Living With Kids: Lesley Colvin

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.

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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?

SOURCES

Bunk bed – Oeuf Perch

Grimm Spiel und Holtz rainbow block sets

Schleich animals

Children’s play table and chairs



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 features@designmom.com.

66 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Lesley Colvin”

  1. Lesley-you are living my dream :) How cool to hear about living in NYC with a bigger family. I have 4 kids also but we’ve always been in the suburbs. My husband’s office is actually in NYC and we’ve played around with the idea of moving there (we’re currently in SoCal). Unfortunately, I think we’ve missed our window. We have 2 in high school-and from my research it’s pretty difficult to try and transition to public high school in the city. I was just in NYC over the weekend-I took my teenagers to that Shake Shack and to the Natural History Museum on Monday. I’ll just have to love the city as a tourist-and maybe down the road-my motto is, you never know where life is going to take you!

    1. Heidi, you definitely haven’t missed your window! I say, live the dream you imagine. New York City is the most incredible place to raise children. Uprooting a child is hard at any time, particularly during those formative high school years. But I’m always amazed at the resilience of children (Ella is on her fifth public school due to moving!). As long as you do proper research and make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into, you won’t regret it. To be honest, in all of our years living in the city, every friend of mine who has moved to the city has been able to transition children to school with relative ease. I actually think it’s easier to move midyear, as you have low expectations and don’t have to play the waiting game (torture!). I have a friend who just moved her family of four to the city last year, two of her daughters are high-school aged. I’d be happy to put you in touch! My motto is that everyone should live in NYC at least once… so figure out your timing and make it a reality. I’ll be cheering for you!

  2. I’m a native New Yorker and I want to say thank you for the full disclosure on what it is like to find a home in NYC. Your apartment is my dream apartment (I have dream houses, too) prewar, UWS, those floors, those windows, the light! I feel like apartments from that time were built with beauty and space in mind. Also thank you for sharing the bit about your above and below neighbors – because as an apartment-dwelling family, that has been one of our greatest challenges. You also explained school zoning in Manhattan very well, “the right side of the right street.”

    1. Hi there, Melissa. I just breathed a huge sigh of relief reading this comment! I wanted to try my best to bring to light some of the realities of NYC living (without mentioning cockroaches, rodents, and bed bugs), and I appreciate you taking the time to validate what I wrote. Truly. It’s amazing what suburbanites take for granted, right? In our first family apartment in the city we had the meanest downstairs neighbors who would bang on the ceiling with a giant pole every time they heard one of our children- sometimes when my kids start chasing each other around the apartment my heart starts racing and I shout “Quiet feet, children! QUIET FEET!” even though we moved out of that apartment over five years ago.

      I wholeheartedly agree about prewar buildings. Built with light and space in mind- perfectly said! Don’t we all have dream apartments? Tell me I’m not the only one who gazes longingly up at brownstone townhouses and their glorious ceiling plasterwork and built-in cabinets full of vintage books at night.

      And speaking of school zones, just after we moved in, District 3 rezoned and our apartment was moved out of the zone for our school by half a block. My older two could stay in the school, of course, but we went from being zoned for one of the best schools on the UWS to one of the worst schools on the UWS in an instant. What a difference a block makes!

  3. My family is moving from San Francisco to a smaller city soon, and we can’t wait to be done with big city living. While we’ll still have the amenities of a mid-sized city, we are excited to have a garage, a yard for our dog, and to not feel unsafe whenever we walk around the neighborhood in the trash-filled streets. I’m always amazed at how clean and safe NYC is compared to San Francisco.

    1. It breaks my heart. I was born in SF, grew up in Marin and spent so much time in the city in the 70s and 80s, and early 90s when I worked there. How SF is today is so different than it was. My 19 year old daughter recently spent a week in SF and was saying she always feels safer in NYC. Good luck on your move.

    2. It’s rare to hear anyone refer to NYC as clean and safe :) but we’ve never felt unsafe for a minute, nor noticed the rubbish on the streets because our eyes are fixed on the beauty elsewhere. Except on the Subway. It’s hard to not see it on the Subway! I wish you the best with your upcoming move out of San Francisco. Friends reach this point time and time again here in the city, and I say it’s wonderful to know what your family needs and to have the power to make a move. You’ll all be so excited for the much-needed change. I hope that you’re able to leave with happy memories and return to SF to make many more in time.

