At Home with Shavonda Gardner

By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Four years ago, Shavonda Gardner and her family of four (plus a Great Dane) cut their footprint in half. They went from 2,300 square feet, four bedrooms, and three baths to 1,200, two, and one. Their decision to live intentionally small has meant a physical and an emotional adjustment and has come with ongoing renovation and refinement of their home.

Shavonda lives the philosophy that small spaces and big style can coexist. What first caught our eye about her home were the colors, the layers, the depth, the inherent flair she has for playfulness in interior design. So when she told us that her home is filled only with the things she loves, without regard for whether they will “match” or follow a “style,” I honestly wasn’t surprised. I see this all the time: those who buy based on love, delight, and excitement rather than an obligation to a style remain unbeholden to magazine spreads and maintain an effervescence about them. They’re simply more joyful.

Photos by Nicole Dianne

Photo by Nicole Dianne

Tell us about your downsizing journey. What inspired you to make this change?

The downsize was triggered by a few different things: we realized that our previous home was far too big for us. There were parts of the house we hardly ever entered. There was so much wasted space and we no longer felt the need for it. The house was no longer serving us. I also really love old homes, so I wanted to switch gears and live in something with much more character. And finally, our kids were a big inspiration. We wanted to be in a much more established neighborhood with a bit more of an old-school vibe.

What was it like to downsize with a family?

The transition definitely took some adjustment. Our children were accustomed to more space, so for our oldest I think she looked at the downsize as a loss. I think she assumed we could no longer afford our old lifestyle. It was definitely a big emotional adjustment for her. In terms of just the logistics of it all, that was fine. We just had to sit down and get real with ourselves about why this was a good move for us. It’s been a very good thing for us, and has certainly brought us closer.

Photo by Nicole Dianne

One piece of advice for those who want to live intentionally small?

Be honest with yourself. Dig deep and really evaluate how you live and what your needs are.  Also give yourself grace. It will not always be easy. There will be days when you’re like “Yes! I can absolutely do this,” and there will be days when you’re frustrated and feeling overwhelmed.  That’s perfectly OK.

What do you love most about your neighborhood?

Our neighbors! We have amazing neighbors. It’s very old school. We have block parties and dinners together. Everyone looks out for one another. It’s a complete difference from our last neighborhood.

Photo by Nicole Dianne

Tell us about renovating your cottage bungalow. What was that process like?

Ha! I think the correct term here would be never ending! Old homes come with old home problems so we just take it one project at a time. It’s been really fun to watch the evolution of our home over the last few years. I always tell people it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s so true.  I’m very intentional about all the projects and changes we’ve made because I want to honor as much of the original character and charm as possible while still bringing in our unique style.

We love your style—it’s so different! Tell us a little more about your boho-eclectic style and why you’ve chosen it for your home.

Thank you!  So I wouldn’t say I chose this for our home, because this style is just reflective of who I am and what I love. It just came naturally for me to create our home this way because these are just all the things im naturally drawn to. I’ve always been inspired by travel, eclecticism, and diversity, so I love filling our home with globally inspired pieces.

How do you live out your design philosophy?

I believe in creating spaces that bring you joy and make you feel amazing when you walk into them. This is how I approach the creation and curation of our home. I only bring things into our home that I love. I never worry about if it will “match” or “go with” anything else because at the end of the day If I love it, it will perfectly incorporate into our home in some way. It always does.  

If you had one piece of advice for those still looking for their personal design style, what would it be?

Let go of what you think you should love. It’s so easy to get caught up in what trendy and popular, but trends come and go and popularity is subjective. Try to quiet those outside noises and really think about what you love. It may not be what you see in the magazines or on Pinterest and that’s OK!!  Lean into that. Embrace it.

What does home mean to you?

Home is sanctuary. It’s where we go to seek refuge and reprieve from the world. It’s where we go to feel safe and to be with those we love. And it’s because of this very reason that I believe so fiercely that home should be a unique experience and reflective of those who inhabit it.

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