computer guy when he grows up. He’s our one-and-only son who lives and breathes for anything technology related and adores his sisters more than anything in life. In fact, he regularly asks for more sisters. You can ask his dad how he feels about that. Jones is tenderhearted and kind, and is always the first to rush to his baby sister’s aid.
Kate is nearly five and dreams of being a mermaid someday. If she’s awake, she’s on tippy toes in search of her next dress-up outfit. She has the sweetest little high-pitched voice that leads one to question whether she’s breathing in helium or oxygen. Kate lives in her own little world, and I feel so blessed to be a part of it when I’m allowed. I’m usually not allowed.
Thea June is our baby girl who turns one in just a few short weeks. It’s been a struggle from the start to add children to our family, and the longest and hardest road has been ensuring her safe arrival. I haven’t minded the sleep deprivation or the smiling barnacle on my hip since her arrival one bit because I’m just grateful to have her by my side. She is happy so long as she’s at the heart of whatever is going on. She eats more than Kyle, and if you stop feeding her when she’s hungry, watch out! The entire neighborhood will hear about it. Nearly all the squabbles in our home are centered on whose turn it is to hold Thea. She’s loved and adored by all.
Kyle is an M&A attorney here in the city, and caring for our four children fills my days. We’re a bit of an anomaly for NYC because we have four children and because I take care of our children full time. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me if I’m my children’s nanny. I’ve learned to brush off incredulous looks with a smile, and “You’ve got your hands full!” with a “Yes! And I love it!”
It’s a life I’ve chosen for myself, and I’m fortunate that I have a hobby that’s also a part time profession when there’s a wedding, commercial shoot, or portrait session that peaks my interest as a photographer. I feel very fortunate indeed to have the best of both worlds, and grateful for a husband who supports me during busy season when I’m juggling work and home responsibilities. I studied art history and curatorial studies as an undergraduate, and historic conservation and architectural history as a graduate student, so New York City is the perfect place for me.
We live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. For those of you who speak NYC real estate: we live in the low 80’s and CPW in a prewar, true two-bed/two-bath apartment. It’s 1400 square feet, which sounds small for six people, but it’s very generously sized for Manhattan. This space is the largest we’ve ever had by a long shot and it makes me smile every time I walk through the door. It’s a little oasis in a crazy city, and as peaceful as can be.
Even though it’s on the second floor, our apartment has massive windows and faces a wide-open courtyard. We get brilliant sunlight throughout the day that bounces off neighboring apartments and floods through the windows of our 1930’s gem. We really lucked out because our apartment is over a part-time doctor’s office, and the apartment above us is vacant for half the year while its residents flee the Manhattan winter for a warmer climate. We don’t have to worry about our children running around like we have in other apartments, which is such a blessing!
Our neighbors and building staff greet our children by name with high fives and happy grins. They truly make it feel like home and take such good care of our family. Our apartment is directly across from Central Park, a five-minute walk from the Museum of Natural History and a nine-minute walk across the park from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Shake Shack is just a short walk away, and some of the best food in the city can be found in our neighborhood or just a quick subway ride away.
We chose our location primarily based on schools. With three children under eight and one on the way, when we moved back to the city we chose not to take the same risk we did when we lived further uptown years ago and sent our eldest to one of the lowest-ranked schools in our neighborhood (our old zoned school ranks 2/10 as compared to the rest of the state, and our current zoned school ranks 9/10 given the same set of criteria). This part of the Upper West Side has some of the best public schools in the city, and choosing an apartment on the right side of the right block is key to ensuring you’re zoned for a good school, and we lucked out finding an apartment that was zoned for one of the best schools in the city.
It’s an amazing place to live, and virtually the only downside of living in our neighborhood is the cost. If you need at least two bedrooms, you’ll be looking to pay at least $3000/month for a building with no amenities and no elevator. Prices range from about $4500-6000 for a two bedroom with an elevator, doorman, and a live-in super, and the prices go onwards and upwards from $6000-8000+ if you live in a “luxury” apartment with brand new finishes in a full-service building with amenities such as a gym, a swimming pool, and a doorman, etc. Our apartment is in the middle range, and is an incredible value given the location and amenities. Even with that said, it’s hard to understand how New Yorkers rationalize spending what we do on rent. Living here definitely comes at a cost on so many levels, but it’s well worth it. And as soon as it’s no longer worth the cost, it’s time to move!