    1. Hi, Nora! We actually picked up the rugs while we were traveling in the Atlas mountains of Morocco. Don’t you hate answers like that? I highly recommend a visit to Morocco to pick up your own rug. I smile whenever I see ours from this trip.

      Nora is one of my most favorite names, by the way.

  4. What a lovely feature. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Lesley’s adventures with her four littles. I especially loved her sentiment to make the ordinary moments of every day life special as I also a SAHM who has been struggling with putting aside my dreams and aspirations to be fully present for my daughter. I have come to realize that it is a balance and can certainly be achieved and that I don’ have to “give up my dreams” so to speak; that so many moms are doing amazing things with their limited time. Her perspective was such a breathe of fresh air. I’m bookmarking this to read next time I’m feeling a little lost and understimulated as a SAHM. I need to remember to add magic into our everyday life. Thank you Lesley!

    1. Beautifully said, Celine. It’s a balancing act, indeed, and I struggle every day. But it’s amazing to me how these little friends of mine can turn my day right around when I take the time to be fully present, as you so perfectly said. Thanks for making my day with your lovely comment.

  5. I’m an outer-borough New Yorker, living in a one-bedroom with my husband and 16-year-old daughter. While we’re in a pre-war so I recognize so many of the elements in your apartment, we sadly don’t have great light. My chief regret!

    I absolutely agree about the closeness that’s fostered living in a small space. I know we’re closer to our daughter than either my husband or I were to our parents when we were her age.

    We also had a one-in-one-out policy for toys that worked well. It broke down on the clothes front when she became a teen (fair warning!). :)

    1. Hi, Amy! Those prewar details are so hard to pass up, and I truly feel like we completely lucked out with this apartment. I’ve never seen such incredible light in a 2nd floor apartment. I love hearing from moms who feel the same way I do about small spaces, and I appreciate warning about your teenager and her clothes. Sounds like I need to be extra vigilant with Ella before things get out of control!

  6. We live in the actual city of Chicago with 2 kids, and as soon as the first one was born, everyone started asking when we’re moving the burbs. Luckily, in the last 10 or so years, families have been making Chicago a home much more than in the past, and there are so many great amenities for families in the city. We love that we have world-class museums and other adventure spaces right at our fingertips. Of course, the real estate market – both to rent and to own – is not nearly as crazy as it is in NYC or SF, for example. So we’ve got the best of both worlds. I occasionally think that it would be nice to have a backyard, but we’ve got three excellent parks and playgrounds within 3 blocks.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve actually never been to Chicago! We’re planning to make our way through on our drive to visit family out west this summer. I’d love know what your top sites are to visit with children if you just have a day or two. Thanks!

  7. I have two little ones and her talking about how these are the golden days…oh, it just made me tear up suddenly. Sometimes I come across parents who seem constantly cross with their children, and others who inhabit their roles as parents with such obvious joy. Lesley definitely seems like one of the latter! (Although I’m sure she has hard days too – who doesn’t?) I loved reading this and hearing how her children are turning into thoughtful little citizens. Thank you, Lesley, for sharing your perspective with us.

    1. You and me both! I’m a weepy mess just thinking of this time passing. I know we’ll look back on these days as the best of times (even on those hard days when they feel like the worst of times, right?). I truly love being a mother, but being a mother is also the hardest job I’ve ever had. There are days when I simply feel like I’m not good enough and wish I could quit! I’m grateful for the start of each new day when I have the chance to start again afresh. Thank goodness children have such short memories and are so quick to forgive.

  8. Beautiful apartment and love your attitude to toys and life in general! But in Europe a 130 sqm apartment (I had to do an online conversion and checked twice as I thought it couldn’t be true that you think it’s small!) is absolutely huge and definitely not small at all! Interesting to see the different perspectives on living space :-). Gabby I have a general question on the tours (which I love!) – most families featured seem to have stay at home moms or moms doing a part-time job which is mostly from home. Is that a reflection of American society or just by chance? Here in (east) Germany most mothers work outside the home and I have noted before that it seems to be different in most tours featured so thought it might be an interesting point to note if there is such a large difference in the societies?

    1. It may be also a question of strong sample bias :) I work outside the home and almost all of the mothers I know, do the same. With so much of my time spent outside the home, I can assure you my place looks nowhere near being feature-worthy on this website! I think moms who stay at home or do part-time work from home are more able to arrange their homes beautifully.

