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townhouse for a family of 5

Written by Danny Chan

Published July 22, 2018

Updated Oct 18, 2020 

top takeaways:

  • make use of vertical space

  • any space can feel larger and more connected by replacing solid doors with glass doors


This project is very special, and we are particularly excited to share it with you. It was through this project that I made a career change when I was forty years old and pursued my undiscovered passion in interior design.

The year was 2011, and Sandra (operating as Sprout Interiors at the time) was hired to decorate for a family of five who had just immigrated to Canada. She was given a short time (a month) to furnish the whole home and she needed help. Of significance, we worked on most rooms together, but somehow, the design of the flex room/fourth bedroom was given to me. I welcomed the challenge and everyone was surprised that I was the one who came up with the design with no formal training. You may read more about my "crazy" change in career when I was in my 40's by going to the about page. Otherwise, let's get back to this happy home story.

The tiny room that changed my life

This was a 1,600 square foot three-bedroom townhouse. The most challenging aspect was that each of the three sons (ages 19, 23, & 25) all wanted their own bedroom. The problem was that other than the master bedroom on the third floor, there were only two more bedrooms on the second floor.  However, there was a long and narrow flex room measuring only 4' x 7' that was intended to be a storage room. By this time, the bylaw in Vancouver did not allow this to be called a bedroom because it doesn't have a window and a closet. By the time I am writing this, how things have changed. Some developers now sell unit with this kind of room and marketed them as Junior one bedroom. Looking back, we were ahead of our time since this was designed in 2011.

Because the room was only 4 wide, a conventional bed would pretty much take up the whole room. So, I decided to use a Murphy bed. But we didn't want the bed to be the focal point of the room. So we wanted to use a side-tilt Murphy bed unit that would fold down horizontally instead of vertically that would have storage above. We contacted B,C Murphy Wall-Bed in Richmond to help us. At first, they weren't sure if that could be done as they have never done that before. But in the end, they did a beautiful job on the bed unit. I particularly like that they added four handles and grooves to make the otherwise plain board to look like cabinet doors.

flex room murphy bed design
flex room murphy bed design
Amazing Flex Room Transformation

Because the room was so small, I knew we had to make good use of the vertical wall space. We mounted a floating "desk" with two shallow drawers from IKEA, a three tier magazine rack, a bulletin board and a floating shelf to hold a plant and some books, all on the opposite wall. We also hung the folder chair so it won't take up floor space when it's not in use. On the other wall, we mounted a guitar holder and some hooks for clothes. Not forgetting to utilize vertical space would be my top takeaway for this project.


We painted diagonal lines to create a focal point that draws the eyes to the back and beyond, and the inspiration came from the map of New York that we placed on the wall. Afterwards, we added carpet and a shag rug to add warmth and texture, extra lightings above the bed unit and an iconic mid-century modern light fixture above the desk. In the end, everyone was surprised how this tiny storage room was transformed into a room that packed a punch.

Another significant change, which is my second takeaway for this project. We changed the solid swinging door to a glass sliding door. We did this because, due to the room being so narrow, we wouldn't be able to open or close the door once the bed is folded down. It would be extremely inconvenient, not to mention that it's also a fire hazard if you can't get out in a hurry. And the door that we chose was a frosted glass door. This gave the room the illusion of having a window when there was none, making the room feels much less claustrophobic.

flex room sliding glass door design
flex room design

BC West Coast Feel


The family was moving here from Asia, and they wanted a home that was "Canadian." So, we knew right away that we wanted to bring in the colour and texture of wood into the design element. And when we thought of the beautiful B.C. west coast, we also thought of the majestic grizzly bears roaming free in the wild. We assured the homeowners that these are cozy and fuzzy teddy bear, This was going to be urban Westcoast home to reflect the beautiful BC wilderness.

Living room design inspiration

We had a modest budget to furnish the whole house, so we had to be resourceful in where we shopped. And as luck would have it, we found the perfect coffee table at Home Sense for $499. It was compiled of small pieces of wood put together. We added a custom glass top so food crumbs would not fall into the cracks and make cleaning easier. And after we sourced out the rest of the furniture pieces, we accessorized the space with faux fur cushions and a throw to infuse the grizzly bear feel.