I laugh out loud when people ask if it was hard to find the place we are in now because it was a total nightmare to find our apartment. We’ve always been under the gun to find an apartment in a few short days or weeks whenever we’ve needed to move back to the city, and they’ve been some of the most stressful of my life!
With our most recent move, we had about three weeks to find an apartment once we landed (which seemed like an eternity in New York minutes), and it was a sprint to the finish even knowing what we were up against. Unfortunately for us, the rental market for our neighborhood and price range was really tight when we moved back.
The first week of intense searching resulted in zero viable options. Kyle was working 20 hour days, so I was on my own with three children in tow. We were in the middle of a relentless NYC heatwave, and I was experiencing the worst morning sickness I’d ever had (but feeling so grateful so be so ill, given our history of pregnancy loss). I’d drag myself out of bed, make a few calls to schedule viewings, and then bribe my whiny little crew out into the furnace with the promise of Slurpees and Shack Shack. When our broker cracked the door of this apartment and the light flooded into the hallway, I heard angels singing, and I knew it was home.
If you’re unfamiliar with the NYC rental market, it can be a little crazy and nothing short of utterly depressing. Finding a reasonably-priced apartment in Manhattan takes persistence and patience, and if you don’t have either, you simply must lower your expectations. Like, clear to the ground. What you see on TV isn’t reality. We always laugh hysterically when we watch movies and TV shows that depict students or struggling artists living in $12K/month apartments overlooking Central Park. The reality of family living in New York City is that often parents sleep on murphy beds in the living area, siblings all share a bedroom, and babies sleep in closets. You do what you have to do! If you have a dishwasher, a full-sized fridge, a full-sized stove, or more than 12 inches of counter space, you are living in luxury. It’s definitely not what you see in the movies!
The housing market in our neighborhood is highly competitive, and the best apartments are gone in a New York minute. The best way to find a reasonably-priced rental is by word of mouth. If you have neither time nor patience to find your perfect apartment, your best bet is to find a broker to help with your search. Not all apartments have a finder’s/broker’s fee associated with them, but in our experience, the best ones do. The prices are often inflated to cover a fee, and the apartments are either smaller or less updated than comparable apartments.
If you’re on a budget, the key is to ensure that you’re only viewing either no-fee or low-fee listings. The standard broker’s fee is 15% of the annual cost of rent (yikes!), so you must be careful about which apartments you visit, and we always make sure we know what the rent and associated fees before we agree to a viewing. If there’s not a lot of inventory, some sneaky brokers will try to show you rentals above your price range, which can be heartbreaking for either you or your budget.
I’ve always loved the mindset of living in a small space, because we have to be deliberate about everything we bring into our home. We keep a minimalist approach so that we can keep our space feeling like home instead of a living storage unit. My best tip for living in a small space is to take a capsule-closet approach to your entire house. Only essentials that are in constant use justify the drawer, cupboard, and closet space. We make do without novelty cake pans and waffle irons, and if a kitchen gadget isn’t in use at least once a month, it’s out the door.
I love our cozy space because we’re always together. Not every day is perfect, but our children have learned to coexist peacefully in shared spaces. I love watching them work together and play side by side, and nearly all the spaces in our home serve more than one purpose. Our living and dining area is the hub of our home. It’s where we welcome friends — the sofa becomes our guest bed when family members come to stay — and it’s where we spend the majority of our time.
Because we only have one living space, it’s a huge priority to my husband and I that the space reflects our taste without being overrun by children’s toys. You might not be able to tell that children live here by looking at our living room, but there are toys hidden in plain sight in baskets and drawers.
Our children all share a room, which can make bedtime rather interesting some evenings, but generally we all love this setup (more on this later). We try to maximize floor space by finding beds with the smallest footprint possible. We have the Ouef Perch for Ella and Jones, a junior-sized Ikea Sniglar bed for Kate (halfway between a crib and a twin) and baby Thea is in an Alma Mini Crib (Kate slept in this tiny crib until she was nearly two!).
I’m no designer, but we kept the design as minimal as possible to reflect its shared use. I’m a mean mom because I don’t let our children have printed/character bedspreads or décor that can’t be swapped out as often as their preferences change. Each child has white sheets and a white duvet cover. I’m a huge fan of white linens because they reflect the light and makes the space seem bigger, and it’s also easy to keep clean (bleach!). White bedspreads create the perfect blank canvas for personalization elsewhere while giving the shared space some cohesion. Our children choose their own pillowcases and we hang their artwork and favorite photos next to their beds so their sleeping spaces feel like their own.
