5 Sanity Saving Tips for Rowhouse Living with Kids


DC rowhouses offer a living experience with character: beautiful brick, old-world details, turrets, and unique trim. They also offer a challenge for those of us living with small children: steep staircases, little storage, and so many hard surfaces. Six months into our rowhouse living experience my husband and I have discovered some tips and tricks for living large in a small home.

1. Gates That Don’t Grate

Coming from a single family home in California we employed a number of attractive wooden and metal swing gates to keep our two small children away from staircases and the kitchen. While these gates were easy to install and open and close with one hand it was obvious that our rowhouse did not have space for the swing motion of the door.

Thanks to a tip from another rowhouse dweller, we replaced these swing gates with retractable mesh gates that nearly disappear when not in use and take up little space. Unfortunately, these gates are generally more expensive than swing door gates, are more difficult and time consuming to install and can be finicky. Still, for us, they’ve been both a sanity and space saving solution.

2. Avoiding the Slip and Slide

If you’ve ever been the parent of a small child (not to mention the sleep-deprived parent of a small child) you can relate to the fear of falling down the stairs while holding a baby. Upon seeing the steep and narrow wooden staircase in our rowhome I became concerned about slipping. Luckily this was one of the easiest issues to solve. A friend tipped me off to the one size fits all stair rug pads sold at Home Depot. I counted the steps, purchased the pads and some rug tape and went to work affixing the rugs. I now feel much safer traversing the stairs and, as an added bonus, the sound in our home is reduced.

3. Bringing Night From Day

Many rowhomes (mine included) utilize skylights to increase natural light. While this extra light helps the house feel more open, the placement of skylights is not always ideal. Our one year old sleeps in what is technically a “den,” while the skylight in this small room is lovely during the day it can make naps, early summer bedtimes, and bright mornings particularly difficult.

When we moved in we covered the skylights with black trash bags to quickly address the problem. After pricing blinds which we found to be far too expensive I reached out to friends and received a variety of ideas including the solution I went with: white foam board from Michael’s. The foam board matches the ceiling so is unobtrusive, is thick and if cut correctly can even be squeezed into place without the use of adhesives. Some moms, craftier than me, even painted designs (suns, moons, birds) on the foam board to add some whimsy to this practical (and affordable) solution.

4. A Soft Spot to Sit

Our home has a large and lovely brick hearth. Upon seeing it for the first time I imagined gathering as a family around the fireplace. In actuality, our sons uses the hearth as a place to climb, jump and race various vehicles. We have yet to light a fire. Thanks to some crafty Googling I found a business, Baby Safety Foam, that makes custom foam covers for hearths. I provided measurements, photos and some sketches and about two weeks later the custom foam arrived with directions for how to easily attach it to the hearth. I added a couple bright pillows and now rather than the site of a potential head injury we have additional seating – a win-win! Or you could purchase these foam edge and corner guards to put on the corners of the hearth (or even the edges of a coffee table). 

5. Hook, Hang, Shelve, Store

We have a tiny fully paved backyard. And a shed. That’s right. When the shed arrived the delivery person looked as me quizzically. “Where is this going to go?” he asked having seen the front of our small city home. Despite his trepidation, the shed from Amazon, was easy for my husband to assemble, and is one of the ways we make rowhouse living work for us. We’re able to use the spot to store anything that isn’t harmed by fluctuating temperatures which frees up some much-needed space in our house. We use other strategies in the house including a wall mounted coat hanger and numerous bins, baskets, and shelves. Our home has one closet downstairs and two upstairs. That’s it. To compensate we try to purge frequently and purchase attractive accessories to aide in the organization.

If you choose to live in a rowhouse with small children you’re choosing a certain kind of life: one based on the idea of being part of the city, out, about and less reliant on the comforts afforded by larger homes. You trade the space for convenience, public transportation, museums, restaurants, a vibrant, quirky, sometimes maddening, but never boring urban life. Rowhomes aren’t perfect, but they can provide a soft place for your family to land… especially when outfitted with safety foam.

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