      1. Maggie – yes mine neither! Like ever! I also wondered how it is possible to afford such beautiful houses/apartments that are often featured on one salary – that would not be possible here unless the husband (it seems to be usually the husband) is absolutely at the top of the career ladder. I am not in any way critizing the tours and I love reading them, just often find it hard to relate from a European perspective as the societal structure must be different.

      2. Hi Fiona!

        Regarding features of SAHM moms or those who work part time, I think Maggie is spot on about the sample bias. Outside my group of friends at church, I don’t have any friends who stay home with their children. As I mentioned above, staying home is a choice that I made for myself and our family. I have a supportive husband who encourages me to work if it’s what I want (regularly, actually!), but even with a BA and an MSc my wages would basically cover the cost of childcare for four children. Instead of working to pay a nanny, I stay home with my little ones myself. It is a choice that I have made, and I have to remind myself of that on the hardest days.

        And speaking to your comment about apartment size, you are absolutely correct! This apartment is palatial for a city apartment by European standards. Having lived in London and NYC over the past 15 years, it’s definitely the largest apartment we have ever had by quite a lot. Even by NYC standards, it’s a very generous space for a two bedroom that most families would have carved up and made into three by adding a wall somewhere, to be sure! That being said, 1400 square feet for a family of six is very small by American standards. This apartment is a two bedroom flat, and the norm for many suburban families is to live in a single family home with a yard and a separate room for each child (or two to a bedroom at the most!). Even fellow New Yorkers think we are absolutely crazy to be living in a 2 bedroom with four children. I often have to just walk away while people stand their with their jaws open. It’s hilarious.

        And I agree with Maggie that when you’re in your home 24/7 you’re more likely to spend time styling vignettes and gallery walls. It just makes sense, right? Since my home is my work space, I want it to be inspiring. I like to walk into a room and feel like it’s a breath of fresh air instead of stepping into pure chaos!

    2. Hi, Fiona,

      I won’t answer for Gabby of course regarding the home-tour families, specifically, but I do want to share my perspective on stay-at-home vs. work-outside-the-home parenting in the U.S.

      We don’t have universal healthcare or childcare as you might know. The short answer might be that U.S. moms choose a variety of employment situations from exclusively staying home with their children through juggling more than one job. The choice (when there is a choice) is not simply a matter of the wages mom will or won’t bring to the family. Our health insurance is nearly always hand-in-hand with our job, and one parent has to have a job with health insurance for the family, and part-time workers usually don’t qualify for health insurance. I know many women who work full-time outside the home only because it is how they can keep their health insurance; otherwise they would prefer to work freelance or part-time.

      When you work outside the home, your job may or may not give you paid maternity leave. Actually, it’s not even a true maternity leave – if you are giving birth, it’s a combination of “medical disability” which is usually 6 to 8 weeks along with any vacation time you’ve saved, and you can have a total of 12 weeks (some unpaid) if the company you work for is big enough. Generous businesses offer dad 2 weeks paid leave for a new child. One of my friends had to return to work after 6 weeks. She is an obstetrician with a stay-at-home husband.

      Childcare also varies depending on where you live. In licensed childcare centers, the younger the child, the more expensive the care (the ratio of caregiver to infants is smaller than when the children are older.) When my first child was born, the monthly fee for daycare was actually more than our rent! But we needed the health insurance from my job. If your children are close in age (and you have health insurance) it might be cheaper for mom to take care of the kids than to pay for two or more young ones in daycare. Again, so much varies upon the details of each family’s situation, but these are two societal factors that impact the decision.

      1. Hi Lesly and Melissa,
        thank you – it is very interesting. Here in Berlin we are very fortunate to have childcare at no cost from age 1 so that is not a factor in the decision and I guess motivates parents to go back to work when the child is 1 (most mums I know took one year off – it is paid at 65% of your salary – and then went back), and we have health care for which we pay 15% of our gross income but it then covers everything (almost). So I guess it is a totally different society! Really interesting! I always think the most liberating thing is to have a choice and it is great that you made the choice right for you Lesley. Wishing you all the best with your beautiful family!

