How One NYC Family Makes The Most Of Every Square Inch Of Their Flat

Conventional wisdom often dictates that when you have kids, you make one of two choices: Move to the suburbs (bye-bye, city life you worked so hard for), or figure out some way (sell your stocks! Sell your clothes! Sell a freakin' kidney if you must!) to afford a larger, more explicitly child-friendly space in your city. But Gunnar Larson, a New York City-based interior designer, and his wife Sara, head of PR and communications for the fashion brand Galvan London, have rejected this idea whole-heartedly. Which is part of why we think parents and non-parents alike can learn a thing or two from their can-do attitude, as well as their innovative usage of space and their whimsical-yet-sophisticated style.
We first featured the Larsons on Refinery29 in 2013, when they showed off their East Village apartment and the unique hanging crib they erected for their baby daughter, Ihlen. Flash forward to 2019, and the family has moved apartments, changed up their decor, and welcomed a new baby boy named Royal.
"We moved into this two bedroom hoping someday we would be honoured to be parents to a second human, but after a long time of no luck we thought, maybe it is just a party of three for us," explains Gunnar. "We moved in and boom! After years of trying, we were pregnant. Everyone asked, 'so you are moving?' Hell no! Almost six years later, we came to the same cross roads. We love this apartment and are calling it home; let’s make it work."
And make it work they have. In their new place, Gunnar and Sara have reprised the hanging crib — a Scandinavian concept — and added of-the-moment accents like printed wallpaper, neon artwork, and pops of vibrant colour. "I have been known to do my fair amount of colour blocking in my client’s homes, so for me I wanted to do wallpaper blocking. It felt like the perfect wallpaper/artwork vibe for a small room," says Gunnar. "Aimee Wilder’s wallpaper is the perfect balance of a beautiful backdrop for some of my favourite art, a portrait by one of my fave artists, Justin Hooge and a portrait of one of my fave surrealist artists, Salvador Dali, while also being a beautiful piece of art in its own right.
Blue Bag by Hunting Season. Clutch by Lee Savage. Sunglasses by Illesteva. Lipsticks by Labouche Rouge. Neon Lips, Job & Seletti.
Custom Lacquer by Benjamin Moore. Teak Tray, Hoppe Shoppe.
They've also managed to organise, for example, Sara's epic accessories collection, in a manner that celebrates the items as decor — which is not exactly hard to do with things like mod Valentino boots and a bright blue Hunting Season bag — and ensures that there's a special place for everything within the home. We think Marie Kondo would be proud.
We caught up with the Larsons to pick their brains on parenting, small space living, and how to do family-oriented interior design that doesn't sacrifice edge. We've also included some of their picks for everything from bedding to baby clothes.
What are some of the biggest challenges about raising kids in a smaller space?
You need to tell yourself, your children, and your family members that less is more. Sometimes it's hard. You want her to have a play kitchen and a playhouse and all of these other things, but we don't really have the space for that. In small living spaces items should serve multiple purposes whenever possible. Also, finding furniture that is space saving really makes a difference. A good example of this is the Stokke crib in the kids’ room. We picked it because it is a full size crib but with rounded ends. A regular rectangle crib would have just felt to intrusive in the space and be much easier to run into the corners.
Wallpaper, Rebel Walls. Clothes by Oscar de la Renta.
What are the fun things, or advantages, about having kids in a space like yours?
Kids are creative when they're just given pieces of paper and able to see what they create. One of the things that happened was that we got this box, this really cool big box, it was all black and white, and Ihlen decided to take all the plastic bubble wrap out of it and cut it up and make it into wallpaper. She turned it into her apartment. We found a lantern and hung it in there and she put art on the walls. Sometimes letting kids be creative, rather than just buying something from the store, is very pleasing. I think there's room for both, though.
How did you initially come up with the idea for the hanging crib?
We were living in a really tiny apartment and just trying to find really creative solutions for how to have a kid in a small space. We had tall ceilings, and thought it would be cool if we could suspend something from them. We went into a rabbit hole of research and found this company in the Netherlands that made the hanging crib. And basically, this time around, now that we're in a two bedroom apartment, it's definitely a lot more space, but when you have two kids, it always feels like the walls are kind of closing in. It was a creative solution for a smaller space, but the big thing for us is that we loved how the crib was on suspension, because any time the baby moves, it soothes itself back to sleep. It's super affordable compared to those chairs that rock the baby. There are so many kid gadgets out there, but this is very basic and very well-designed.
Was there ever a conversation between you two about leaving the city and moving to the suburbs? Or were you always like, screw that, we're going to make it work here?
No, it's actually really funny. When we were pregnant with Ihlen, I think it was interesting meeting a lot of people that were like moving to Westchester and they're pregnant their first kid. Everyone was leaving! And we were like, we're staying in our East Village apartment, our fifth-floor walk up. And I think the thing is, at the end of the day, you definitely should raise your children where you feel most at home and feel comfortable. For us, that's definitely in the city and not in the suburbs and so instead of, you know, expanding and having the garage and the basement and all these other things, it's really just utilising and being creative and figuring out how to live where you love and be able to make it functional. Living in New York, you have sacrifices, even without kids, right? But you choose to live in the city because you love the city and it brings a certain vibrancy into your life.
Sconces, All Modern. Duvet, Rebecca Atwood. Sheets viaWayfair. Pillow, Room & Board. Wallpaper, Aimee Wilder. Artwork by Justin Hooge.
Wallpaper, Aimee Wilder. Captain's Bed, Gothic Cabinet And Craft.
How do you strike the balance between a sophisticated, adult space and decor that's whimsical and fun for kids?
That balance is an art form. Sometimes it is harder than others to get that balance right but to water it down I think a big element of it is taking a risk and standing up for what you want. Our perspective on parenting and design is similar. You should bring your kids into your lifestyle and world.
Kids may be a 50/50 biological split between parents but they really end up being a combination of the parents and then in turn become their own entity, while flowing in and out of being little mini-me’s. When it comes to being a parent, there is life before kids and after kids. We don’t think it is so black and white of a split; it is a blend of life before kids and life with kids, which makes a new way of life. With design the line doesn’t have to be distinctive either. Your personal decor aesthetic can blend with kids aesthetic which then create its own aesthetics.
What are some of your favourite places to purchase baby stuff?
These are just a few! Mini Rodini, Pehr Design, Room & Board, Garbo and Friends, Aiden and Anais, Little-P, Pamplemousse Peluches, Oeuf, Stokke, Finnish Design Shop, Akid, All Modern, Wayfair, Human Home, Hoppe Shoppe, Seletti, Lucky Jade Kids, Little Auggie, Modani, Gothic Cabinets, Rebel Walls, Flavor Paper, and Bugaboo. Also, we love instant film and take a ton of pictures to document our life. We are huge fans of Fuji Instax and have had a blast teaching Ihlen how to capture candid moments with it.

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