Design

This Family’s Downsized Dream Home Is Full of Surprises

Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Four years ago, designer Shavonda Gardner and her wife Naomi decided to downsize from their large house to a 1940s-era bungalow in Sacramento. Moving into a two-bedroom, one-bathroom was a challenge for the self-described maximalists (and their two kids) but Shavonda and her family have made this their dream home. Here, she gives us a look around, as well as some killer storage hacks…

LIVING ROOM:
Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Sofa: SixPenny. Eames lounge chair: Craigslist. White juju hat: Thorn & Burrow, similar.

On making the call to go small: Our first home together was larger — your basic tract house. It had four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and was about 2,400 square feet. We were in it for three years, and one day I just said to my wife, Naomi, ‘You know honey, we’re only really living in half of this house.’ There were a couple rooms we rarely went in — a formal dining room, a formal living room. I wanted to downsize into something smaller and simplify our lives. It was a great decision for us — but it is a shock to the system. Most of us grow up believing that bigger is better. We’re taught that you start out in a small house and then the next one gets bigger, and so on. It can be very challenging to set aside that mindset.

Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Paint: Martha Stewart Paint (discontinued), similar. Pouf ottoman: Thorn & Burrow. Coffee table: West Elm. Vase: Ikea. Rug: RugsUSA. Blinds: Blindster. Accent chair: Uttermost. Mirrored table: Varaluz.

On black walls: The first thing people say about living small is, ‘You’ve gotta paint the walls white. It’ll make it look so much bigger and bring in so much light.’ But your space is what it is. There is no color that’ll change the size, so paint it whatever color your want. I’m really inspired by British interiors — all those bold, moody colors like smoky gray, deep plum and black. When I walk into an all-white room, it makes me feel anxious, like it’s not finished. At first, we painted these walls in a dark teal, but I couldn’t stop myself from feeling that they needed to be black. And the minute I repainted them, it felt like, ‘This is it. This is right.’

Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Hanging lamp: World Market. Painting: Blayne Macauley. Eames lounge chair: Craigslist. Planter: Holistic Habitat.

On the heart of the home: For us, the living room is where everyone congregates — where we entertain, where the kids do homework, where we have game nights, everything. It needed to be spacious enough so we could fit a blow-up mattress for overnight guests or set up a larger table when we have people over for dinner. It’s also the first thing you see when you walk in the front door, so I wanted it to pack a visual punch.

Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Storage cabinet: Urban Outfitters. Glass bottles: Vintage. Painting: Victoria Bradley from Juniper Print Shop.

On storage: When you live in a small house, storage is key, and this cabinet gives us a LOT. We store our printer, electronics, all my work folders and paper and pens. It’s one of my favorite pieces in the house. I love natural elements, particularly in a space like this where everything else is dark. The rattan caning gives it a light feel, so it doesn’t look like a big, chunky armoire. It’s tall, it has an open bottom so we can slide baskets underneath (more storage!), and it doesn’t dominate the room.

Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Shoe cabinet: Ikea. Knobs: Anthropologie. Mirror: HomeGoods, similar. Floor lamp: Arhaus. Decorative hooks: HomeGoods, similar. Decorative hanging: World Market. Rug: vintage.

On the best buy ever: This is actually an Ikea shoe cabinet. It’s a fantastically useful piece, and I recommend it to everyone living in a small space. It’s narrow — eight or nine inches — and it’s where we drop our keys, mail and shoes in the entryway. I changed the basic handles out for these geode knobs from Anthropologie. It makes the piece look much more high end than it actually is!

DINING AREA:
Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Table: World Market, similar. Light fixture: Ikea.

On thinking outside the floor plan: The dining room was by far the most challenging space — and for me, the hardest transition to make when we moved. I love to entertain, and our old dining setup wouldn’t fit in here. And this space itself is tricky because it’s kind of a pass-through. That black door behind the table actually leads to our bedroom (which used to be the den).

MASTER BEDROOM:
Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Bed: Wayfair, similar. Pillow: West Elm. Bedside light: YLighting. Side table: ROSS, similar.

