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Unlike most families, Karla and Ray Graves have intentionally downsized their living space as their brood has grown. The Birmingham, Alabama–based couple behind Raka Home (she brings the design prowess; he custom builds it all) applied their small-space know-how to every corner of the 1,400-square-foot cottage they share with their four kids—Aidian (13), Roman (9), Liam (5), and Penelope (2).

“One of the things that attracted us to small-space living was how it creates unplanned moments of being together,” shares Karla. “Having more opportunities for deeper conversations and catching up on one another’s day without having to put it down on a schedule felt like such a plus.” Another bonus? “All that extra space requires you to maintain it and keep it clean,” says Ray. 

And so the duo divvied up their house’s three bedrooms into one main bedroom (where they transformed the 50-square-foot walk-in closet into a nursery for Penelope, complete with fold-down changing table); a home office/studio for them to work out of; and a bedroom for the three boys. 

Making a shared space appeal to kids spanning almost a decade apart in age could be a stretch, but the Graveses were game to tackle the project. “Our main focus has been to make the design fun and bring in elements of play,” explains Karla. That translated to a knotted climbing tree, rope swings, a library wall, and enough floor space left over for lounging on beanbags, building forts, racing toy cars, and more. 

The real star of the 10-by-12-foot room, though, is the triple bunk bed, featuring a plaster outer shell with free-form cutouts that’s accessed by a climbing wall. Inside, each boy has his own little world, thanks to clever storage compartments that allow them to stash Lego collections, books, toys, mementos, and other treasures. “You get to hang out with your brothers and you don’t really get scared because you’re always together,” says Roman. “I love that it doesn’t separate you from the rest of the family,” adds Aidian.

With less than $2,500 spent on all supplies and materials for the entire project (Ray took care of the labor and building himself), the space has been a hit with the whole family. (Penelope is a frequent visitor.) Here are five of the couple’s tips for planning out and maximizing your enjoyment of a smaller footprint.

Play Layout Tetris (Walls Included)

We knew we had to be very intentional with the layout,” recalls Karla. Focus on the perimeter of the room first when placing bigger furniture pieces—and consider floor-to-ceiling surfaces as square footage, too. “Treating walls like storage can bring out an entire world of possibilities,” she explains. Install hooks for hanging baskets rather than lining them up on the floor, or mount buckets to organize toys and art supplies.

Celebrate the Individual

Help each child customize their zone with special touches according to their interests—a display shelf for the Lego collector, for example, or a bunch of glow-in-the-dark stars for the outer space lover. Each of the boys’ bunks houses a wall-mounted desk for quiet time or study. “Other practical additions like individual bed lights, a rod with blackout curtains, and a sound machine to help little ones get to sleep (and older ones to sleep in) make a child feel like they have their own room within a room and create a sense of privacy in a shared space,” says Karla.

Sharing Is Caring

“Kids are only kids once, so celebrate this season and think of unconventional ideas that will make sharing fun!” she suggests. A unique bunk bed design, outdoor play features indoors (like rope swings and climbing ladders), and lounge-friendly furniture all encourage siblings to hang out together. “If the boys want to meet with their friends on FaceTime,” says Karla, “they pile up the beanbags on the floor and get popcorn and candy to watch a movie.”

Put It in Neutral

Lighter tones might seem like a bold choice with kids (and three boys, especially), but when paired with bare flooring and walls that can be wiped down (thanks to washable paint), messes become easier to spot and clean. “It really brings a sense of calm,” explains Karla. 

Streamline as a Family

Even for the most seasoned of pros, shedding possessions does not come easy. “It was hard for me to get rid of stuff,” recalls Karla of downsizing their home. From there “it’s about being mindful of what you bring in.” Setting up a cycle to regularly take inventory is also key, says Ray: “Every holiday the kids get new stuff, so they have to [donate] old stuff.” Making their own choices helps them determine which things are truly meaningful to them.