My friend and graphic designer Linsey Laidlaw and her husband Brian Morris, a lawyer, live with their three young children in a bright apartment in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn—just around the corner from us! Even though they have only two bedrooms for five people, they manage to carve out clever spaces for everyone. Here are some more photos, if you’d like to see…
On the neighborhood: We’ve been living in Carroll Gardens for about nine years now. We were immediately drawn to the neighborhood—we came off the Carroll Street subway stop and it was like angels, choruses, the whole thing. The neighborhood is a great mix of old and new. A lot of our neighbors are old-timers who sit on their stoops all day and hand out unsolicited parenting advice. One woman constantly asks me if my youngest is a girl or a boy, even though we see her a few times a week. My kids find it hilarious.
On recognizing “the one”: We were the first people to see this apartment, and we signed a lease on the spot. We were drawn to the openness—the high ceilings, big windows and moldings from the 1800s. I immediately imagined it decorated for Christmas (I’m a holiday maniac) and was completely sold by the mental image (and the height of the tree we could have with these ceilings!). The other wonderful thing is that two other families live in this brownstone. There are nine children in the building! So instant playdates and a parent support network are built-in.
Chandelier: Jonathan Adler. Eames-style chair: Vintage. Globe pillow: Jonathan Adler. Media console: Ikea. Rug: Vermont Rug Farm.
On putting together a gallery wall: I’m terrible at both math and measuring, so I prefer to just throw things up there. The little avocado Polaroid was from the very first photo shoot I directed when I worked at Martha Stewart. I especially love the “Everything Takes Forever” print because that has become one of my mantras. A big way for me to alleviate stress is to guess how long something should take me, triple it, and add 10. EVERYTHING TAKES FOREVER—especially in this town, and doubly especially with three kids!
Brooklyn Bridge print: Christoph Niemann. Think Creatively print: Erin Jang.
On customizing bookshelves: These bookshelves are from Ikea, and I just used thumbtacks to affix fabric to the back panel. I’m sure there was a better way to do it, but that’s what worked for me! I find that if I don’t strike while the iron is hot, I never get around to doing a project. If I’m feeling inspired, I just go for it with whatever I have on hand.
Sofa: Room & Board. Bookshelves: Ikea. Fabric lining: Balmoral Opal. Bench: Barrington Blue. Throw blanket: Restoration Hardware. Graphic pillows: Jonathan Adler. Elephant basket: Amazon. Coat hooks: DWR.
On nighttime routines: I’m pretty good about limiting my kids’ sugar intake, but once they’re in bed, all my bad habits come out. Normally, I’ll munch a little treat on the sofa and either watch a show or catch up on e-mail. We’re also definitely victims of binge-watching. We’ll try to go to bed at a decent hour and then suddenly we’re six episodes into Homeland.
Pig bookends: CB2. White vase: Alice Lane Home.
A trick for falling asleep: I have always been a high maintenance sleeper and have slept with earplugs, an eye mask and a white noise machine for years. There’s another thing I do, which is so silly but works: I tell myself a story. Kind of embarrassing, but if I’m having a hard time shutting down the part of my brain that likes to draft emails and brainstorm ideas when it should be going to sleep, I make myself think about a fun narrative—it has to be imaginary, not a memory—and it often does the trick.
Headboard: Urban Outfitters. Duvet: Jonathan Adler. Bed, comforter and pillows: Pacific Coast. Decorative pillows: Anthropologie. Mirror: HomeGoods (similar here). Lamps: Target (similar here). Chest: Vintage. Desk chairs: Amazon. Rug: Pottery Barn.
On carving out a workspace: My husband (an attorney, who works long hours) and I both needed desks in the apartment, and the bedroom was the logical place to put them. Our home projects usually come to fruition by my drawing a crappy sketch and Brian magically making it happen. He’ll get materials from Home Depot or Ikea. We placed our desks on the opposite sides of the bed from where we each sleep. My husband can sleep anywhere, but since I get insomnia really easily, I find it helpful not to sleep directly next to where I work.
On creating an inspiration board: I’m a paper hoarder—it’s absurd how much storage space I devote to paper in such a tiny apartment! This inspiration board features wrapping paper, magazine tears, paper ephemera found on various road trips. I have oversized palm reading cards, an old bus map, a botanical print. There is a cast of Ivy’s hand and one of Oliver’s foot which we made from these kits. I feel so guilty I never made one for my baby Rosie!
