Home Decor

This Family’s Downsized Home Goes Big on Style

Shavonda Gardner’s California bungalow is full of bold surprises—and clever ideas.

June 13, 2020
Photo by Weston Wells

Influencer and designer Shavonda Gardner is a believer in slow, sustainable design. “Curating a home is a marathon, not a sprint,” is a mantra Shavonda repeats often to her followers and clients, but it’s also how she approaches her own home.

Shavonda and her wife, Naomi, were living in a basic builder house in Sacramento, California when they decided to trade their cookie-cutter home for a smaller place with old-school charm across town. The couple and their two children, Michael and Bryanna, downsized from a 2,400-square-foot house to a 1,200-square-foot cottage.

To make the two-bedroom home work for their family of four, Shavonda and Naomi took what had been the den and made it into their bedroom, and they gave the kids the two “real” bedrooms. The smaller space didn’t stop Shavonda from making bold choices with their decor—nor did it turn them into a family of minimalists. “Just because you live small doesn’t mean you can’t have big, bold style,” says Shavonda.

Ever curious about design, Shavonda’s vision for the cottage is constantly in flux: rugs move from room to room, furniture shuffles places—everything is always being tweaked and updated. This nimble attitude toward decor is part of what makes the small space work for her and her family: It’s what slow, sustainable design looks like in action. It’s also one of the joys of following Shavonda on Instagram: you’re always in for something new.

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“I saw your house last year on Cup of Jo's house tour. Didn't you have a big black and white dog? I just love your corner kitchen sink with its window. ”
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While Shavonda believes that a home is never “done,” she has mostly paused on interior renovation as she’s turned her eye to the family’s backyard. There she has created a potager garden (and an Instagram account dedicated to it and more recently a deck and pergola.

After the marathon of the backyard renovation, Shavonda plans to focus on other work, but we can guarantee that her home will never stay static.

The small vestibule (left) has a coat closet to the left and a few hooks to the right. Shavonda extended the entry space into the living room with a shoe cabinet from IKEA (which she dressed up with stylish agate knobs) and a large round mirror above.

Hallways (right) are often ignored, which is exactly why Shavonda felt this was a great place to go bold with her wallpaper (an indigo pattern from Milton & King that has the look of mudcloth). She says, “How fun is it to have something interesting to experience when passing from room to room?”

The family’s living room is a lesson in why you shouldn’t be afraid to go bold with your decor in a small space: the black walls create a moody vibe that anchors the rest of the house. The green velvet sofa was actually a rental(!) from Feather, but Rove Concepts sells a similar model called the Luca.

The dining alcove (left) has built-in storage. While the round table offers seating for up to six people, the one thing Shavonda does miss from their old house is the huge dinner table they used for entertaining. The black chairs are the iconic Panton chair by Vitra.

Shavonda used a host of small-space tricks to make her petite cook space (right) work, including a hard-working island from a restaurant supply store, a hanging pot rack, and tons of wall-mounted storage. But perhaps most surprising of all, she opted for an eighteen-inch dishwasher instead of a full-size model. She finds that this size is just right for a day’s worth of dishes and is happy to have the extra cabinet space and a bigger sink to wash pots and pans. The latest addition? An oversized, operable skylight—a total game-changer for light and air.

When Shavonda was renovating the kitchen, she was determined to keep the built-in spice rack and ironing board that were original to the house. (Hooray for 1940s small-space hacks!) “I basically planned the whole kitchen around that spice rack,” she laughs. The new cabinets are IKEA frames outfitted with doors from Semihandmade.

A magnetic knife rack like Shavonda’s is a much more efficient way to store your knives than a traditional knife block and is safer than keeping sharp knives in a drawer with other utensils.

Formerly a den, Naomi and Shavonda get to sleep with a view of their large backyard, which has undergone a serious makeover in the last two years. (Shavonda also painted the room black since these photos were taken.) While the room is generously sized, the alcove where the bed sits offers just enough space for the bed and two night tables. Shavonda tucked two baskets beneath a bench placed at the foot of the bed to hold extra shoes.

Shavonda’s biggest tip for making a small room work for kids (right) is to limit their stuff. In Michael’s room, Shavonda used carpet tiles from Flor to create a rug that fit the small space perfectly. One of Shavonda’s favorite ways to add color to a room is to paint the ceiling. Both the kids’ rooms have white walls and colored ceilings.

Want a guaranteed way to make laundry a less-dreaded chore? Wallpaper your washroom in the brightest, boldest wallpaper you can find, like Shavonda did in her laundry room with the Aja wallpaper by Justina Blakeney from Hygge and West. To make this room work harder, she also installed a long, narrow shelf above the machines and uses the area as her potting shed.

A recent renovation brought the 1940s bathroom into the present with new tile, wallpaper (Leopard Wallpaper by Milton & King), a sink vanity, and more, but the biggest change was the addition of an operable skylight from Velux. Bringing light and air into the bathroom made more of a difference than any extra storage or additional space could have brought.

Photography by Weston Wells from The Little Book of Living Small by Laura Fenton. Reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith.

Which is your favorite room in Shavonda's house? Tell us in the comments below.

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Laura Fenton is the No Space Too Small columnist at Food52. The author of The Little Book of Living Small, she covers home, design, and sustainability. Laura lives in Jackson Heights, Queens in a 690-square foot apartment with her husband and son. You can follow her on Instagram @laura.alice.fenton or subscribe to her newsletter Living Small.


Hannah C. July 8, 2020
Love the hanging light fixture in the dining room -- is the source available?
Hannah C. July 8, 2020
Love the hanging light fixture -- is the source available?
sandra June 21, 2020
So beautiful. Inspired. Comfy. Let me know when you're accepting guests.
Dorene P. June 21, 2020
Love, love, love -- creative bold colors and patterns; makes me want to celebrate life!
Carol June 21, 2020
Just love all of it. I have just been sold on black paint working! I would have never thought a black background could work so beautifully and just love all the interesting details, I would want to walk into their home very slowly to appreciate and see everything.
Alison F. June 15, 2020
Beautiful home for a beautiful family! I especially love your choices in colors and patterns.
Sara June 14, 2020
Why are interior design articles posted on the Food tab rather than the Home52 tab? When I come here, I'm looking for food-related articles.
Sara June 14, 2020
Why are interior design articles posted on the Food tab and not on the Home52 tab? When I come here, I'm looking for food-related articles.
FrugalCat June 14, 2020
I saw your house last year on Cup of Jo's house tour. Didn't you have a big black and white dog? I just love your corner kitchen sink with its window.
Laura F. June 17, 2020
Yes, Shavonda has a HUGE dog! I can't believe we didn't get a shot of Callie the Great Dane.
Rhonda35 June 13, 2020
So beautiful and inviting!