Designer Gunnar Larson is no stranger to carving out creative solutions, but updating his under 700-square-foot apartment for a second baby might be his most impressive work yet.
For many New Yorkers, finding out they are pregnant means looking at real estate. Few city dwellers exist in a world with extra bedrooms ready for an expanding brood.
Designerknows that feeling, twice over. The difference? The designer deftly knows how to create a space for an expanding family that doesn’t require relocating.
“Six years ago we found ourselves sharing about our home in the East Village and how we welcomed our daughter Ihlen (now almost six) to our less than 400 sq foot ‘microloft,’” Gunnar explains. “We loved our fifth floor walk-up, and all three of us lived in that home for Ihlen’s first year of life.”
Fast-forward five years and Larsons were on the hunt again. The fam opted to trim their indoor space to 700-square feet with a tight bedroom and little storage in favor of outdoor storage and proximity (“our friends live above us and our kids go to school together.”). They made the move to Greenpoint and then—Gunnar and his wife Sara found out they were pregnant.
Once again, they were at a real estate crossroads. But, once again, they were also undaunted. If anything, Gunnar was pumped.
“I feel like designing for myself is like my test kitchen,” Gunnar explains. “I can take more risks, like testing out wallpaper blocking or trying a new vendor to lacquer my vintage Danish chairs.”
The test this time was indulging his own style while balancing the space constraints of sharing a small two-bedroom with two kids. Luckily, he’s a decor optimist.
“Sharing a small space with kids can be fun to bring whimsical elements into your everyday life,” Gunnar says. “Think about things you want to be looking at for years to come. The day when our hanging crib comes down will be an end of an epic chapter but I love how our Seletti monkey lamps will remain, leaving a little bit of Royal’s infant hood imprinted in that space while giving room for it to evolve.”
Yes, the hanging crib and playful monkey lamps are currently “hanging” out in the master bedroom, a nod to the urban jungle their son Royal now resides in. Gunnar picked the smallest bedroom with the largest closet to accommodate his wife’s clothes, and worked with one of his favorite vendors Gothic Cabinet Craft to create a custom 12-drawer, sky blue, captain’s bed to amp up the storage. Gunnar’s Minnesota prairie roots meet his surreal preferences thanks to a combo of Aimee Wilder wallpaper adorned with a portrait of Salvador Dali.
In the bedroom, Gunnar made sacrifices, but when it came to the living room and his wardrobe, there was less room to budge.
“It’s always interesting what interior choices clients won’t give up. For me, it is our 9’ sofa,” Gunnar explains.
At 6’ 3”, he needed the space to flop down. Gunnar opted to keep the large sofa flanked with smart storage and facing a shockingly slim home theater system (a Sony Short Throw projector and Apple Home Pod). The solution means not only is there still plenty of room for family movie night, but the projector can relocate to the back deck on movie nights.
Gunnar describes his personal style as “eclectic, industrial and Scandanese (Scandinavian + Japanese) with a pop of color,” and it’s reflected not just in his design aesthetics, but his wardrobe as well—which happens to be on view right when you walk through the door.
“The hallway, AKA our walk-through closet, was so fun to create.” Gunnar says. “The moment I saw the hallway was slightly wider than normal I jumped on the opportunity to kit-it-out. I love small spaces! I knew we needed to find a place for shoes and handbags. A mix of IKEA BESTÅ cabinets, custom ash wood shelves and Food52 leaning coat rack create a great space to showcase, store, and hide. It’s a mudroom meets gallery.”
But the apartment’s crown jewel might be the dual kids’ room. Here Gunnar split the space in half, in the classic sibling style, but with a lot more foresight.
“The trick is that the needs for a five-year-old and a newborn are different,” Gunnar says.
One wall became an open closet/storage for both—a long and low dressing area for Ihlen (since she’s old enough to do such) and a taller, narrower storage solution with a changing table on top for the baby. With the beds, Gunnar also worked to create areas that perfectly suited both kid’s needs.
“In setting up their beds, I want to create a room where each area was distinct yet flowed together as one room,” Gunnar explains. “This is where it was fun having two different rugs that coordinate and two different colored beds that compliment each other and then having a fun whimsical wallpaper that brings it all together in cohesion.”
The wallpaper creates a verdant and vibrant hideaway at the top of the bunk bed, and helps tie the entire space together. While her bed doubles the surface area of the room, the crib also cuts corners (literally).
“Every rectangle crib just felt bulky and ‘sharp’ to run into for a tight space,” Gunnar says. “I found the Stokke crib while on a work trip to Minnesota at Oh Baby! A regular rectangle crib would have just felt to intrusive in the space and be much easier to run into the corners.”
For Gunnar picking pieces for the nursery that you love is paramount. He urge to resist the idea of decorating with the temporary in mind.
“One of the main things is, you’re going to spend a lot of time in your nursery so it’s important to pick and choose furniture that is comfortable to you and pleasing to your aesthetic,” he shares.
Whimsical, personal touches balance the grown-up and still-growing needs of every occupant of the space. From a custom rug that showcases his daughter’s handwriting to whimsical personal touches throughout the house, Gunnar makes the balancing act of designing (and parenting) look easy.
“That balance is an art form, and I guess that is why I do what I do,” Gunnar says. “Sometime it is harder than others to get that balance right, but I think a big element of it is taking a risk and standing up for what you want. I think our perspective on parenting and design is similar. You should bring your kids into your lifestyle and world. I think having kids just makes my own whimsical nature feel a little more free. If the kids are going to draw on the wall at some point, then let’s just do it now and in a creative and purposeful way so we can all have fun.”