A tiny living space that works
Mother and daughter are happy living in cosy basement quarters in their Victoria home
A single mom, her teenage daughter and two small dogs are all living happily in a tiny Victoria apartment, which comprises just 243 square feet of living space.
It used to be her husband’s basement office, but when the couple split up, Elizabeth decided to turn it into a revenueproducing suite.
To her amusement and surprise, she and her daughter both liked the finished micro- space so much, they decided to move in themselves and rent the upstairs level of their house instead.
“This used to be just one big room with a concrete floor,” recalled Elizabeth, who spent three weeks of sleepless nights plotting, planning and devising ways to turn it into a livable home. She then acted as her own contractor.
“I thought about what we use, how we go about our day, and I tried to incorporate all that in here: space for bathing, sleeping, cooking, working, studying.
“It was really hard and I drew it up a hundred different ways. The only constant was the bathroom, which had to be where it is because of the plumbing. Everything else got moved around a lot because I also wanted to make the most of the space visually.”
She didn’t want it to feel crowded and she didn’t want to compromise on having a large tub either.
Now both mom and 13- yearold daughter Sam are happily bunking together in a queensized bed built above a large storage area that includes a chest of drawers and three kitchen caddies. The latter can be rolled out whenever Elizabeth needs to access her selection of shoes and bags.
That’s another thing she didn’t want to let go.
Downsizing the rest of their belongings was challenging, especially when it came to personal things such as Sam’s childhood artwork. But Elizabeth held on to the most precious items and was thinking ahead when she organized a heated storage area in the house above. They also share the laundry room with renters.
“We really did pare down a lot, especially after having lived upstairs for 17 years, in a 1,500- square- foot house. But after going through this process, you realize you don’t really need all that stuff you’ve accumulated.
“I feel lighter physically and emotionally — and we can tidy this place in 15 minutes.”
And while mother and daughter have always been close, “we are definitely closer now,” said Sam with a chuckle.
She loves the compact living space and explains she doesn’t have a lot of stuff. Her life is streamlined and the teen is happy as long as she has her laptop, computer tower, iPhone and gaming computer.
“Sam is a tech hoarder and I made sure the phone charger was in the wall directly over the bed,” joked her mom, adding Sam basically just needs her school uniforms, jeans and T- shirts. “She keeps me balanced.”
Elizabeth, who manages a software consulting company, said her daughter chose all the colours for the new space. “They were totally outside my comfort zone, but she wanted to go very modern with red, grey and white and so we did.”
Thinking about affordability and function, Elizabeth chose mostly Ikea furniture and cabinets, and her nephew, a carpenter, did all the woodwork, including creating the “floating” eating bar.
“I really wanted independent eating and sleeping areas. In many microlofts, when the Murphy bed flops down you don’t have a table anymore. So you can only eat when the bed is up.
“I wanted to be able to eat and have a lounging area at the same time.”
The Calligaris bar stools were her only splurge. “After sitting in 50 different chairs, we decided they were the ones. It was money well spent because we spend a lot of time in them.”
Surprisingly, neither of them misses having a bigger living space, but they often head to Cook Street Village for coffee and social time.
And they made their new home as comfortable and open as possible. “I love the kitchen, because it’s like being in a boat, standing in the galley, being able to reach everything,” Elizabeth said.
Floors are laminate over concrete. While Elizabeth initially wanted to have in- floor heat everywhere, she learned it would cost about $ 5,000 so she opted to have it only in the bathroom.
One of her only real challenges was choosing an armchair that could double as an office chair.
She looked and looked, but couldn’t find one to fit at the desk, so she took one she already had to a metal fabricator and had new legs made in the same shape as the original ones, only higher, then had them powder coated in white.
The TV swings out, so it can be watched from the desk or bed, and they use fling rods to pull the curtains, as they are so high in the wall. “Mom also uses those curtain rods to get my attention when I have my ear buds in,” Sam said.
Their only regret? The suite heats up really fast with visitors and they would probably have installed air conditioning if they’d known that.
But apart from that, they adore their new space, which cost about $ 40,000 in renovations.
Elizabeth said friends and neighbours were stunned when she told them what she was planning. “I had the vision but people didn’t get it, until the big reveal. Then they understood. One of my neighbours actually said he could live here too.
“And luckily it’s not a situation where we have to live here, which might make you feel miserable. It’s more like we have chosen to live in the coolest college dorm.”
She had a party recently for her daughter’s birthday and as the house above wasn’t rented at the time, she planned to hold the festivities upstairs.
“But when the day came, guess where all the 13- year- olds were hanging out? Right here in the basement suite. A few were up on the bed, others were cooking in the galley and a few were playing at the computer desk.
“My daughters’ friends love it here, and my daughter is amazing, so openminded about the changes to her lifestyle. When I expressed my concern about moving down to the suite, she simply said, ‘ Come on, Mom, in Japan people live in small spaces like this all this time. … It’s just us North Americans that think we need so much space!’ “And she was so right. “I didn’t know it at the time, but through transforming the space, I have transformed my life too. I’m very emotionally attached to this space now, because it’s enabled me to provide security for my daughter during very uncertain times.”