On turning a den into a bedroom: This room is how we’re able to make this house work. It’s a true two-bedroom and the children got the actual bedrooms, whereas we sleep in the former den. That tapestry is a suzani (a type of hand-woven textile, traditional in Central Asia), which belonged to a dear friend of mine. She knew I’d been looking for one for years, and she contacted me one day and said, ‘I have a beautiful one, and I think it belongs in your house.’ I was astonished. It’s one of my most treasured possessions, and I wanted it to be displayed in a very special way.

Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Full length mirror: Ikea. Juju hat: Thorn & Burrow, similar. Shoe storage: Ikea.

On maximalism in minimal space: I’m not a minimalist, and neither is my wife. (This is her dedicated shoe storage, by the way.) We felt that just because we were downsizing that didn’t mean we had to get rid of everything we owned. I’m a bit of a collector and I like to be surrounded by the things I love. So, we found ways to create storage spaces and to display the things we love.

KITCHEN:
Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Pot rack: Hayneedle. Hanging baskets: World Market. Island: Target. Rug: vintage.

On a tricky kitchen: This was the one room we took down to the studs when we moved in. I loved that it looked like a little cottage kitchen, but it was not functional. I decided to keep the original checker floor and the corner window, and customized the space around those elements — as inexpensively as possible. Ikea to the rescue! I got this marble-top island at a Black Friday sale at Target, and it gives us both storage and an extra work surface.

Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

On a game-changing swap: We have lots of large pans, stock pots, cast-iron cookware and other things that need to be hand-washed. So, we downsized our dishwasher and upsized our sink. Our small 18-inch dishwasher is the perfect size for all our daily dishes, forks, cups, etc. And I really wanted a classic farmhouse sink, but my wife was not a fan of the white porcelain. So, I found one that was stainless steel and felt a bit more modern. It was a great compromise: I got my big farm sink and she got one that didn’t look farm-style.

DAUGHTER’S ROOM:
Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Bed: West Elm. Ceiling light: Lamps Plus. Hanging bulb: Ikea. Dresser: Ikea. Light-up sign: Bright Lite Tribe.

On colorful ceilings: I always remind people not to forget about the ceiling. It’s a great way to make a space fun, without all your walls being covered in color. Both kids chose the paint for their ceilings, and my daughter really wanted this pale blue. She then got that tapestry on Woot. It was hanging on her wall at first, but one day we were hanging out in her room and I said, ‘Hey, what if we hung this over your bed and made a canopy?’ She was immediately like, ‘Oh my god, Mom, I love it! Let’s do it!’

Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

On a tough transition: My daughter was 11 when we moved, and she was NOT on board at first. In her mind, downsizing meant something was wrong. Like, ‘Why would my parents decide to leave our big, beautiful house in our neighborhood with all our friends, to live somewhere much smaller?’ She’s all good now, but it took time. There were a few high school options in our new area, so when she finished middle school we let her decide which one she wanted to go to. I think it helped to give her some sense of control. After that, everything got better. She loves her school and has great friends.

SON’S ROOM:
Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Bed: Wayfair. Tapestry: Lauren Williams. Light fixture: Ikea. Carpet tiles: Flor. Comforter: Target, similar. Lights: Bright Lab Lights. Bedside lamp: Target.

On kid-friendly carpeting: The flooring in my son’s room is actually Flor carpet tiles. These are perfect for a child or teenager’s room — or any kind of play space. Messes mean nothing. He can spill whatever, and they’re so easy to clean. If one of them gets truly damaged, we can pop it out and replace it with another tile. They’re fantastic.

BATHROOM:
Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

Wallpaper: Milton and King, similar. Mirror: Varaluz. Sconce: Hudson Valley Lighting. Sink: Moreno Bath.

On #BathroomGoals: I had very specific goals for the shared bathroom. First, I was like, ‘I need some color in here.’ Another priority was natural light. It’s an interior bathroom, so there was nowhere to put a window. So I thought: skylight. I’m so grateful we were able to make it work. It feels like the world opened up.

Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

On one bathroom for a family of four: The most pressing issue was, of course, storage. So, we built these little niches into the shower, into the tub, and into this wall that was otherwise not being used. Now we have room to store our hand towels and daily toiletries. I mean, we’re a house with two women, a teenage girl, and an adolescent boy. We have things.

