While I have to admit I love all the space in our new townhouse in Edmonton, I really miss the idea of living in a small space; I say idea because in practice, I was not all that good at it. Ranylt Richildis makes our cramped little space in that old brick apartment sound romantic in “Petal Eater“, a story about our Floofy cat, but in reality, its charm verged on the claustrophobic and cluttered. Our neighbors Anna and Neil, however, make an art of the small space, literally, and we were lucky enough to spend an evening with them on our recent Ottawa sojourn.
Their kitchen doubles as a dining room, with built-in bench seating along the wall and a narrow custom-made table that maximizes space. The one wall in the room is bright red and covered in original art in an eclectic mix of frames. There’s just enough room between the table and the stove and countertops for a couple of people to stand and cook, yet I’ve seen at least ten people packed in this tiny kitchen (mostly wedged along the bench behind a table covered in fabulous food) at one of Anna’s famous parties. One of the best things in this room might be metal the back splash covered in family photos and magnets.
When we first walked in the kitchen, where Anna and Neil were assembling some gorgeous summer rolls, Claire took in all the art and and colour and seemed unphased. Then she saw the 6 foot 6 bearded Neil and shortly after started to melt down. Thinking she was overstimulated, I moved to the living room… And looked up to see a gold bust of Elvis, a Mayan bird-god hanging from the ceiling, a green Buddha head, and art and mosaics everywhere. Not to mention green apple walls, a vintage green couch, a wall of books (organized in sub-categories like jewelry and decorative arts), and glass cases of curios. Possibly the least un-stimulating room in Ottawa, but also one of the most beautiful.
I don’t know the exact square footage of Anna and Neil’s fabulous apartment, but I know how tight it was for two of us in our essentially identical floor plan, and they raised 3 boys in their space. Because they own their entire unit they have a small finished basement, which we were lacking, but they still have far less space than we now have in our townhouse, and they make it work. Beautifully. Since they’ve resisted the urge to move to a bigger house in the suburbs and have stayed downtown, they rarely drive; Anna doesn’t even have her driver’s license, and her teenage boys are in no rush to get theirs. Although they have a car, they walk most places, or, like Anna’s 80-year old dad who lives in the neighborhood too, they bike. I can’t really say how much I miss this kind of lifestyle. While pregnant I dreamed of staying in our little nest of an apartment with Claire squirreled away in a bassinet (I didn’t think about where a crib would go because we literally had no place to put one). When we moved part way through the pregnancy because a great opportunity for Jeff came up near my family, I was heartbroken to leave not only these fabulous friends but also the kind of mentality that downtown living encourages. Now that we have more space, it’s way too easy to accumulate more stuff and we drive almost every day. But I hope to someday try to instill small space thinking in Claire, even if we never make it back to a downtown space — I’m trying to start now by reminding myself that I don’t necessarily need a bigger better stroller, we don’t need to upgrade our compact car, and I don’t need to replace the laptop I drowned in tea a year ago…
I could, however, use a wall of books, a gold Elvis head, and a fabulous neighbor to have tea with.