Our children’s room also doubles as the playroom. We have a strict one-in-one-out rule for toys and clothes, and we only keep the number of toys that I’m happy to clean up myself (as a last resort). With few exceptions, all of our toys belong to a set or collection, and it makes cleanup easy because every toy type has a separate storage space. When Grandparents want to send gifts, our children love it when they receive additions to our Schliech animal collection, Duplo sets, and train sets, and our family members have learned of our preference for experiences or museum memberships rather than objects. We prefer experiences over things generally, but it’s nice to have the added excuse of limited space.
Growing children make storage space rather interesting. I unknowingly had mini capsule closets for our children, simply because all four of them share one closet! I find that the less clothing we have, the easier it is to manage laundry as well. I try to buy high-quality, unisex winter coats, rain jackets, boots, sandals, and wellies so we can conserve storage space and pass the items down the line. Along with a pair of rain boots, our children have no more than 2-3 pairs of shoes at a time because that’s what will fit in their designated shoe drawers at the entrance of our apartment.
In terms of keeping our small space tidy, we have a home for every single object in our apartment, and we clean as we go to stay ahead of the clutter. One downside of a small space is that there’s nowhere for a mess to hide, but the upside is that it’s small enough that we can tidy the entire space relatively quickly. We have a “six o’clock sweep” following dinner where we do a walkthrough of the apartment and make sure everything is put away in its home before bedtime. I also find that starting the day with an empty dishwasher is the greatest gift I can give myself.
When we don’t clean as we go, things get out of hand very quickly! When objects no longer have homes, or our cupboards and closets are overflowing, we call for a “giveaway day” to get our storage spaces under control and minimize clutter.
To be honest, the only aspect of living in a small space that’s frustrating for me is that we can’t fit our entire family in the kitchen. The children seem to always want to be where I am, and when I’m cooking meals, there isn’t a whole lot of room to maneuver around four children. Although we’re fortunate to have the space and counter space that we do, we love to cook together and such a small kitchen really makes it a challenge.
I always say that living in Manhattan isn’t for everyone, and it’s not for most people. Living in the city is much like living with children: you experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, but it’s those incredible moments that keep you smiling amidst the chaos and keeping you coming back for more.
Now that I can speak from experience as both a city and a suburban mom, I really feel that life with four is actually harder in the suburbs. Truly!
City living is amazing because there’s always something to see and do, and on a whim you can choose any number of incredible opportunities that are just a minutes away. Being a mom, I love that I can step out my door and have an amazing day with no planning whatsoever. You simply need a sense of adventure to let the city show you what it has on offer for the day. New York City rarely disappoints. And if it does, there’s always Levain dark chocolate peanut butter cookies to take the edge off.
For those considering a change to city life with your family, I say, don’t underestimate your children. If you think moving to a city sounds like a grand adventure, then make the change and your children will be excited too! It will be an adjustment, to be sure, but not one that you will regret. Friends and family constantly question how we live without a backyard and how our children survive sharing one room. Children are incredibly resilient, and sharing a bedroom has taught ours to work together and care for each other. They work as a team each day to keep their room tidy and clean, and although they usually sleep through just about anything (city kids!), if someone has a nightmare, I often rush into their room to find that a sibling has already beat me to the rescue.
They help each other, motivate one another, and care for each other in a way that I can only attribute to them sharing a room. With regards to not having a backyard, I’ll ask whether you’d exchange a private outdoor space for some of the best museums, parks, and playgrounds you can imagine? We had shared garden space in London, and we rarely used it because when we left our apartment there were far more interesting and engaging things to see and do!
I also love that my children are learning to live as considerate members of a community because they are in close proximity to others at all times. Both at home and while we’re out and about, nearly all of our spaces are shared spaces, and our little ones are learning from a young age to think of others. We’re learning to think less about me and mine, and more in terms of us and ours.
As far as day-to-day logistics go, there are so many incredible grocery and product delivery services that didn’t exist even five years ago. Add those to the city’s delivery culture for meals, dry cleaning, and laundry, and you’ve got yourself a pretty fantastic way to live. Countless takeout options (often cheaper than making dinner!), having groceries delivered in one hour, or a prescription called in and delivered in less time than you can get it yourself will quickly change you feel about city living.