        1. Thanks Fiona, I was curious about this as well, and happy you raised this question. I love love love reading the home tours, but often realize I don’t see myself (a full time working mom outside of the home) represented in them. I’m certainly curious to hear about those experiences, but I like reading about people whose lives and choices are different from mine, so I don’t mind. I think in general the home tours are about so much more than the homes we live in, they are really windows into people’s families, lives and parenting philosophies, and I feel so grateful to hear them, I truly do.

          1. Sarah, I love your perspective. I’m sure we’d all love to see the homes of women who work full time outside the home- I hope you will consider sharing your home! One thing I love about the way Gabby frames these home tours is that they’re all about the details. There aren’t as many wide-angle shots as there are photos of the little things that make homes unique and cozy. Everyone has someone to offer and something to share, it’s just a matter of letting people through your door. Or as you said so beautifully, opening a window for a moment to let others to learn more about your family, life, and parenting philosophy. I much prefer learning from other real-life moms than from parenting books. Don’t you?

        2. Fiona, Thanks for taking the time to write and share your perspective. This is so interesting to me. Sounds like the USA has a lot of catching up to do with regards to supporting families and working women. You’re right, it’s totally different! And I love what you said about the power of choice, and I feel so grateful that I can choose the life I want for myself. May all women be so blessed. Thank you for taking the time to teach us a little about life as a working mother in Berlin!

  9. I love this tour (I am so jealous of the windows and light) but! “piques” my interest, not “peaks.” Making it my mission to rid the interwebs of peaks/peeks/piques confusion. I would love to know more about the shelving situation holding the Schleich animals, and also where to source some of those (likely vintage) boxes and frames holding shells and other treasures. I have collector sons who would benefit from both! Also, we live in DC proper (not the upper NW part which is essentially surburban), and while it has its downsides problems–rats in my postage stamp backyard!–for us a big tradeoff is not having to commute. We simply can’t see adding two hours traveling to and from our jobs every day.

  10. Hey, Laura! Oh, the joys of coexisting with a city’s smallest little inhabitants. May your rats be postage-sized as well.

    Regarding the shelving Shleich animal shelving unit, it’s Algot from Ikea. The recipe for this specific combo is: 7″ Algot bracket (10), 7 1/8″ Algot shelf (5), 33 1/8″ tall Algot wall upright (2). It cost just under $40 total. Though I’ll warn you, with five shelves, the upright component didn’t allow for equal spacing, so if that will stress you out like it stresses me out, go for four or maybe even six shelves.

    The treasures my children have collected are stored in vintage wooden letterpress drawers. You can find them quite readily at antique stores and via eBay and Etsy. Given my penchant for displaying authentic antiques (I like things that look old to actually be old), I’m always slightly embarrassed to admit that the large cubby organizer (the one with numbers 1-25 and displays antique Goss houses and letterpress letters), is actually from Pottery Barn. It was a birthday gift from my husband to use as a Christmas advent calendar, but it’s in use all year long. You can still purchase it here, and it’s even on sale.

  11. I would love to see the mentioned shoe storage as I have such a hard time taming the chaos in our entryway. And I am envious of your toy situation!

    1. Hi there, SwissMama! This was difficult for us as well, and having this shoe storage has been a game changer. The shoe cabinet is from Ikea, called Stall.

      We love this cabinet because it can fit in even the smallest of entries. We’ve had it in three city apartments over the past six years or so. It serves as a home for our shoes as well as a little entry shelf (about 6″ deep) where we can drop keys or put lunches or other items that need to go with us out the door.

      Each child has one bin (one is mine, but it will soon be Thea’s). In the winter, this is also where their hats and gloves go. Since implementing this system, we very rarely have to go hunting for any lost items, as the children know what’s expected of them and they are usually good at helping and reminding one another.

      We have this silly little saying for when we walk through the door: “Shoes in the shoe bin and jackets on the peg!” they shout it as they go and it always makes me smile.

      1. Thanks, Leslie! I have been eying the Stall as our current system is an eyesore. Can you put wet shoes in there as well or will it warp?

        1. The lining of shoe bins are plastic, and the MDF is really thick, so it stands up well to use with no warping.

          We always leave snowy shoes on the mat to dry first, but we usually put rainy shoes right in the pull-out drawers.

          I actually can’t believe how well it’s still performing after years of constant use.

