Crystal Nielsen lives in a 700 square foot apartment. With her husband. And two children. In two rooms. Two rooms! Crystal has MacGyver-ed every corner of their New York City apartment to serve multiple needs, all while looking damn chic. She’s mastered the art of paring down material things to just what’s really necessary for their family, making sure every piece of furniture carries its weight (her kids’ sleeping sofa is the coolest), and filling every nook and cranny with joy, laughter, and family memories.
We sat down with her to talk all things interior design and styling, motherhood insecurities (yep, she’s got ’em too), and how she makes time to care for herself in the midst of it all.
Name: Crystal Nielsen
Current Title/Company: Crystal Ann Interiors
Square Footage: 700
Rent or Own: Rent
City/State: Manhattan, NY
Children: Owen, 5, and Elle, 1 (almost 2!)
You work from home e-designing and styling homes for clients. How did you decide to pursue this career path and what drew you to it?
I have been drawing floor plans in the dirt since I was a little girl. I have always enjoyed and been intrigued by interior design and architecture. I ended up getting my degree at interior design school. It has been the PERFECT outlet for me to do what I am so passionate about!
What were the hardest parts of starting your own small business while being a mom, and how do you manage the day-to-day responsibilities that come with both your family and your business?
The hardest part was finding BALANCE. As hard as it has been to find the right balance for working and being a wife and mother, I feel extremely privileged that I get the opportunity to find that healthy balance of work and family life. Although I feel pretty happy with where I am with it right now, I have learned to only take on what I feel is manageable.
What also helps me is to set a dedicated time to work, which is nap time and after bedtime. When my oldest son comes home from school, I make sure to have work wrapped up so I can focus on my kids and their needs, and the same with when my husband gets home from work.
You and your family live in 700 sq. feet in New York City. What was the most challenging room to design in your apartment and how did you manage that?
The most challenging room to design was the living and dining area, simply because we had this one room that needed to act as our living area, dining area, bedroom, and also a music space for our piano (phew). I know it’s a lot for one space but that’s how it is when there are only two rooms in your whole home! We needed to figure out a layout that could incorporate a Murphy bed (a bed that folds up vertically and lays flat against the wall, looking like an entertainment center).
I always find it helpful to create a floor plan, which you can easily do online for free or use Powerpoint, then lay out the furniture how you would like it and measure each piece so you can see if how everything will look in the space. Doing this really helped us to visually see how many furniture items we could have and what layout made the most sense for the space.
What are your best tips for making a seemingly small space work for a family?
Only having what you need and a few things you love. This has been key for us. Avoiding clutter and being minimalists really help a small space breathe. Also being organized – once a month I have to go through and do a quick clean out of things we may have accumulated, which is bound to happen with kids!
What have you learned designing for clients with varying budgets and aesthetics?
I have learned that you can still achieve having a nice, beautiful space on a small budget.
We are renting, but that doesn’t stop us from doing what we can to make our space feel HOME to us. Smaller budgets require more time and effort to find deals (which can be a fun challenge and make you think out of the box).
Larger budgets obviously have more flexibility which provides more options, but that can be just as overwhelming because the sky becomes the limit with endless options! Both cases can be rewarding, though, because finding the purpose and look the client wants is SO rewarding!
Where do you get your home inspiration? And where do you like to shop?
I love to be inspired by a few things depending on the project. I find inspiration from fashion and other designers. Walking around Manhattan and looking at architecture and restaurant designs always get me inspired! I also like to get inspiration from art pieces and build a room around that.
What’s your philosophy on decorating shared spaces for adults and kids? How have you made that work in your home?
Like I mentioned before, we have four of us and two rooms total. We needed the kids’ room to also be a space we could felt like adults could also hang out. That is why we added a sleeping sofa and shelves that are a little more sophisticated. The lower shelves hold baskets filled with toys, and the higher shelves are styled with pieces that are more to me and my husband’s liking. We mixed semi-formal pieces (with kids in mind, of course) and whimsical decor to make it feel playful and comfortable for our children.
A lot of moms feel like their brains are constantly in overload. How do you maintain creativity while still staying on top of your mental workload?
This also includes being balanced and organized. When I workout, shower, and take care of myself, I feel like I am more mentally confident therefore happier and able find patience to give throughout the day. Same with when I allow myself time to work because that is when I get my creative juices flowing.
Although, if I work too long, I feel guilty that I have neglected my family – that’s why it is important to set time aside for the work that needs to be done, but when you’re done or if your family needs you, then never hesitate to set work aside to give them the attention they need. I never regret spending time with my family, so even if I have pressing work to do, I let it wait until my kids go to bed to finish it.
With young children around, it’s easy for kid stuff to overtake a home. Do you have a system for tidying up your home to control the spread of kid stuff?
Yes, we have a place for almost everything. Shoes, coats, homework, art supplies, toys, books, etc. Everything has a designated spot, and that way everyone knows where to put things so I am not the only one cleaning up. Of course, we end up accumulating things and that is why once a month I do a quick refresh of closets and I go through toys and give anything we get rid of to friends or Goodwill.
How has your view of motherhood changed since becoming a mom?
YES. I have ALWAYS had such a strong passion to be a great mom. I love children, so I assumed it would be easy, and boy was I SO wrong.
The statement, “you never know how hard it is unless you have been through it,” has never rung more true with being a mother.
Although it’s so hard, it makes it that much more worth it, seriously. There is no greater work, I believe, than raising little humans to be hard-working, decent, loving people.
What’s the most rewarding and challenging part of being a parent?
The most rewarding part is teaching your children things, and after many failed attempts, seeing them succeed.
It’s hard for me to pick the hardest part! I guess the hardest part for me would be feeling like I have failed to be the person I feel they need me to be at times.
When it comes to being a mom: what are you most insecure about and what are you most confident about?
I am most insecure about not being able to find the right balance of parenting them but also letting them know they can be open and tell me anything. I know when my kids are teenagers they won’t automatically have this perfect relationship with me and if I want that, we need to create it now. So I try to not pressure myself and just do my best to listen to them whenever they talk so they know I will care about what they have to say, now and always.
I have confidence in my ability to always strive to be better. Honestly, my confidence depends on the day; sometimes I am so good at one thing and then not so good at it the next day. I find confidence in handling hard situations with my kids with grace. I’m not perfect, but I always try and I’ll never give up on trying to perfect my weaknesses as a mother.
If you could only pick one, what has been your favorite memory from motherhood so far?
I don’t necessarily have a favorite because I have two children with thousands of wonderful memories. Although one of my favorite moments is every night after I give my children a bath, I massage my little daughter’s hands, feet, legs, and arms with lotion. It is a bonding moment I have with my daughter. For my son, I lay in bed with him and chat. These last a total of five to 10 minutes, and so even if we have a crazy day, it’s a moment in each day I get to make contact with them directly.
Tell us your morning routine.
I read them Scriptures.
Do math and have Owen write what he is grateful for (we don’t always do this but on good mornings we do!).
Go to the gym.
Go to the park or meet up with friends.
Come home, make lunch, nap time, and work time for me.
Crystal Ann Nielsen is The Everymom…
Favorite family tradition? We are still working on creating traditions (we definitely have food traditions which are fun!). This is a new one – a Christmas tradition of having straws of hay and everytime someone does an act of service we put a piece of straw in the crib. Then, once it’s full, we can lay baby Jesus in it.
Easy go-to family meal to prepare? Chicken-avocado burritos.
Your dream vacation? Tahiti.
Last home item you splurged on? Container organizers for our pantry.
Guilty pleasure? Pedicures and manicures.