As anyone who has lived in Vancouver know, it gets dark quite early in the Fall and Winter. And since this long and narrow living/dining room only has one patio to let light in, we felt that it was important to pay attention to lighting. We opted for a lighting fixture in the dining room that is clear so the illumination can spread into the living room. In addition to two side table lamps, the main light source is from the floor lamp we placed in the corner. It provided great indirect lighting while acting as a nice piece of fixture in the room. Then we placed a mirror in the dining room to reflect light back into the room.

Living room design inspiration

Tofino Coastal Escape


For the master bedroom, my client wanted a sanctuary to retreat to. So we chose a colour scheme and concept that has more of a coastal feel while staying true to the BC West Coast feel. Our design inspiration was one of BC's top tourist destination - Tofino. Thus, you can still see the dark brown that was used in the living room, but a lighter coral blue was introduced.

As storage is always a plus in small spaces, we opted for bigger dressers as bedside tables. Who says that they have to be exactly the same? As long as they have the same height and width, it can still gives a sense of perfect symmetry. We did a his and hers to also reflect their difference in aesthetic preference. Lastly, I love storage beds with storage underneath to store out-of-season jackets and suitcases. But be sure to try out the lifting mechanism as a good lift makes it much easier to lift up the bed and the mattress..

Master bedrom design inspiration idea
Space Saving Storage Bed
Master bedroom design inspiration and ideas

solution to brighten an enclosed office with no windows

There are a few "tricks" that we love to do to open up any tight spaces. The first one is to replace any solid doors with a glass door. It instantly open the space up and connect it to the space outside. In this case, the small den was feeling very claustrophobic to the home owner and it felt more like a storage room than an office. By replacing it with the glass door, it made him feel like the room now has a window. And since it's adjacent to a door to the sundeck, it brought in some much needed natural light into the room.

small home office design inspiration
small home office design inspiration
small home office design inspiration

Any designer can tell you the wonder that mirrors can have in enlarging any tight spaces. By placing a horizontal mirror, much light was reflected into the room.

Another trick that we often like to do to warm up a space is to add an area rug. In this case, we used carpet tiles to create a fuller look. They usually come in 12' x 12' and are easy to apply. No gluing down is needed. And they are very easy to cut to size with just an extractor knife.

a room for a grown up kid at heart


When we were interviewing the family, the 25 year old son gave us two requests: the first one was to paint the room black. Being quite conservative, his mom (aka the boss) did not allow us to paint the room black. So the compromise was to choose a lot of furniture pieces that are black and a dark shade of blue. However, we opted for a glass corner desk with black frames, and other chrome and grey metal to keep a light and airy feel.

superhero boys bedroom design inspiration

The second requirement was three black superhero t-shirts! I didn't want this room to feel too childish, so I decided to turn these t-shirts into a feature that has a more artistic feel. I went to a comic book store on Granville Street in downtown and got three comic books that corresponds to the characters on the t-shirts. I tore out some of the pages (gasp!) and used the pages as the background. Then I framed everything inside a shadow box. This grown-up kid was a happy camper! In fact, he loved them so much that even after he got married and was moving out, I was told that he took these frames with him.

Supehero Kid's Bedroom
superhero boys bedroom design inspiration

Keeping it light and airy


For the baby brother, I mean youngest son, we chose a lighter shade of blue for his room. By mounting the desk and shelves onto the wall, it gave the room a light and airy feel. In fact, many things were mounted onto the wall to utilize the vertical space.

In both of these boys' room, we were able to fit a single sofa in to facilitate reading/lounging as well as a pulled out sofa for friends to have sleepover.

light blue boys bedroom design inspiration3D-4B5F-ABCD-1499A0536C87_1_2
light blue boys bedroom design inspiration

During the whole process, it was important that we took the time to talk to each person and find out their likes and dislikes. Although this process was time-consuming, in the end, we were able to deliver a home that was custom-tailored to their needs and tastes. I hope you enjoyed taking this home tour with us and I hope we were able to inspire you to make home your happy place.

Live happy!

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