Small Downsizing House Tour with Shavonda Gardner

On the upsides of downsizing: Living small is a true lifestyle change, and it takes effort, but it was such a wonderful decision for us. I love how manageable this house is, and how easy it is to keep clean (and that no one has to spend their days off tidying). Things like heating and cooling are so much less expensive! We also spend a lot of time together now, and proximity plays a big role in that. After making this move, it feels like we have less house and more life! When guests come over, they notice it, too: Our home feels like a big hug.

Thank you so much, Shavonda!

P.S. More beautiful home tours, including a book-filled home in Denmark and a single woman’s dream pad in Brooklyn.

(Photos by Lena Corwin for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Emily says...

    Wait!! Where is that incredible purple wallpaper in the last pic from?!

  2. Katie says...

    This is my favorite house tour. The house just feels like it has a lot of heart. I love how many affordable/attainable finds they have! But it still feels curated and designed. And those black walls! Love.

  3. mo says...

    easily the best house tour yet! LOVE this one! also will co-sign on the ikea shoe cabinets. they only have 2 legs so they don’t jut out too much and make you look less like a shoe hoarder as the pairs are neatly hidden. magic!

  4. This house is giving me all sorts of googly heart eyes, especially the use of bold wallpapers. We also live in a smaller home, which is huge now since it’s just the two of us but will probably close in as we are (hopefully) able to grow our family. We also own a small RV for road trips, so we’ve learned how to incorporate some of the creative small space savers in it into our home, but the shoes in our living room situation is still a major struggle point. I’m eying the Ikea cabinet that they have to put near our front door now. I’ve seen it a million times, but wasn’t really sold until I saw the beautiful knobs that they have on theirs!

  5. Tina T says...

    This is gorgeous! Such a lovely family and amazing home.

  6. Seraphim says...

    One of my favorite house tours ever. Beautiful home, great use of space, sensible ideas, and such a gorgeous family.

  7. Fiona says...

    this may be my favorite house tour ever – thank you for sharing and your insipiration – excited to steal some beautiful ideas!

  8. Meghan says...

    I was lucky to read this the week I had a trip to IKEA planned. The whole time in the store I was like, What would Shavonda do? Inspiring home and life choices—thank you!

  9. Stephanie N says...

    I love everything about this home. SO refreshing to see something with bold color and art and not just white and wood. Even the back splash in the kitchen is unique.

  10. Cassie says...

    You know what I find funny that wasn’t covered (since I’ve seen her home elsewhere too)—they have a Great Dane! You see him/her in that first photo but no when else do they mention that they ALSO share this sweet little home with a giant horse dog! :D Super impressive. I have two medium-sized dogs in a similarly sized space and it feels like they’re always underfoot. Props, ladies.

  11. KayN says...

    Ahhhhh! Can we be friends? Your home is incredible and your family is just gorgeous.

  12. This family is GOALS!

  13. Denise says...

    I love this house and the boldness of their aesthetic! So gorgeous. I would never have thought black would work for a smaller living space, but it makes all of their furniture pop!

    My husband and I bought the same Ikea shoe cabinet for the front hallway of our apartment, and it is BRILLIANT! We use the “drawers” to store shoes and mail, and use the top as a key drop. So inspired by their decision to swap out the knobs…I might need to try it myself!

  14. Sera says...

    Wow! What a beautiful, bold, and thoughtful home. I’m so inspired by her mindset. Also the wallpaper in that last photo is a true delight. :-)

  15. This was so inspiring. I love the idea of downsizing. I especially love the dark paint vs white. Gorgeous home!

  16. Gemma Morgain says...

    gorgeous home! love the sky light in the bathroom!

  17. Kristine O. says...

    What a beautiful family and stunning home. Thank you so much for featuring someone from Sacramento, my hometown. I am now following Shavonda on Instagram and look forward to her posts and projects!

  18. Kathryn says...

    Beautiful, warm, inviting home. I wish I had the courage to use darker paint color! Thanks for the inspiration and tour!