  12. I loved this tour, and the flat was so gorgeous. I can really relate to what you were saying about balancing children and personal goals/dreams. I’ve just turned 28, am in a very serious relationship, but there just so much I still want to do before having kids–though I do want kids quite badly. It’s hard to balance it all and I feel like time is moving too quickly! But I liked the perspective that raising your children is a realization of a different kind of dream.

    1. Kristen, it’s like I’m talking to a younger version of myself! It’s so hard to move forward when something is holding you back. I had a plan for myself before choosing a life with Kyle and having children, and ticked a fair amount off my list before both life changes.

      What I was mistaken about personally is what you mentioned in your last sentence- I thought I was giving up my dreams for a different kind of dream. What I didn’t realize was that I would be able to both keep and realize my own dreams, even with a family.

      I can visialize myself standing on the ground holding a bunch of helium balloons, little by little loosening my grip. I imagined by letting go of my aspirations, I’d stay on the ground and watch those dreams float higher and higher and further out of reach. Imagine my surprise when it was those very dreams picked me up and carried me to a better, more beautiful world than I could have ever dreamed of.

      I let go of my dreams, but they didn’t let go of me.

      I’ve been able to live out every dream (and more!) I had for myself with children in tow. As we’ve added little ones to our family, we’re lifted higher and higher together by the hopes and wishes they add to ours. Those dreams are what lift me on the hardest and darkest of days as a mother and wife. Those dreams give me hope while urging me onwards and upwards.

      Continuing this dream/ballon imagery that’s cheesy beyond all belief… I look back on my 25 year-old self there on the ground, holding on desperately to those hopes and dreams in a way that was actually weighing me down. I realize now how terribly brave I was in that moment! How grateful I am that I let go of the fear and embraced the adventure of motherhood.

      I hope that in time you’ll feel the same tug on your heartstrings that I felt a decade ago (and tried to brush off until I could ignore it no longer!). I knew the moment was right, and the choice to start a family was an easy one.

      Best of luck to you, and thank you again for your lovely comment.

      Lesley xx

  13. I love what you say about finding (or creating) magic in everyday moments with your children. And I love that you love your life in NYC. As a NYC mom myself, I have to say this: It’s much harder to enjoy New York when you do not have the privilege of living in a big, bright apartment…and when you do not have the privilege of staying home with your children. You say repeatedly that you have made a choice to stay home…with no acknowledgment that your husband’s job allows you to make that choice. For whatever reason, the tone rubs me the wrong way. I’m a diehard (and very longtime) fan of the blog…and have never chimed in with a critical comment. Perhaps it’s just been a long week of juggling work and a son with a fever.

    1. Dear Beth,

      I hope your little boy is on the mend and that you’ve had a moment or two to rest from managing work and caring for your son. You must be utterly exhausted!

      My husband is my greatest support, and it makes me sad if my tone here conveyed anything other than sincere gratitude for Kyle’s job. Thank you for providing an opportunity for me to unequivocally acknowledge my husband and his hard work. He provides a wonderful life for our little family, and we are so grateful for his sacrifices outside our home so that I can care for our children full time.

      As you know, the cost of childcare in the city can be astronomical astronomical, and given my limited earning potential and desire to stay home with my little ones, I’m very blessed that it’s a choice I can make for myself. As a stay-at-home-mom in the city, I feel that I constantly have to defend my decision to stay home, and I’m always grateful that it’s a choice I can own.

      We’ve lived in our share of unfortunate apartments in lean times where I’ve needed to work more than I’d like to help support our family. Managing work and family is impossibly hard, and I have the utmost respect for mothers who balance both with grace and patience every day. It’s something I really struggle with!

      And regarding what you said about apartments here: you’re absolutely right! Having a light space in the city can really brighten the darkest days NYC can throw at you. These chilly winter days when you’re forced to stay inside with children can be brutal, most especially if you’re in a space you don’t love. We felt like we hit the jackpot when we found this apartment, and we were grateful that we carried on looking. Light is always at the top of my list!

      Sending happy thoughts your way with the hope your little one is feeling better!