On offbeat artwork: That X-ray is from when my son Oliver swallowed a ring. The funny thing is, it was actually a CTR ring, which stands for “Choose The Right.” It’s supposed to remind you to make good choices, and it’s now a running joke in our family since he did the exact opposite!
On family rituals: When the kids get home from school, the kitchen is our gathering place. Ivy is always doing some sort of art project; Oliver will build train tracks around the table. Everything takes place in the kitchen, always. At dinnertime, we like to talk about our day. We’ve started a ritual where the kids will each share one happy thing, one sad thing, and one thing that made them laugh during the day. Sometimes if they’re tired, I’ll start out by sharing those things about my day, too. It always blows their mind that I do things while they’re not around. “You rode the subway today?!”
On favorite meals: We eat LOTS of Mexican-inspired food (my husband and I both grew up in the southwest). My kids will eat just about anything if I serve it on a tortilla, and this dressing can turn simple basics into a more impressive meal. My son Oliver is a great sous chef! His chubby little fingers can peel garlic crazy fast; and although we often lose a fair amount of vegetable in the process, he loves to peel carrots and potatoes. But on nights when I don’t cook, we rely entirely too much on the amazing pizza place Lucali just a few doors down…
Dining table and benches: Craigslist. Globe pendant light: Home Depot. Framed print: Lisa Grue. Kids table: Ikea. Kids red chairs: Land of Nod. Kids Bertoia chairs: Amazon.
On stealing quiet moments: There are definitely times when it’s just too loud. When I’m with the kids and it’s just me, my tolerance level is much higher. If my husband comes home or if someone else is over, I’ve noticed that I can’t tolerate as much. Sometimes I’ll need a quick minute to gather my thoughts, which happens in the bathroom, of course. But even when I’m in there, a note might get slipped under the door, or little fingers will come knocking.
Wooden storage hutch: Vintage. Lights around the window: Target.
On building a craft wall: The craft area was another idea of mine that was constructed by Brian. I’d been thinking about making it for a while, and one day we were driving past Home Depot and I was like, “Let’s go get stuff!” I convinced him we didn’t need to measure first, and by some miracle, we got the exact right size of peg board. The craft area has been a lifesaver, because the kids can access it themselves and there’s an art project going on at all hours of the day. [Ed. note: If you’d like to see more, check out a step-by-step tutorial here.]
On bedtime: All three of our kids share this tiny bedroom. At first, when we moved the baby into the room, I was worried that it would stress the older kids out, but it actually works to put Rosie down with the bigger kids because they know they need to be quiet so she’ll go to sleep. Sometimes I’ll hear Ivy singing to Rosie or telling her a story. She makes up songs with melodramatic lyrics about big sisters and little sisters.
On waking quietly: In the morning, six-year-old Ivy is usually the first one to wake. She made up a system to keep things quiet: she dangles a ribbon down from the top bunk, and if someone grabs it or starts giggling, she knows they’re awake and it’s safe to come down.
Bunk beds: customized Canwood loft bed. Crib: Bloom. Bedding: Mix of Ikea, vintage and grandma-made.
On keeping things tidy: We try to keep toys to a minimum and we do a purge a few times a year. Sometimes I’ll do it with the kids, but that’s usually a melodramatic event. So I’ll do it while they’re at school. Otherwise, we keep baskets everywhere. Sometimes I’ll go through an OCD kick where each basket is organized by material, but other times I don’t care if the Legos are mixed in with balls or whatever, as long as it’s put away.
On living in a smaller space: In the summer, it bothers me less because we spend a lot of time outside or at the park. In the winter, though, it can feel small. But I remind myself that as much as we fantasize about having a laundry room or a garage or a real dishwasher, we’re choosing to forsake those things right now for the experience of living in New York City. If I feel jealous of what someone else has, I’ll remind myself ‘We went to Central Park yesterday,’ and for now, those good things outweigh the bad. While a small space obviously has its drawbacks, it also creates an environment that necessitates cooperation, creativity and problem-solving. I like the challenge of constantly experimenting and tinkering to optimize what we have. And I love the forced closeness—most of the time!
Rug: Rugs USA. Map: eBay. Mobile: Similar here.
Thank you so much, Linsey! Your home is so inspiring.
P.S. 12 more home tours, and 15 tips for living in a small space.
(Photos by Alpha Smoot for Cup of Jo. Styling by Kate Jordan. Interview by Caroline Donofrio)