  19. Sophia says...

    This is my dream: to own a small house and make each room as impactful as possible!

  20. Angela says...

    This has been my favourite house tour of all! It’s just so pretty and functional. I love the use of colour and how everything feels like the right choice. Kudos! I never leave comments but I just HAD to for this amazing home.

  21. Melo says...

    This is so breathtaking, dramatic, yet joyful at the same time. I didn’t know that combination was possible! :) Thank you for sharing!

  22. Rue says...

    I love this! The “warm hug” vibe jumps off the page. The kids rooms might be my favorite. Each is so sweet, and you can tell the kid has ownership and control of their own safe space. And that kitchen is brilliant.

  23. Kay says...

    One of my favorites ever. Love all the color and clever choices.

  24. Lisa says...

    This may be one of the best home tours I’ve seen on Cup of Jo. Wonderful! Love the use of vibrant colors and plants. This home exudes comfort and beauty and intentionality. Wonderful!

  25. Em says...

    Young House Love introduced me to Shavonda and I am *so* glad! Her Instagram and stories are a daily joy for me, and I really appreciate the etiquette she brings to the Wild West of the Internet. Her aesthetic is dope! If you aren’t following her, you should start!

  26. EllaY says...

    It’s so nice to see a post about downsizing that isn’t also about minimalist design since they’re so often written about together, which is hard when you’re not a minimalist!

  27. Heather says...

    Beautiful home, beautiful family! I love the upsizing the sink and downsizing the dishwasher story. One of my favourite home tours so far. Thank you so much Shavonda and the COJ team.

    • Shavonda says...

      Hi Heather! Thank you so so much! So happy to share my home with you and all the CoJ readers:)

  28. Lorena says...

    I am intimidated by decorating, but Shavonda’s approach so inspires me and motivates me to try some decorating ideas in our home.

    “Your space is what it is. There’s no color that’ll change the size.”
    I LOVE this. I have been holding off of painting certain rooms in my house because they are smaller and I wasn’t sure how to pick the right color. Thanks for giving me the push to just pick what I like.

    What an amazing house and so many great tips. Loved swapping out the hardware on the dresser with something more unique. Definitely planning on doing this!

    Just followed Shavonda on Instagram for more decorating inspiration. Thank you!

  29. Chandra says...

    Late to this party but WOW so beautiful! Love everything here, especially that bathroom.

  30. Julie says...

    Thanks so much for this post. And thank you to Shavonda for talking about downsizing as a positive move forward! We just bought our first home, and it’s very small and simple compared to many of the homes in our area. My dad (a well-meaning, loving boomer) has been uninvited to the house until he can stop commenting about how small and shabby he thinks it is, and how he thinks we should have gone with something bigger. I’ve tried to explain that we *want* small, and that we could afford bigger and just didn’t go that direction because it isn’t what we want for us. I needed to see Shavonda’s beautiful home and her words today. It’s not insane to want a small space—I’m not alone! <3 <3 <3 <3

    • Trish O says...

      My dad once asked me why we did not just get a “normal house” in the suburbs. True story. We invited him back…that was like 20’years ago and I still live in the same urban house 😁

    • Jax says...

      Funny, my mother is the opposite. My parents already live in a modest and beautiful house (designed and built by a retired Norwegian sea captain in a Scandinavian style, no less), but when she visits the apartments my sister and I live in, she always comments on how nice and cozy it is to live in a smaller space. She is a bit jealous of how relatively easy it is for us to clean and tidy our spaces, and how the smaller spaces encourage us to live with less clutter.
      I definitely applaud and admire those who have successfully downsized or have just managed to live in smaller spaces (by choice or not), because it can be a more mindful, sustainable, smaller-footprint lifestyle.

    • Shavonda says...

      Hi Julie! Thank you so much and congratulations on your new home. Some people, family especially, will just simply never understand why someone would make the deliberate decision to live smaller than they could. And that’s fine. They don’t have to:) Just fill that house full of love and joy and intention, and maybe they’ll eventually get it:) Wishing you all the best in your small space loving journey!