      Lesley xx

    2. Beth, I agree completely. I also live in nyc and the more money you have the more enjoyable it is.

      City living is a grind. It chews you up and spits you out. I’m currently deciding whether or not it’s time to leave. We are a family of four in a 500 sq ft, 2nd floor walk up, 1bedrm apt, no laundry, no dishwasher, no daylight. Thank goodness we have a fantastic park at the end of our block, our neighborhood is safe and the schools are good. My girls are 3 years apart, but 4 in school, so I only had one in day care at a time. We’ve gone through the pre-k lottery, and middle school and high school admissions. I dont spend money on any services that would make life easier like drop off laundry, Uber rides, food delivery. And don’t get me started on the cost of summer camps in the city; camps that end 3 weeks before school starts!
      I need to decide in the next couple of months if it’s time to go. I work in fashion and lost my job almost 2 years ago. I haven’t found steady full time work. But fashion jobs are in nyc, so I don’t know what I’d do elsewhere.

  14. What a lovely home! As someone who grew up in NYC I agree with everything Leslie said about the sacrifices made by living there but for me (and I think my parents will agree), I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Unfortunately my husband and I had to move away because of the expense but if we had the money, I’d move back with my small children in a heartbeat! How great that you found a gem of an apartment and are able to make the adventure with your kids of living in NYC. They will look back on their childhood there with great memories.

    1. Sarah, I envy your NYC childhood! I grew up in the suburbs and dreamed of city life. Your parents must have been truly remarkable to live in the city without Instacart and Uber :)

      I always say that the best time to leave the city is when you’re not ready to go. I hope you were able to leave on your own terms with only the happiest memories, and it sounds like you’ve done just that. As a native New Yorker, you’ll be able to show your little ones the ropes when you visit and teach them how to make the city feel like it’s their own.

      And hey, if it’s not a reality to move back now, I say there’s no place better to be an empty nester than Manhattan- right? It’s my dream!

      Thank you for taking a moment to write such kind words.

  15. I loved this tour! Lesley’s simple, clean sense of style is so lovely. Also, we have half as many kids and half as much space and I identified with absolutely everything she wrote about small-space living and minimalism. It’s always fun and heartening to read the perspective of a kindred spirit! xo

    1. Dear Heather,

      Thank you for taking a moment to make such a lovely comment. I’d love to hear how you make the most of your small space with children. It’s a continual challenge to live minimally (in particular as I’m a reformed slob who is prone to making piles- a recipe for disaster in a small space!). Any tips to share? I’d love to hear.

  16. What a beautiful space! We stayed in Chelsea with our 4 kids last summer in a 2br on a shockingly quiet street. I love the idea of living in the city with the kids but right now they are free range with a creek and a mountain in front of and behind the house. Also the challenges of schooling would probably make me break out into hives routinely. My girls would live there in a heartbeat, my boys have said they’d run away to upstate if we tried to make them live in the city.

    1. Jenny, your comment made me laugh! I love that you have such differing personalities in your home. It will mean a rich and varied life for your family as your children have such strong preferences for city/country life!

      It sounds like you have the best of both worlds with your city summers and free-range living for the rest of the year (I love this idea!) in what sounds like the dreamiest of settings.

      I hope you made some amazing memories as a family last summer. Do you think you’ll return for the summer in the future? Keep bringing those boys back. NYC will win them over in the end.

  17. I loved reading this. We moved with our 2 kids last year from a 730sqf house to one 2500sqft – and I miss my tiny house! My husband however does not and really struggled with all the disciplines you described for living in a small space. Luckily I think if we had the opportunity to move to New York (we’re British) that would be adventure enough to coax him back into a tiny space. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Amanda,

    Sounds like we’d be fast friends (and not at all because of your gorgeous accent. Ok, maybe a little bit). I can relate to this completely I really have grown to love small spaces over the years. I love the coziness of sharing a space and find joy in making full use out of every space in our home. We don’t take one inch for granted, and it’s so much easier to live minimally.

    Have you enjoyed the larger space? It must have been such an adjustment for you!

    I love your perspective on returning to the city. Those who know the joys of NYC living will happily sacrifice quite a lot to call it home again I hope you get to return someday. Enjoy all that luxurious space in the mean time!

    Thank you for taking a moment to write. It means so much.

    1. It absolutely freaked us out to begin with – everything was so far away! Everybody said ‘that’s going to be a lot of vacuuming’… and they were right. We’re more comfortable now but I’m trying not to get used to it. It really is a luxury to have so much room so I don’t want to ever take it for granted.

