San Francisco Apartment Tour (500-Square-Feet!)

Blogger Jordan Ferney lives in a 500-square-foot apartment in San Francisco with her husband and two sons. While you’d assume they’d feel cramped, Jordan has actually figured out clever ways to maximize the space. “Even though it’s the smallest apartment we’ve ever lived in, it’s also our favorite,” she says. Take a look…

Here’s what Jordan told me…

On creating a happy atmosphere: Rita Konig once wrote in Domino about how decorating is more than just your couch; it’s your trinkets, souvenirs, candles. You want to make the space feel homey. While spending a year living in Paris, we visited Florence, and when the hotel was checking us in, they handed our boys little naked ceramic David statues. The kids were playing with them like dolls, and you’re like, it’s kind of weird, but okay! Now they’re on our bookcase. We also display a Fez hat we got during a trip to Morocco, when an old guy walking down the street just put it on Roman’s head.

On offbeat artwork: The big framed purple boobs were illustrations on a midwife pamphlet. The brochures were $3 from the really cool store Gravel & Gold. People say, What does Paul think? Well, he loves boobs!

Five tips for living in a small space:
1. Get rid of everything you own. You won’t miss it. Ever. Returning from France after a year abroad was a huge lesson. Our stuff had been in storage, and I realized there were 10 things that I was happy to see, but everything else I didn’t miss it at all. I was like, ugh, get rid of everything. When you have a small home, your stuff is worth more to you out of your house than in your house.
2. You’d think that art, books, etc. would make a space feel cluttered, but they actually make it feel bigger. Our living room used to feel small, but when we finally hung art and stacked books on the coffee table, it instantly felt homey and spacious.
3. Consider the things that you own to be your “art.” In the kids’ room, we display the most beautiful toys, since you want the space to feel pleasing. Of course, we have a stash under their couch where we keep the Angry Bird toys!
4. Cleanse your home every season. Once a month we go through our house and get rid of stuff. You always think, where did this all come from? You know how with baby clothes, you’re just constantly changing up their clothes since they’re growing so fast? That’s the same mentality for a small house. It’s constant.
5. Paul and I used to go to bookstores on dates. It was our favorite date, you get inspired, you know that great feeling…and we realized we wanted our home to feel that same way. So we rotate in new books, and once a book feels old to me, I’ll donate it. Now that we can’t get out as often with kids, our home feels like a bookstore to us.

Shelving cart: Aiden Console from World Market. Swimmers photograph: Beach Exercises (artist unknown) from Wooden chair: Vintage Thonet chairs. Coffee table: Ikea (but we painted the silver legs brass). Gold star paperweight: From the Paris flea market. Bronze urchin from Furbish. Sofa: Crate & Barrel. White floor lamp: Ikea. Black chandelier: Vintage. Tree: Fiddle Fig Leaf tree.

On making a small kitchen functional: We needed a table for family dinners, especially since we have young kids, but our kitchen wouldn’t fit a regular table. So we figured we’d get a long, thin wooden bar, plus four stools, which we can stack next to the fridge between meals.

On flower arranging: People think flowers are so expensive, but I learned a trick from a friend: While walking her dog, she’d always have her hands full of clippings from a hedge or park. Now, if I buy supermarket flowers, I’ll go to my backyard and get some green clippings, and they make the bouquet look like some amazing florist did it. There’s a wild touch.

Wooden bar: Ikea. Counter stools: Design Within Reach. Classic clock: Ikea. Artwork of nudes: Alameda flea market.

On decorating a child’s room: I definitely like to keep things low. Our wooden floor bookshelves are great for the kids! BOOK/SHOP is the coolest up-and-coming company. They have the most beautiful bookshelves and pristine vintage books.

On maximizing closet space: The Elfa closet system from the Container Store is mandatory for us. It triples your closet space. You add an upper and lower bar, plus dresser-like drawers.