  31. Maggie says...

    I literally gasped out loud at the first picture, then it just got better. I have now pinned pretty much everything and am going through their blog to see more! Gorgeous!

  32. MLW says...

    YES! More Shavonda all the time. She has quickly become one of my favorite Instagram accounts and I’m so glad to see her and her beautiful family on CoJ! Much like the comments section here, her posts generate a treasure trove of opinions/perspectives/reactions. Case and point: a hot debate about washcloths. Go follow. You won’t be sorry!

  33. Kayleigh says...

    This is so cool! I love the black walls. Makes me want to paint a room dark and moody . . .

  34. Favourite interior post yet. Just love this home!

  35. Susan says...

    Wow this home is so beautiful. I’ve always been scared of darker moodier painted walls but it really does feel cozier and more welcoming! This family has great style – wish I could replicate it!

  36. This might be my favourite house tour yet. Those walls are amazing. (And the kitchen floor is a total joy-sparker.)

  37. asia says...

    Love so many things about this home–and I’ve already sent my husband the link along with some notes!

  38. Anna Bennett says...

    What a beautiful home! I love the color scheme and great use of textures and pattern without feeling overwhelming!! So inspiring…

  39. This home is jaw dropping gorgeous! I love the colors and all the art! I also love the idea of downsizing into your dream place. I hope we can do that, too. There is such a weird drive in our society to keep getting bigger (more expensive) with homes, cars, stuff, but to let that go and really ask what you want is liberating!

  40. danielle says...

    what a beautiful home for a beautiful family!

  41. Talia says...

    Wow! What a gorgeous home!

  42. Susan Young says...

    Perfection! I love everything about her home. You can tell that everything was carefully selected and chosen with family in mind and functionality however it doesn’t hurt to have an eye for aesthetics. Great post.

  43. Amanda says...

    Shavonda’s Instagram feed is one of my favorites. It’s always bold and unique, like you can picture her personality based on how she decorates. I always love when someone’s home is such a reflection of them. It was great seeing the whole house tour!

  44. Abby says...

    This. THE ENTIRE THING. THE WHOLE THING. is goals. Just… it’s goals! I cried a bit is that weird? Haha

    • Beth says...

      I got tears in my eyes, too. Just too good.

    • tina says...

      Me too. So glad I’m not the only one. Its just all soooo lovely.

  45. Yael says...

    I love love love this home tour. So much functionality, intentionality, personality, and JOY! We have two kids in a similarly-sized space (and may have more kids one day :)) so I love smaller-space tours…this home tour just makes me excited to go for it and inject my own personality into my own space :)

  46. Aimee says...

    My husband and I have a house that’s probably half the size and cost of what we’re “supposed” to have, according to our incomes. Yes, there are definitely times when it’s annoying—puny closets, small bathrooms, small bedrooms. But, in nearly 15 years of living here, we have never had a single moment of true stress over the mortgage or hh expenses (we definitely gripe over our New England winter heating oil costs, tho, ha!) Our yard is a decent size but manageable. We entertain just fine, if we get a little creative with space. Renovations don’t break the bank, even with higher-end upgrades. We have the luxury of our own little oasis but still have the time and discretionary income to fund our retirement and travel, by not being chained to the burden of an overly-large house.

  47. Beth says...

    I love everything about this home. The bold wallpaper and wall colors make me so happy. Is the media console something we can still find?

  48. It seriously does look like a hug! Love it.

  49. Chloe says...

    Lovely house. I do have to chuckle though. The idea of a small house in the States is SOOO different to us in the UK. This is actually quite large for here and I would love this much space!

    • Amelia says...

      That’s interesting–1,200 square feet for a family of 4 is a large house in the UK? What is a more typical home size for a family? For some reason, I’m always intrigued by cultural differences in living arrangements. I grew up in a family of 5, living in an approximately 1750 square foot home, and at times it felt very cramped!

    • Lauren says...

      That’s what I thought, Chloe! I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is the average size home for a family of four in the UK but it definitely wouldn’t be considered small, or unusual. Ours is a three-bedroom but probably about the same size overall, with a garden front and back and space to park two cars, and although I sometimes feel that a dedicated playroom would be nice, or a sewing room (!!) it’s not so much that we want extra space, rather that we like the idea of having slightly more defined spaces and usage. In reality though, open plan living space is probably more practical.

