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

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…


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



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 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. Sharon Paterson says...

    Where do they put the mountains of dirty laundry?

  2. Micheline says...

    Your home is beautiful thank you for sharing, can you please tell me if that’s a piece of metal that stuck to the wall and the children’s room and you just Place magnets on it?

  3. It’s amazing what can be done with a small space. I think my favorite space are the kids’ room and the outside space.

  4. Jen says...

    Hi there, thanks for sharing. Your home is beautiful. Can you tell me where got the carpet in the kids room from? Thanks!

  5. Heidi says...

    Can you tell me where the little red hooks in the entryway are from? Thanks!

  6. Joyce Van says...

    Could you tell me where you got the strings of multi colored balls hanging in your kids room? Or did you make them? Thanks

  7. Denise says...

    It’s really a lovely space. Do you know where you got the wall mounted lamps in the kids’ room? And the multi-colored globe balls hanging above their beds? Thanks :)

  8. Great ideas for the kids! I am sharing this on Pinterest!

  9. Liz says...

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

  10. 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?


    • Stephanie says...

      I am also very interested to know if you used magnetic paint for the wall with the alphabet magnets. I would love to do this in our playroom if you can let me know what materials you used. Thank you!!

  11. Please let us see the floor plan!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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

  15. 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!

  16. 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!!

  17. 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.

  18. 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. :)

  19. 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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  21. 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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  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. There are a lot of comments on this article and I didn’t read them all so I hope my comment isn’t redundant. I was just curious about the layout/floor plan. My place is 550 square feet with one bedroom. My kids have the bedroom and I have the livingroom (my bed is in the livingroom). We have no room for livingroom furniture at all. This article shows 500 square feet with two bedrooms AND a livingroom. How the heck? Is it because I have a laundry room? Maybe my kitchen is bigger? I don’t know how they get an extra bedroom in there? Curious to know.

    • Anny says...

      I too would love to see floor plan.

  24. What spray product and color did you use to spray the white living room table to brass?

  25. I love your home. Very nice and seems to fit you and your family.

    I would respectfully disagree with part of what you wrote as your first tip: that people should get rid of everything they own and they will not miss it . EVER. Not everyone will feel this way. I certainly would not.

    My things helped to anchor me and my now husband, and our kids after we lost our parents and many siblings over the years.

    One of the transitory luxuries of youth is a perspective which assumes everyone is like them , and has the same perspectives and feelings as they do. It is no where near correct.

    “THINGS” can be the arbiter of memory serving as prompts and mnemonic tools to life narrative. They can also be anchors helping to stabilize and assuage grief and loss.

    I am nearing 60 now I had the sense to take care of and hold onto some of my belongings despite the cost of storage due to my own stints back in Europe. (born in England)

    As an antiques broker, I have had the dubious pleasure of helping people to “let go” of things and have done my share of advising some people to NOT sell or let go of certain things. and one of the truly disturbing traits I see in my kids (and younger generations) is the absolute belief that their perspective is everyone else’s and that what matters is only THIS MOMENT. It is not a very forgiving viewpoint.

    YOU did not miss your things EVER. I can respect that but I would have and my kids would have. I miss things I gave away and DO regret a few.

    I can tell my kids about granny’s very unique button box and all the amazing and strange buttons she had in them but the memory is lost on them–there are no prompts, or props to help underline the magic of that box.

    I guess whether a small space edits to the point of rediscovery and no link to your things really depends on who YOU are and what kind of things you owned.

    My things were carefully garnered antiques and salvage, paid for painstakingly over 20 years of auctions, searching, scrimping and saving. I have/had some amazing pieces all with a story both mine and the stories that came with them from others.

    Editing is a MUST in a small or smaller space but I would never tell anyone to “get rid of all their things because they will not miss it EVER.” That assumes people have stuff like mine and feelings like mine.

    More prudent and considerate would be to tell people to edit and keep only that which gives them joy every time they see, or use a thing. Keep what matters, edit what you didn’t miss or never notice or can easily be replaced .

    What means anything to any of us depends a lot on what we own and how we are wired and we are all different.

  26. This is wonderful! You have really shown how much you can do with a small space and make it look really good. I have been working with Fireside Property Group to help me find a place, now I know that I can make it a home no matter how small it ends up being. Thanks!

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  30. We had the same inspiration after coming back from Paris! We’ve been in our tiny place for almost three years now and have honestly never been happier. There is so much more family time when you don’t have constant house/yard maintenance to do!

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  32. Wow damn good post with beautiful pictures…. I just loved it … Living in a small place brings family more closer to each other… Thank you for sharing this post…

  33. The pictures of your apartment are very nice. Your apartment design and decoration are awesome! It’s such a difficult task to search the rooms for rent in New York.

