Family of Five Shares Less than 700 Square Feet


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Name: Jenny Davis, Cory, and our three kids (4-year old son and 1-year old twin daughter & son)
Location: Upper East Side — New York City, New York
Size: 650 square feet
Type of Home: One-bedroom apartment 
Years lived in: 14 years, renting

A few years ago, I once wrote that Jenny’s one-bedroom rental apartment — and how she cleverly designed it to fit both her, her husband, and their young son — is everything Apartment Therapy stands for. Two years later, and the sentiment is even MORE true: Jenny and Cory added twins to their family and instead of moving to a larger home, they adapted the apartment they’ve been renting for 14 years to make it a highly functional family home for adults and kids.

“We thought about leaving during the pandemic. People were moving out all around us and two days before the twins were born, a curfew was put in place and a store in our building was looted by a mob. The City felt like the Wild West, abandoned and unruly,” Jenny explains. “We hunkered down instead and it pushed me to use design to expand our world inside these walls. I had a lot to work with because I don’t let predefined notions limit what a space could be. Instead of seeing rooms used for just one function, I imagine “zones” where we can play, create, think, or rest. This gives us so much more space and enables us to better adapt our apartment to our changing needs and values.” 

Jenny and Cory adapted nearly every area of the home. “My closet is an office, our entryway foyer is a Lego-building station for my son, our play area can turn into a gym, and our alcove is our older son’s bedroom. Even though we’re five people in 650 square feet, we don’t feel cramped at all in an apartment and neighborhood we love,” says Jenny.

“Having been in this apartment for so long and seeing it evolve through the layers of life has made me believe that a home can really have a soul. It’s a place where our needs and desires are met, and memories are made and honored. And the more we align our design choices with those principles, the more we can bring our home to life.”

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Biggest Challenge: With three kids, things can get chaotic quick and unmanageable clutter can form in an instant. I believe this would be the case in a bigger home, too. So for me, making things flow easier is not about having more space, but about having less stuff. And by “stuff,” I mean things you don’t really use or appreciate. I regularly go through clutter-prone spots like our closets and drawers. And I try not to buy or keep anything unless there’s no other convenient way to achieve what it does. I got rid of a lot in our kitchen this way, including our microwave, toaster, and drying rack… and I now have room for a renter-friendly portable dishwasher that’s been life-changing! 

The same applies to toys, which is why I requested blocks last year for holiday gifts. The blocks replaced big toys like the bulky fire station and parking lot we had (I did, however, detach the garage and elevator parts of those toys so we can use them freely). With these uninhibited pieces, we’ve also created an aquarium, a car wash, a space station, a fort, a castle, and so much more. I can’t wait until all three kids are working together to build imaginative play worlds. 

We now have more space (literally and figuratively) to play deeply and live more fully. 

Proudest DIY: I love the play kitchen/market I created for our kids in our kitchen. When our IKEA play kitchen wasn’t used regularly, I took it apart and built it into our kitchen shelves. I also turned our IKEA art easel into a market stand that goes over our trash can when not in use. Under our counter, I made a space for my son’s cash drawer and large books. It’s such a nice zone in our apartment that really optimizes the use of that space. 

A more recent DIY that’s also been great is the Lego-building space I made for our older son. I was struggling with how to organize his ever-growing Lego collection, and how to keep the tiny pieces away from the babies. As it turned out, the part of our apartment furthest from the play area happened to be a catch-all, unclaimed spot. It’s the first foyer — an awkward pre-entrance to our main foyer. That previously dead space is now a Lego room with bins to organize the Legos and a folding desk to build on. I covered the space with dinosaur wallpaper to make it more inviting and to inspire creativity; that’s the vibe I wanted that zone to have, and the vibe I want people to feel when they enter. 

Favorite Element: Our apartment has open southern views that let in the most dreamy natural light. I grew up in a dark basement apartment so I don’t take this for granted. Not only is it nice in and of itself, but the direct sunlight enables me to have interesting exotic plants like a blue cactus that charges during the day and pops with color at night, and a Brazilian Rain Tree whose leaves open and close with the sun. I love plants and can’t have enough.

Biggest Indulgence: After seeing how much the whale wallpaper in my son’s bedroom brought that space to life, I went a little wallpaper crazy. I guess you can say I’m a maximalist when it comes to wallpaper. To me, wallpaper is art that can have a powerful mood effect on a space, giving it depth and unique character. The wallpaper is whimsical in our entryway, moody in my closet office, clean in our living room area, and cozy in our kitchen.

Best Decorating Advice: Decorate with the meaningful things in your life. Mementos, heirlooms, and other treasures too often get put away and whatever makes them special goes idle. Out in the open, they become part of a home’s story about the people who live there. We’ve decorated with my mom’s dress from when she was a teenager in Macedonia, hats from our diving trip in the Galapagos and honeymoon in Fiji, a picture our son drew, and a watercolor painting of a humpback whale we swam with in Norway. These and other pieces create an energy and an authenticity that grounds our home and makes it truly beautiful to us.  

This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.

Adrienne Breaux

House Tour Editor

Adrienne loves architecture, design, cats, science fiction and watching Star Trek. In the past 10 years she’s called home: a van, a former downtown store in small town Texas and a studio apartment rumored to have once been owned by Willie Nelson.