I can do nearly all of my errands within a five-minute walk of my apartment, and when you have a stroller instead of a minivan, you don’t have to deal with car seats, parking, or transferring slumbering toddlers. The subway and bus systems are easy to navigate, and in a pinch you can hail a cab, call an Uber, or use a rideshare service to get around town more quickly. If you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of a move to the city, I’m your girl. I’ll convince you that it’s the only way to live.
One of the areas I feel confident in as a mom is elevating the ordinary: making the most out of everyday moments. It was definitely a weakness that turned into a strength over time with practice, but I’m better now at making ordinary moments special with just a bit of effort. My husband works crazy hours, so it’s just me and my children most of the time. I don’t have the luxury of running errands on my own, so I try to engage my little friends as I go about my day, making an adventure out of dinner prep, laundry, and the school run alike.
Children find magic because they’re always looking for it, so if you even give a mere hint of imaginative play they will be off and running in their own little worlds. With a little bit of effort I can turn the boring/stressful/chaotic moments around with a little bit of whimsy and imagination — a little sprinkle of magic dust, if you will. Notes in lunch boxes, sprinkles and whipped cream on hot chocolate, bubble baths, table cloths and china for midweek meals. It doesn’t take much to make the ordinary extraordinary.
I love being a silent observer as they play. I love seeing them caught up in their own imaginative worlds for hours on end, and I often wish I could remember what it felt like to be that carefree. When they think you’re not watching, children have the most hilarious conversations with siblings or imaginary friends. When I actually take the time to stop and watch, my children are far more entertaining than any Broadway show.
I already miss how much they love and adore their daddy and me. I already miss how eager they are to sit beside us and tell us everything they’re thinking, stream of consciousness. How they sleepily find their way into our arms in the early morning light. The way their faces light up at the sight of us. Their little hands always finding their way to hold ours.
Soon we’ll be desperate for their love and attention, and we’ll wish that they remembered how much they loved us once. These are the golden days.
I hope my kids always remember how cozy this apartment felt. The way they loved to sit in the windows and watch the snowfall in the courtyard. The sound of birds chirping through the open window in the springtime. I hope they remember the laughter when we regularly tried to squeeze all six of us on our queen-sized bed in the mornings. The way our Christmas tree lit up the whole apartment like magic.
I hope our children remember their mom and dad for our sense of adventure, spontaneity, and how we loved to laugh. I hope they always remember that amidst the chaos and the swirl of our city life, they always had our warm, happy home where they knew they were loved unconditionally. The way their Dad always made time for them, no matter how busy he was at work.
I hope they forget the times when we put on movie to try and distract them while one or both of us needed to focus on work, and the countless times we had cold cereal or ordered pizza when their tired mama simply couldn’t find the strength to whip together a proper meal.
I wish someone had told me (and I had listened) that motherhood would be the greatest adventure of my life. I was in such a rush to live out so many dreams before marriage and before children, but little did I know that having a child was the start of the greatest adventure of all. The wonder, the magic, the joy, the sleepless happy haze of those newborn weeks. It all rushes by too soon.
It makes me sad to think of my twenty-five-year-old self who was terrified of becoming a mother because she thought it meant putting her hopes and dreams on hold for a time. I’ve never been happier to be so wrong. I would never have guessed that the greatest joys would come from the smallest acts: first smiles, first laughs, first steps, first words. Watching the wonder in their wide eyes and seeing the hope in their fearless little hearts as they grow. It’s truly the greatest gift, the greatest adventure of them all.
Thank you, Lesley! What a lovely home and so much great advice too. I love the “one in, one out” policy for toys and clothes — I think my home could use a bit more of that. And I am equally obsessed with the idea of the 6pm sweep! How great it must feel to be able to enjoy the evening without picking up toys and messes that were left behind.
I also really loved Lesley’s perspective about going about her day and engaging with her kids and she goes. As a parent, I know what a luxury it can seem like to get to go to Target by myself, but sometimes it isn’t possible and it’s true that whenever you can get the kids involved, staying patient and calm, and adding some “magic” turns into a much better outing for everyone. “It doesn’t take much to make the ordinary extraordinary.” Such great advice.
Are you an urban or a suburban parent? What do you love about where you live? What are the trade offs? Do you think you’ll ever make the move to the other side? Or are the things you would have to give up too precious?
Bunk bed – Oeuf Perch
Grimm Spiel und Holtz rainbow block sets
See more of Lesley’s photography work on her website or follow her on Instagram. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. 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, gay parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.