A Family of Four Makes Every Inch of This 600-Square-Foot Home Work With Brilliant DIY Built-Ins

A Family of Four Makes Every Inch of This 600-Square-Foot Home Work With Brilliant DIY Built-Ins

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Name: Aaron, Natasha, Calder, Cy
Location: Topanga Canyon, California
Size: 682 square feet total. The main area that functions as the living room/office/dining room/ play space is 300 square feet.
Years Lived In: 1.5 years, renting

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When we first entertained the idea of moving to Topanga Canyon from Santa Monica, it was just a joke in passing. However, as serendipity would have it, we went up one weekend to take a look around, feel out the vibe, check out some of the listings at real estate offices and cafes, and the following day, a friend mentioned that they had a home in Topanga up for rent and their current tenant was moving out. We scheduled a visit the following weekend and didn’t think we could make the small size work. We loved the high ceiling, nature, and heavenly amounts of natural light that poured in during the day, but it seemed simply too small for our family of three (at the time). We thought about it more over the next week, and the pros outweighed the cons. Aaron sketched the floor plan in CAD and we started playing around with layouts and configurations of our furniture, trying to figure out how to make the space fit our needs.

Fast forward a year and a half later, we love spending time in the main space, looking out at the mountains outside, and watching the way the light moves through the space as the day passes. In the late morning, it gives the living room a beautiful glow, and during midday, the shadows of our plants will be cast against the white wall, like moving art. It feels especially calming to come back home to our little sanctuary after a hectic travel shoot. We love entertaining friends who make the trek up; we’ll set up our patio with the hammock and rug and spend time out there among the trees or gather around the dinner table while light changes to dusk around us. It’s also been gratifying to host women’s gatherings and photography workshops there. I love the feeling of having others experience the space in a different way than we do on a day-to-day basis.

It’s not perfect—it’s an older home so definitely feels like “cabin/country life” without a lot of the modern amenities that definitely make life easier when you’re a family, like a dishwasher, bathtub, etc… On weekends, we hear neighbors’ chickens start squawking, and we all pile into the king bed, a recent addition. Then we’ll move to the kitchen, gathering around the island to making breakfast together, sipping tea while music plays. Afterwards, we’ll move back up to the main space and lounge or hang outside on the patio. Our neighborhood spots Topanga Table and Topanga Living Cafe have such a cozy community vibe and great food. While we love being in the mountains, being just 10 minutes away from the beach and some of the best hiking trails in southern California is also pretty special. A couple go-tos are Tuna Canyon with its sweeping coastal views and otherworldly Red Rock.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Rustic, natural, lived-in, casual.

Inspiration: Nature, natural elements, travel, and boutique hotels in some of my favorite travel destinations like Mexico, Vietnam, and Indonesia. I’m also inspired by the Tiny Canal Cottage and living intentionally in a smaller space with a focus on fewer items and more experiences, which is doable even with a family.

Favorite Element: I really like the Nelson Ball lamp that Kaitrin suggested for our place. I was a little hesitant at first, but I’ve grown to love the contrast of its clean, modern shape and lines against the rest of our place/things that are a little more DIY and raw. It also gives off beautiful, soft light in the evenings when we’re eating at the table, and is a nice complement to the dusk sky now that the days are currently a bit longer.

Biggest Challenge: Space! The main living space, which functions as our offices, dining room, living room, and play space, is a whopping 288 square feet. To make it work to our advantage, we used built-in furniture to make use of every inch and corner. We built custom shelving on the west wall and left space around the window, which frames a view of the Topanga Mountains. It’s perfect for our books, pictures, and miscellany. On the opposite corner is a large wood dining table that I’ve had for ages; it’s immensely heavy and has moved with us twice. We built in bench seating in the corner with room underneath for storage. Also, the couch/desk is a single connected piece, which helps maximize some space as well. Keeping everything in a neutral tone and playing with textures helps the room feel visually cohesive and less cluttered.

Proudest DIY: The couch/desk is a connected piece that Aaron designed/built out of inexpensive lumber (like all of our DIYs, since it’s a rental). We get asked a lot if we have a shop… we don’t. Everything is cut with a simple chop saw in the driveway and assembled using a drill and/or by hand. The couch is a piece from our previous place in Santa Monica, which we deconstructed and modified to fit this place. We got the cushion upholstered by Custom Craft Upholsterers in LA; I bought the fabric on La Brea. We love the live edge wood slab from Angel City Lumber in east LA we use as our desk and envision taking that wherever we go next. The floating platform bed was a DIY as well; Aaron designed it so the support isn’t visible and having the mattress on the platform makes the room feel a bit more spacious visually.

Biggest Indulgence: The Frances and Son low chair by the window—it felt like an indulgence when we bought it but it’s one of our favorite pieces, both to look at and as function—it’s the perfect feeding spot for Cy, so there have been countless hours spent in it and there will be countless more.

Best Advice: Keeping everything in similar tones and playing with textures helps the room feel visually cohesive and less cluttered, especially in a smaller space. A little help goes a long way. I am the queen of indecision when it comes to purchasing, so once we had the place set up with the major layouts and items we were keeping, we had help from Kaitrin Degan (@themodhemian) with picking out some accent items to make the space feel cozy and cohesive. Our favorite find of hers were the vintage suede slingback chairs at the desk.





  • Nelson Ball Pendant Lamp — DWR
  • Shibori Pillows — ETSY




  • Vintage leather sling chairs — ETSY


Thanks, Natasha!

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