  19. Wait, I just read on Lesley’s Instagram that she moved out of NYC? These comments make it seem like she still lives there, so I am now wondering:
    when and to where did she move and why? Confused …

    1. Kristen- Confused? You and me both. Sometimes I wake up feeling like I’m in a bad dream :) Kidding, only kidding. This post has been in the works for a while, predating our very sudden move. We moved about 30 miles north of the city to Westchester County. We were doing research to see whether there was anywhere in the greater NYC area that we’d be keen to move eventually (so that we could stop paying someone else’s mortgage!) when we came upon a home that we simply couldn’t pass up. We moved just two weeks after our offer was accepted.

      There truly is nowhere I’d rather live with children, and this sudden move has been really hard on me. Heartbreaking, actually. But fortunately for me, my husband still works in the city, I’m in the city nearly every week. I miss the city every day, but I’m finally feeling like I’m finding my footing here in “the countryside.” I stand by what I said in the interview, including the part where I state that living in the suburbs with children is harder than living in the city!

      Thanks for saying hello, Kristen!

  20. Lesley, I loved reading about your life in NYC. You’re friends with my brother and sister-in-law Ryan and Lynda Todd (I recognize your name from your comments on their IG). It’s always fascinating to talk to Lynda about life and motherhood in NYC (it’s a dream of mine) and I loved reading a little of your experience with it.

    1. Hey Stephanie! Yes, Ryan and Lynda are dear friends of ours. Lucky you to be related to two of my most favorite people! I was just thinking this morning that I’d love to read a post like this as written by Lynda. She is a truly remarkable mother, and I look up to her in so many ways. I don’t know how she finds the energy to do all that she does with five children in the city! When times get hard I often find myself thinking “What would Lynda Todd do?” She’s incredible. And Ryan has always been one of our most loyal friends. Even with his crazy work schedule, he always made time to meet up with us when he was working in London. They are wonderful friends to us.

      Thanks for saying hello, and I hope to meet you one of these days!

  21. Oh, reading this took me back to our years in Brooklyn! We lived in Bay Ridge for 8 years in a 3rd floor, pre-war, 650 square foot walk up where we ultimately crammed four kids into the 2nd bedroom. It was cozy to say the least! And while there are aspects of our city life that I will not miss (I’m talking to you, loads of laundry hauled down the block and freezing crosswalk slush puddles!), but I will forever treasure the lessons we and our children learned that we wouldn’t have otherwise had we lived somewhere else. Thanks for the little walk down memory lane!

    1. Lindsay, your comment makes me happier than I can say! You have my utmost respect for what was surely a grand game of Tetris to happily situate all six of you in 650 square feet!. My goodness! And a walkup with no laundry? Wow. I always say that city moms have superpowers, and your example certainly shows this. People who don’t live in the city are shocked when I tell them that a 1400 square foot apartment with two bedrooms is palatial in NYC terms. This proves it!

      Thanks for saying hello and for sharing your memories and perspective. It makes me smile to think of your happy home in Bay Ridge. I imagine lots of laughter and siblings who are the very best of friends as a result of living such a cozy life. You must miss it terribly!

  22. Lesley, are you just the nicest person ever, or what?? Your lovely replies to commenters and your refreshing attitude about parenting your “little friends” so joyfully just warms my heart. Truly inspiring.

    1. Midori, thanks for making my day. You’re too kind! I love being a mom, and love thinking of them as my friends. For some reason, thinking of them as friends really helps me as a mom. You choose your friends, after all! There are still days when I feel an evil overlord, but most of the time we are a very happy bunch. Children truly are the greatest gift.

  23. Pingback: Weekend Links | Blog | Oliver + S

  24. What a gorgeous home! Can I ask where you got your shelves from? Both the one with toys and the shells? Thanks in advance

    1. Hi, Shelby! I included the info for the Ikea shelves in the comments above (the details escape me at the moment, but I definitely gave the information above. At least I think I did).

      The shelf holding the children’s treasures is actually a vintage letterpress drawer hung up. You can readily find them on Etsy and eBay. And if you get really lucky, you might find one at an antique store or flea market as well.

      Keep your eyes out!

  25. I am praising God with you that your daughter was born healthy after reading that you’ve suffered losses. Thank you for sharing how much you treasure your children and family. They re blessed to have you as their Mother who takes such good care of them. I’m a SAHM of 2 in 75p square feet, so thank you for sharing inspiration on that.

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