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  • How to Make a 21-Square-Meter Studio Work When You Have a Toddler

    A mom shares the tips and lessons she has learned in maximizing a 21sqm studio unit
    by Cielo Anne Calzado .
How to Make a 21-Square-Meter Studio Work When You Have a Toddler
PHOTO BY Louie Aguinaldo (Home) | courtesy of Interviewee
  • Any house – big or small – needs to be in order before the newest member of the family arrives. From cleaning every nook and cranny to accomplishing important tasks like doing the laundry, it’s a must to babyproof your space not just to ensure the safety of your baby, but to make the changes involved with his arrival manageable. Aside from creating a safe and comfortable home, you also need to make sure there’s enough space for his belongings like the crib, his cabinet, and other home essentials. But what if you only have a small area to work with like a 21-square-meter studio unit?

    For parents Che and Angel, the small space didn’t pose a problem when they moved in as a couple. “We live in a 21sqm studio unit in a medium-rise condo in Pasig. I moved here in 2010 when I was still single. When Angel and I got married, and I got pregnant in 2015, we did not consider transferring. We decided to stay in the unit because of its proximity to his work. It’s also accessible to major retail, food, and transport hubs, and near some of the best schools and hospitals,” explains Che.

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    The small condo unit was cozy and practical, but the couple knew they had to work on a few adjustments with the arrival of their son.

    A family deals with small-space-living challenges

    Since Che and Angel both have jobs, there was a time when they had to get a yaya for baby Nido, but she obviously couldn't stay with them.

    “We had a yaya for about five months. When she left for one weekend, Angel and I decided to just take turns in taking care of Nido. We fixed our schedules, and it worked out,” Che exclaims.

    The couple also decided to treat the entire unit as if it was Nido’s playpen. They chose to forego bulky items like a crib, a cradle, and a high chair, and they kept the furniture sparse to give them enough room to move around.

    “We can’t accept many visitors at home. Parties have to be done at a different venue,” adds Che.

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    Benefits of raising a toddler in small space

    In 2018, Che was chosen to be a recipient of a free makeover from Real Living and Matimco, and it couldn't have arrived at a better time. Their tiny space needed some expert help to accommodate the clothes and toys Nido, who is now 3 years old, acquired over the years.

    “He accumulated a lot of stuff given to him as gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and even from his baptism. We really had a problem managing extra stuff since we didn’t have enough storage. When the Real Living makeover came, we were really grateful because the layout and design had smart storage options, which solved our clutter issues,” says the mom.

    The makeover job fell to interior designer Kat Villanueva-Lopez who improved the 21-sqm unit by adding smart storage solutions, multipurpose furniture, and finishes that add warmth to the once plain space.

    The family studio before the makeover.
    PHOTO BY Louie Aguinaldo
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    The interior designer spruced up the walls, added storage, and opted for small-space-friendly furniture.
    PHOTO BY Louie Aguinaldo

    Kat provided the family of three a dining nook that functions as a work area and added a huge cabinet to serve as a storage center. One of the significant changes Kat made was painting an accent wall opposite the sleeping area. Aside from using a bold color, it’s also a gallery wall that showcases the family’s milestones in photos. The designer also opted for movable furniture, so Nido can move around the unit and play without bumping into corners.

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    The huge white cabinet serves as a storage center for the family's belongings.
    PHOTO BY Louie Aguinaldo

    “Normally, Nido wakes up at around 8 in the morning. After breakfast and bath, I allow him to watch TV and play with his toys while I finish my house chores. After I’m done with the chores, we sit together to read books or just play. Angel arrives at 3 in the afternoon, and then I leave for work at 4. Angel allows Nido to play in the park or they walk around the village. During weekends, we visit relatives, which is also his playtime with cousins,” Che relates.

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    Freeing up floor space gave Nido enough room for playing with his toys.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Interviewee

    Che, who also maintains a personal blog over at backpackingpilipinas.com, notes their tiny space allows her to multitask. “I can watch over him while I’m cleaning the house or washing clothes. It makes Nido aware of the house chores and an opportunity to learn how he can help in his own way. A small house is also very easy to manage which gives me more time to spend with Nido,” she adds.

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    In an excerpt of her book No Buying It: Stop Overspending and Start Raising Happier, Healthier, More Successful Kids published on Mindbodygreen.com, a former economist and now personal finance and parenting expert Brett Graff talks about how having a smaller home can benefit kids in the long run. She says that “big houses are not necessarily bad for families. But we seem to have collectively decided that when it comes to living quarters, bigger is better in every circumstance. Kids thrive in smaller houses, which by design can help them dodge some invisible struggles that late plague adolescents and teens. For starters, these homes create more convenient backdrops for family communication and cultivate bonding between siblings.”

    This part of the home, which functions as a living/sleeping area can be seen from different corners of the unit.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Interviewee
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    Dr. Gwen Wurm, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician who wrote the foreword of the same book, adds, “Smaller houses encourage the kind of unscripted moments during which real teaching and genuine communication occurs.” They cited an example about having a TV that’s heard from around the house and the ability to monitor what the kids are watching.

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    Che and Angel put Nido's needs into consideration before making changes in the space.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Interviewee
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    With time spent with Nido at home, Che and Angel make sure that he learns values that he can bring with him as he grows. As much as possible, they follow a routine or schedule to teach him the value of time.  Che shares, “We also allow him to have his own spot at home so he knows where to put his toys after playing. It’s challenging to raise a toddler in a limited space, but it has allowed us to be closer as a family. It also made us simple and content with the things we have.”

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