      This is a gorgeous home and I LOVE their bathroom skylight. I always think I have no strong feelings on bathrooms til I see a really cool one and then I realise I’m in denial ;)

  50. Maranda says...

    I love all the bold paint colors and wallpaper!

  51. Elham Watson says...

    Yay Sactown!

  52. Hilary says...

    I LOVE this! Much like Caroline’s apartment, it’s not my personal style but a nice break from all of the gray/white/millenial pink minimalist homes that I see everywhere. I’d love to hear more on logistics of small living. My husband and I are trying to do simplicity parenting so we’re considering moving to a smaller house than we initially wanted. How does 1 bathroom work?? How does everyone get ready in the morning? Can you host birthday parties?

    • Christina says...

      Hi Hilary! Shavonda has her own blog (www.sgstyleblog.com) and instagram (@sgardnerstyle – with a LOT saved to her Story highlights). Until CoJ does another feature, you might find more information there. She and Naomi do INCREDIBLE birthday parties for their kids, including one last late summer for her daughter in the yard. I believe they rented a nicer port-a-potty trailer for that event because there were so many people.

    • Trish O says...

      Hello,

      We have one bathroom (actually, we also have one in the basement, but we never use it unless it is an emergency). two teens, my husband, and myself. It has worked fine. We do have a unspoken schedule on who gets ready when each morning…so you shower when it is your time. We have lived here for 20 years, don’t remember parties ever being an issue. We have had many adult and kid parties. One thing I like about smaller living with a family, and having one bathroom, is I think it helps teach compromise and patience. In a world full of instant gratification, we need to communicate as a family, organize our time to use our spaces, and be thoughtful to others. If you have something that requires you to shower in the morning out of your normal time, you need to figure that out. Maybe you shower the night before. Maybe you ask someone to switch with you for the day. Maybe you get up early and go first. Anyway, for our family, it has always worked well. No regrets.

    • Dimara Almeida says...

      Hi Hilary! I live in 1400sq house in Queens NYC. We have always had our kids’ parties at home. This weekend we had 40 people in our house. It was chaotic but always cozy and fun.

    • t says...

      Hi, family of four living in a 640 SF house with one bathroom. For sure there is an unspoken bathroom schedule for getting ready (which becomes spoken when it isn’t being adhered to) and a little less privacy (people may use the toilet when someone else is in the shower). And yes to parties – use the yard! Outdoor living space makes a huge world of difference (even when I lived in NYC I needed outdoor space).

    • Mia says...

      I grew up in a small house with a family of five and one bathroom. Somehow, it was never a problem. If there was something urgent and someone was in the shower–fully opaque curtain was essential here–you would knock and ask if you could pop in (meaning, to grab a toothbrush or the hair dryer, or if really necessary, to pee). Otherwise, it just wasn’t a big deal. We often had overnight guests and my mom still regularly hosts 30-40 people for parties, as we have a huge extended family. Even as a moody teenager, I don’t think that bathroom politics were ever on my radar as an annoyance. Net total, I think the lessons were good in terms of sharing space and being flexible while still respecting the privacy of others.

  53. Vicki says...

    This home is so beautiful! I love the embrace of dark walls in the living room and dining room. I’d love to know more about the shelves next to the fireplace in the living room. We have a space just like that, and we’ve been a bit flummoxed by it. Do you have a shelving unit, or are they floating shelves. Maybe even built-ins?

    • Kelsey Miller says...

      Hi Vicki. I asked Shavonda about those myself, and they are indeed built-ins which were there before they moved in. Pretty great, huh?

  54. My husband and I downsized like this three years ago. We love our cottage feel living room especially. The difference in bills is shocking at first, just amazing! In our previous moves we really had grabbed onto the idea that bigger is going to be what you want to aspire to. In this move we were going for location very close to our fun city center, and smaller. We went from about 2800 sq. ft. to near 1600. So much less to tidy! Overall it has been really emotionally healthy to downsize!