Interior designer and photographer
has been a long-time member of the Refinery29 extended family, but recently, he and his wife, Sara Larson, have decided to do a little family makin' of their own. When the couple found out they were pregnant, they faced the challenge of fitting in another life into their micro East Village apartment. Clocking in around 400 square feet, it was a space challenge of a lifetime.
Of course, if anyone could find out creative solutions, it's Gunnar and Sara. We interviewed the expectant couple to get some tips and tricks, and just in the nick of time, too! They welcomed baby Ilhen into their brood this past April. Congrats Gunnar and Sara! Now, tell us about that treehouse bassinet...
Photographed by Gunnar Larson
Meet Gunnar and his lovely wife, Sara, senior associate for brand development at HONOR
, who was still pregnant with Ihlen at the time of the shoot!
It's no surprise that NYC apartments are really short on space — what led to you and Sara to decide to stay in your current apartment? How long have you been there?
"We have lived in our East Village apartment for three years now. When we found out we were expecting a baby, everyone asked if we were going to move to Brooklyn for more space. We love Brooklyn but are not ready to leave the East Village and Manhattan, which we feel is our home. Instead of changing everything in preparation for Ihlen, we chose to keep some things the same, like our apartment, because she is an extension of us and joining our life together. We love everything about our space, from our high ceilings to the exposed brick and five windows, which is a lot for some tiny Manhattan apartments. Bringing a little life into our home has made our place even better."
A sock monkey test tries a pair of fuzzy baby socks.
What were the particular challenges in working with the space?
"Clients and friends consider me a space-saving guru so this was the ultimate challenge for me. With around 400 square feet of a micro loft, I knew we had to make the nursery nook be part of the space, but the last thing we wanted was to have our home look like a baby overtook the space. Since we left the gender a surprise through the whole pregnancy, it was nice to work within gender neutral colors. Functionally, the nursery nook is for Ihlen; visually it is for us. This was a key mind-set, as I sought out to design an area that would blend in and yet be an artistic statement on its own."
Where did you find the hanging bassinet? How did you secure it to the ceiling?
"After much research and brainstorming, I knew there had to be a better way to save space and integrate this child into our life. To me, it just made sense to create something that was more of a built-in baby space. I found the Dutch company Kindekeklein
and knew this had to be part of my design. The installation was fun and felt a little Swiss Family Robinson as we hung up the bassinet. The key was to secure the bolts into the ceiling rafters."
A few friends wait around for Ihlen's arrival.
Where did the name Ihlen come about? I noticed it wasn't on the roster of prospective names from the blackboard!
"Ihlen, pronounced “eye-len,” is the name of a small prairie town of 63 people in Minnesota, near where I grew up. Ihlen was conceived in the middle of the prairie on a summer's day last year. We knew she needed a name to capture the prairie spirit that she possesses. Ihlen is also a Nordic last name and fit perfect to honor my family’s heritage. We left if off the chalkboard since it was a favorite and also top secret!"
Ihlen's closet is definitely one of the chicest baby wardrobes I've seen. Where are most of the clothes from?
"Many of Ihlen's clothes are a mixture of vintage finds paired with incredible pieces from Bonpoint
, Stella McCartney
, and Oh! Baby
. The best part of her wardrobe is a collection of hand-painted onesies that all of our friends made at our baby shower. Our dear friend Amber Oxley, women's knitwear designer at Club Monaco, spearheaded the idea. It was such a fun gift to get personal onesies by all of our best friends and also a great icebreaker for our friends to meet each other at our co-ed baby shower."
Any storage tips/tricks you've employed?
"I always tell my clients to think vertical. We have tall ceilings in our apartment so creating a built-in shelving/closet for Iheln worked really well. The key to living vertical is organization and knowing what you need to access on a daily basis. Place items you may only need sporadically at a higher level, while the everyday items are within reach. We use a great little storage item called STASH from Boon.com
to put a lot of little baby items in. Getting as much as you can in storage on your walls helps keep flat surfaces clutter free."
"Another trick that worked well was raising our bed. We raised it to store not only winter clothes and blankets but our sewing machine and stroller. Another benefit with a higher bed is using it as a changing table. We have a great heavy duty cloth changing pad that rolls out and we utilize our bed height so you don’t have to bend over to change and dress Ihlen."
A stack of books.
Ihlen is a DREAM. What has been her most lovely qualities so far?
"Ihlen has an amazing spirit to her. We have had so many friends remark on her peacefulness. When she was in the womb, we knew she was going to have a pretty calm demeanor. This played into her name choice for us, as Ihlen really represents the open prairie, from which I grew up in. She is so fun to watch, and it’s amazing to see her grow and change every day. The best is in the morning when she’s just waking up and in awe of everything that she sees with her big blue eyes. She is our greatest inspiration right now."
Photographed by Gunnar Larson