Beds: Jenny Lind toddler beds (from Craigslist). Polka dot duvet: Homemade with Heather Ross Moon Fabric. Lemon pillow: Jonathan Adler. Wooden bedside table: Vintage from the Alameda Flea. Dragonfly & seahorse on the wall: from Petit Pan in Paris. Horses photo is from Wooden bookshelves on the floor: BOOK/SHOP. White pendant lamp: Orbit Chandelier. “It’s Beautiful Here” hooks: Heath Nash. Magnetic paint: Tutorial here. Triangle black-and-white bin/hamper: Furbish.


On making a room look polished: Our apartment was pretty much done, but I needed a final layer. So I asked my friend Jamie from Furbish, a great store in North Carolina, to be an extra set of eyes. You know how you’d read Domino Magazine, but there was no real place to buy that kind of stuff? Her store sells that stuff.

Colorful pillow: Furbish. Antlers: Furbish. Bedside tables: from Craigslist. White reading lamps: Ikea.

On choosing a shower curtain: I think clear curtains make bathrooms feel bigger.

On the neighborhood: We live on the same block as famous food stops Tartine Bakery, Bi Rite Ice Cream and Pizzeria Delfina. We’ll invite friends over, make a big pot of soup and hang out on the stoop for the best people watching. Dolores Park is down the street, and they have new crazy tall slides and structures by designers. Sometimes your kids are playing and you’re like, Wait, are they going to die? But it’s awesome. The kids love it.

Hallway credits: Pendant lamp: Similar one here. Elephant scarf: Anthropologie.

Thank you so much, Jordan! Your home is so inspiring.

P.S. My friend’s gorgeous Manhattan apartment, and a nursery in a closet.

(Photographs by Heather Zweig for Oh Happy Day)

  1. Liz says...

    You would never believe this is a 500 square foot apartment!!

  2. Lisa Curmi says...

    Well done. Absolutely love your home.
    Can I know from where I can get the book shelves that are on the floor in the kids’ bedroom, please? and also, what is that magnetic board? Is it a metal sheet?


  3. Please let us see the floor plan!

  4. Alicia says...

    Oh my stars, this post is the best thing to happen to me since we found out we were pregnant a couple of weeks ago–I feel so much more confident now about being about to fit the three of us comfortably and happily in our 600-square-foot, rent-controlled, SF apartment. I’ll be thrilled if we can accomplish half this much style. So inspiring. Thank you.

  5. Ali says...

    This gave me some great ideas! I also live in a really small space with my soon to be three year old. I love the kids’ toys collection. Great idea for closet organization too- I didn’t know that kind of organization was possible in such a small space.

  6. Kimberly says...

    I live in a 500 sqft studio….this place is HUGE compared to mine….but then again all the small spaces on here look gigantic

  7. Nicole says...

    Adorable place! Our family of 6 lived in 800 square feet until recently. It is possible and while there are challenges, less square footage certainly has it’s profound advantages as well!

  8. tonya says...

    I have the perfect spot for a magnetic wall, i was wondering, did you just use sheet metal? I would love to to do it, i have a Zillion leap frog magnetic learning toys, but i fear the stainless fridge would get all scratched up from them. Just curious about your material. Thanks!!

  9. Where is the white tiny long table in the living room from???????????????

    It looks maybe metal? It’s the perfect size for the living room because it’s skinny

    I’m dying to know where it’s from Jordan!!!!!!!

    • Laura says...

      The skinny white console can be purchased at Room and Board. They have a few options for size, color and shape.

  10. Beautiful place and a very nice interior. I’m thinking to live in a condo near Greenhills, I can already picture out, how would the interior will be arrange. I’m very excited. :)

  11. It is very charming and cute but with such a small space, I would get crazy with the clutter. All the books on the coffee table etc .. there is no relief from Stuff everywhere.

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  13. Very impressive home decors. Best collection of interior designing for me. All the designs are really beautiful. Thanks for sharing it and for inspiring us! I’ll be back to check another interior shots! :)

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