Home Away from Home: Our Menlo Park Cottage

Matt, Evelyn and I made our first trip as a family out to northern California this past July.

It was not only for a work trip for Matt, but we also needed to get settled into our new home away from home, where Matt will be staying during the weeks he is out there.

If you know anything about Silicon Valley, then you know it’s expensive. Like ridiculously expensive. We did a lot of searching online for apartments that were somewhat close to the Stanford Campus, but also decent quality and reasonably affordable. We quickly learned that finding something like this was going to be a needle in a haystack.

So we revised our search a bit, taking to Craigslist looking for private rentals. And that’s when we found her: a tiny 300 square foot backyard cottage, just 2 blocks from downtown Menlo Park and a 15 minute bike ride to the Stanford Campus. It was nothing too fancy (in fact, 300 square feet might be a generous estimate), but it was quaint, private, and in a very walkable family-friendly neighborhood. And it was close to coffee shops, restaurants, Trader Joe’s, and even a Caltrain station that could get us right into the heart of San Francisco if we were feeling adventurous.

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House

As soon as we landed in San Jose for the first time on that Sunday afternoon, Ev (although great during both flights and sleeping much of the way) was getting pretty irritated with us. We stopped at our hotel to drop off our bags and put her down for a nap, but not long after we had to be off to IKEA to get our furniture picked out for the new place. We only had 2 nights in the hotel, so we had to be sure our furniture was purchased in time for delivery the next day. And since we’d still need to put everything together too, I really wanted to be sure we wouldn’t be sleeping on the hardwood floor Tuesday night.

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House
The “before” picture…and lots of work to be done.

In hindsight, it was probably a little ambitious to fly across the country with an infant and then embark on a 3 hour IKEA mission all in the same day. And as you would expect, it was…let’s just say, a disaster.  Ev was patient with us at first, drifting in and out of sleep as we looked at sofa beds and dining tables. But before we could make it through the end of the showroom, she absolutely LOST it. Thank goodness the place was already packed with obnoxious, noisy children, or I might have felt a little more embarrassed. But there we were, sitting on an ottoman in a walk-in closet display, changing a poopy diaper and trying to soothe a screaming baby.

We should have skipped the marketplace, but I thought “we’re here, let’s just grab anything we see that we know we’ll need and come back for the rest”.  Shortly after this failed logic, Ev had become inconsolable and we were rushing to get out of there.  We made it through the marketplace and I thought to myself, “Thank God, we’re almost done!”

But I’d forgotten how much furniture we were buying and that the biggest task of all was still ahead of us.  I hadn’t thought through how we were now going to pull all of this furniture from the shelves and onto a flat bed, plus carry Evelyn who at this point refuses to be put back in her stroller, plus push our empty stroller and our cart loaded to the brim with pillows, dinner plates, and kitchen utensils.

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House
Our caravan of carts. Evelyn not pictured, as she is crying in my arms. :\

After much strategery and a little bit of sweat, we finally got everything loaded, including a sofa bed packaged in 3 HUGE boxes, fastened together on a giant pallet. This thing felt like it weighed no less than 500 lbs (which by the way, they still expect you can load for yourself the same as that $30 end table). I know this, because Matt had to rope one of the hesistant employees into helping him get it to the checkout line.

We finally got everything paid for and a very lovely young manager lady helped us load all of our stuff back into our carts and push it over to the home delivery counter. At this point, I tell Evelyn for the 4th time, “we’re almost done sweetie, I know you’re tired, just a little bit longer…”.

And then, there we stood. For 45 minutes, Matt waited in line to give the good people at IKEA our address and the furniture we’ve pulled so they could deliver it for us (I will say at least, for $59, it was more than worth it). Finally, and actually for real this time, we are done. Those 3 hours felt like an eternity. We were completely exhausted, but had finished what we came to accomplish.

So, after 3 days of careful assembly and 2 trips back to IKEA for some additional items we didn’t have time to pick up the first time around, our cottage is finally complete and actually feeling pretty cozy! It took Evelyn a few days to recover from the whole fiasco, but it turned out great! I think she even likes it too. 🙂

Let me show you around.

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House

It’s a small space indeed, but we have made the most of it. Our comfy couch becomes our bed at night, and is surprisingly very easy and quick to convert back and forth.

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House

That wall divider there is what we use to make Evelyn’s “room” each night, so we can block her off slightly from the extra noise and light. My favorite piece, the Raskog utility cart, serves as storage for Evelyn’s clothes, but also rolls over to the couch to be our end table during the day and a nightstand at night. Is it ridiculous to say I own 3 of these carts (one in every color!)? If you’re thinking “yes, that is crazy”, just search “Raskog” on Pinterest and you’ll see why I’m obsessed with this little guy.

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House

There’s a nice little nook in between the kitchen and living room where we set up a small table. With Evelyn being so owly in the evenings, we haven’t gotten to have too many meals at the table yet, but it is nice to have.

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House

The kitchen is small and the granite countertops don’t quite “go” with the worn down laminate cabinets, but is functional enough. I don’t get too elaborate with cooking when we’re there (usually Trader Joe’s frozen meals and pre-packaged salads are on the menu) since the counter space is limited to about a 1×2 foot square. But we at least have a microwave, stove and a small oven, and that gets us by just fine.

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House

There’s not much to say about the bathroom. I guess it’s one redeeming quality is that you can brew your morning cup of coffee two feet away from where you shower?

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House

Although the space is small, it does come with a nice little bonus: an outdoor patio space! Tall bamboo reeds and redwood trees give it a ton of privacy and shade, and it makes for a nice place to relax in the always beautiful 70-degree California weather.

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House

Our cozy home away from home in sunny Menlo Park, California. // Silicon Valley | Small Space Living | Tiny House

We’re looking forward to using the cottage as a jumping off point for many day trips around the Bay Area.  We’re always up for visitors too, as long as you’re ok with sleeping on the floor in the kitchen. 🙂

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