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  41. Thanks for sharing :) Clear colors, light and so much white in it. So in the final feeling the apartment looks much bigger then is surely in measurement size. Apart the whites in saloon You have put many books that gives so much colors in it and give feelings of intelligent people living here :)
    In your bathroom in my opinion I would something like this: get a shelf (so You have more storage space and hide this ugly plumbing), white one and put on it a vessel sink maybe red glassy one, for example: Kraus Glass Sink. I see a red picture on your wall so the sink will stick to it as well.
    I love the wall with all this little magnetic letters and numbers for practicing and learning by your boy. Very good idea :) Very nice apartment and photos, Cheers (sorry for my grammar ;)…

  42. I love the color of white paint, do you know the name?

  43. What great tips from picking fresh flowers on walks to bookstore dates! Love your efficient and inspiring space in San Fran!

  44. Where did the round lights in the children’s room come from? I like the colors and would love to get some.

  45. This comment has been removed by the author.

  46. This is real art to make from this place such a wonderful home for your family. I love it

  47. I am very enjoyed for this blog. I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me

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  48. I am from berlin, we have 750 sqr feet and need a change.
    youre childrens room inspired me a lot!!
    I am so happy to see your house organised. It has been a long time i question if we would have a second baby in this house, you proved that it works! thank you

  49. These are like pages taken out of a magazine! I am wondering how you managed to keep things organize with lots of items on your houses! That is a skill!

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  50. I clicked this link because I was like, hm, SF is so small, I probably know these people. And sure enough I do !! Small world. Small blogosphere ;)

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  53. Which crate and barrel sofa is this? I love it!

  54. nothing is more cleansing for the spirit and peace of mind than getting rid of stuff especially in a small space. Clutter is so distracting and simplicity so calming.
    Great post and great pics!!

  55. I love it!! Can you please tell me what you used for the giant magnet board for the kids room? Where do you find such a large piece?!! It is exactly what i am looking to do!!

  56. Beautiful!!

    My boyfriend and I are going to be moving in together and have narrowed down our prospects to two apartments. One is 502 square feet, the other is 618 square feet. If the 502 one was laid out a bit different than it is (I wish it was like yours!), I’d probably go with that one, but it might not work out. It was so nice to find this blog!

  57. Beautiful!!

    My boyfriend and I are going to be moving in together and have narrowed down our prospects to two apartments. One is 502 square feet, the other is 618 square feet. If the 502 one was laid out a bit different than it is (I wish it was like yours!), I’d probably go with that one, but it might not work out. It was so nice to find this blog!

  58. Wow! I found this incredibly inspiring. We’re moving to Seattle and downsizing (not that small) and I keep feeling like we could choose a smaller home (like 1,000 square feet) but then feeling it’s not feasible. We’re hoping to be a family of five by the time we leave. This post makes me think- Yes, we can!

  59. What a joyful space! I want to move somewhere small and have been gradually selling and donating things in preparation.

    You have inspired me!

  60. This is all very beautiful! I especially love the yellow alarm clock. Where is it from? Thank you!

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  63. KT says...

    These pictures are so pretty, I had to come back to check them up again. SF is my favorite city right after New York and I would love to live there in a house like this. So so lovely!!

  64. I love the interior of the house. The warm ambiance is good and I think that makes the whole space really suitable for a family to live in. I also like how the white color of the walls matches all the lovely decors inside it, especially the paintings. The interior is similar to Edinburgh apartments I saw last year and it looks amazing just like this one.

  65. I love the fact you have some framed Karl Blossfeldt photographs in your bathroom – I want them.

  66. This is ridiculous!! Do you realise how small 500 square feet is?? Are these people trying to prove some crazy point? And they’re rearing children, to boot.

  67. Jordan! This is really beautiful.

    what paint did you use on the coffee table legs? It’s such a great detail

  68. Hi, I was simply checking out this blog and I really admire the premise of the article and this is really informative. I will for sure refer my friends the same. Thanks

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  69. I love this. We so want to move to San Francisco, and the Mission is our top neighborhood choice. I know we’ll likely have to live in a closet, coming from Chicago rent prices (and with a dog) but this gives me hope that we can at least make it homey!

  70. Thanks for sharing these simple tips to optimize a small living space. These ideas can be used by homeowners while exploring home renovation options to change the look and feel of their apartments.

  71. I wish I’d known where is the rack “it’s beautiful here” from? Gorgeous! Love Jordan’s blog. And her sister Gabi’s as well.