A Family of Five Transforms a Rental NYC Apartment into a Beautiful Home
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Chelsea Angelos loves raising her three kids, ages 1 1/2, 4, and 6, in New York City. The Ohio native even named her public Instagram account @CityLoveLetter. “I am in awe of the kindness and community we get to experience each day in New York,” she says. “Someone is always offering to help me carry my stroller up a set of stairs, holding the door open for me, or waving and smiling to my children.” Angelos started the account because so many of her friends back home wondered, “How do you do it? How do you make life in the big city work with three kids under 6?” Of course, Angelos concedes, there are tough things about living in the city — and she shares both the ups and downs in her posts. “But most days we really do get to experience the kindness of humanity,” she says.
As Angelos shares snippets of her family’s life online, her home often takes center stage (especially since she typically prefers not to show her kids’ faces online). “It’s sort of naturally evolved into sharing more about our rental home, but I think how you make a home goes hand-in-hand with how you make living in the city with kids work,” she says.
The family recently moved into a large two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side after a nine-month stint in Utah while her husband was working remotely in the 2020–2021 school year. (Previously they’d lived in a 850-square-foot junior two-bedroom where their youngest slept in a mini crib in the closet.) “My mom thought, ‘Oh, she’s going to get a taste of the suburbs and want to stay,’ but it was the opposite for all of us. We couldn’t wait to get back home,” says Angelos. “The [Utah rental] home was so big. It was hard to manage, hard to keep clean, and then my kids didn’t even want their own rooms.”
Resettled in their beloved city, Angelos is putting her stamp on the new place — even though it’s a rental. Angelos takes Cubby inside her city apartment and opens up about what it’s like to be a family of five in the Big Apple
On the reality of renting: “When we moved, I wanted to incorporate the stuff that we already had. I don’t have an interior design background and the more I try to learn, the more it seems like a lot of [professional] design starts from scratch, which just is not how I can or really want to go about things. I have tried to use the things that we already have and then build around them, but sometimes the rooms are different sizes and a rug doesn’t work, or the table shape doesn’t work in the dining room. It’s hard!”
On the lack of renter-friendly inspo: “What I have been craving on social media for a long time is more attainable homes: Progress, not perfection. Not just the end product, not just the custom homes, not just professional things: I want more of what’s quick, inexpensive and attainable for me.”
On the one account she could relate to: “When we were first moving to the city, I was entertaining the idea of a one-bedroom and doing a Murphy bed and I came across Crystal Nielsen’s profile. At the time, she lived in the city and had a one-bedroom with two kids, just like us. I just loved that her style was attainable — she wasn’t buying very expensive furniture pieces, she wasn’t just gutting her kitchen, and she was forced to work with whatever was there. We ended up meeting later in real life and she moved out of the city, but I feel like she’s still really budget-conscious and family-friendly.”
On the best $9 upgrade she’s made: “When we got our apartment, the tile grout was just brown — it’s so old — we tried to clean it and it didn’t make a difference. I bought a grout pen on Amazon and just basically painted over the brown. Changing the grout color to white — that one thing alone made our bathroom feel so much better.”
On her low-lift kitchen makeover: “I really didn’t like the color of the kitchen cabinets, and got permission from my landlord to change them. But so many of the solutions that I found were just not doable for me: We don’t have space to sand, prime, and paint them. And when we looked into having it done professionally, it was going to be thousands of dollars. I know some people cover their cabinets with contact paper, but that works best with a flat cabinet. So what I ended up doing was this wood wax that works like a traditional stain; it works with no prep work. It definitely gives it more of a rustic feel, you can still see the wood grain, but I have really been happy with it.”
On her favorite rooms to decorate: “Kids’ rooms are just the easiest for me to design. They were the first rooms that we decorated when we first moved, and I haven’t felt the need to change them much. I don’t know why that is, but maybe I just feel like there’s freedom to be more colorful and fun? I especially like our baby’s nursery with the wallpaper that has the birds and the flowers: It just makes me so happy in there.”
On kids sharing a room: “When we were living outside of the city last year, my kids didn’t even want their own rooms. Two of the bedrooms just sat untouched and they shared a room and slept in the same full-size bed every night. When we were moving back, we had a crib and a toddler bed in storage. I figured bunks made sense for the big kids, but I wanted them to have the option to share, so I opted for the single-over-full bunks. That way if they’re feeling scared in the middle of the night, they can just snuggle up with each other.”
On raising a pair of night owls: “Another reason my son and daughter like sharing a room is because they wake each other up all the time. I’m really grateful that we have a separate sleeping space for the baby. They’ll wake up at 4 a.m. and we’ll find them in a destroyed room playing. I literally have pictures of my daughter passed out in a pile of stuffed animals in a superhero costume in the middle of the night.”
On the deeper importance of home improvement: “I think it is so important to feel comfortable where you are — especially as a stay-at-home-mom during COVID, you spend all your time there. We spent the last year living in a temporary rental in Utah, but we never really felt comfortable there, because it was not our home. It was a beautiful space but it just wasn’t us. And because it was temporary I didn’t want to put too much money into it. But I did notice that even switching out the rug or getting a few cute baskets to put my kids’ toys in just made me feel so much more comfortable living there. I want my family to be able to feel settled.”
On sacrificing space for family time: “Another reason why we choose to live in the city is because my husband’s work hours are so unpredictable. We want to maximize our time as a family together. If we lived anywhere else, that would be a lot longer of a commute. We would rather have a smaller space in the city and be able to spend more time with him.
On the beauty of a closed door: “My house isn’t tidier than other people’s — I’m just good at hiding the kid stuff. We like to put toys underneath the couch, so that they can be pulled out and played with, but if I don’t want to look at it, then I can slide it underneath. I also love cabinets that have doors that close — behind them are the toys and the kids’ books.
On her secret source for budget finds: “I love Etsy for one-of-a-kind finds. Then there’s a brand called Creative Co-op on Amazon that I really like. Instagram’s also a great place because I find smaller shops.”
On her favorite feature of the apartment: “Our last apartment didn’t have laundry in the building, so we would drop it off at the corner laundromat and pay for wash-and-fold service. It was doable but not convenient or cheap. We have our own washer and dryer in our apartment now. To me, this is a real luxury — especially when we have potty accidents or a kid gets sick.”