A Montessori Family’s Living Room

As a newly-minted minimalist relocating from London to Singapore (here’s our pre-minimalist house), it was obvious that we had changed and our home environment needed to as well. I spent the first month decluttering using the Konmari method, which really merits another post all on its own, so we were pretty much living in an empty box of a home. Then I saw that the children were hungry for work; they desired to be productive with their hands. All I had was a stamp set and a (not very Montessori) teddy bear puzzle that I owned as a child, but when I set those out, they lapped it up with seriousness and intensity. Here they are, working in our unprepared home environment, using IKEA shelves as makeshift desks.

A before picture of our living room:

Our living room now:

Another before picture. Unappealing urban view, harsh light, mismatched furnishings and clashing colors:


I sold off the two biggest items, a hard-to-clean coffee table and blue canopy armchair. (I had commissioned the blue armchair years ago when we bought our first home, and thought it would be a forever piece. But truthfully, it was too imposing even for adults. As such it was rarely sat on. So I sold it – and I don’t miss it one bit.) With the money “earned”, I bought the Ikea shelves on the left and some plants from a local nursery. I even considered selling the sofa, but realised that I shouldn’t be trying to recreate a classroom in my home, but rather make an inviting space for both parents and children to spend time in. Finally, I gave away my 40″ hardly-used TV, so I moved the sofa to where the TV used to be and used the longer wall to set up shelves and a small children’s desk.

Near the windows, I’ve deliberately left a good amount of floor space open for the children to work on the floor for larger-sized works with mats, or simply for playing:

The sofa is near the front door, so I have sited a transitional, open-ended material (currently musical instruments) there to welcome the children home.

We live in government housing (HDB), like 80% of Singaporeans, so I wanted to bring nature in and create a sanctuary from the stresses of urban life.

Flowers arranged by the children and greenery now fill our living room. A favoured display spot is atop the height-adjustable table from Community Playthings. Importantly for any activity surface for children, it is a cinch to clean. Stamp marks, marker stains, all come off with a wipe.

The children can work together or in parallel at the bigger Community Playthings table, but sometimes it’s nice to have one’s own space.

That’s where the smaller, also height-adjustable desk comes in- it is sustainable rubberwood from a Japanese company.

(You may notice that I’m still moving the plants around before I settle on their places; the Korean-designed, Nepali-made felted wool rug is my new addition so it only features in some pictures.)

The desk has a handy little drawer.

I had been wondering where the bagpipe from the instruments matching tray had gone when one day I saw Dylan sit himself down, open the drawer and carefully retrieve the bagpipe to listen to.

From 0-3years of age, the child forms a secure attachment to his parents that will last him through life. From 3-6, he is eager to build upon that secure base and expand his circle outwards, making friends and immersing himself in the local community. Both my children are now in this second subplane of the first plane of development (0-6). Hence, it is important to me that our home environment infuses our local culture, so that when you walk in you know that this is a home in Singapore with items that could not be found anywhere else, however envy-inducing “anywhere else” may be.

Above the small desk I have framed a Peranakan embroidery of a mother and child, chosen by Emmeline. I have chosen tropical plants and flowers that fare well in this climate, like the zamioculcas, aruca palm and orchids. Even some of my trays and (bento!) boxes are more Asian-inspired with their darker wood tones, instead of the usual pale wood trays, because that is just what is more available to me here.

Lastly, I hope it’s ok to say that even the most beautifully prepared environment means nothing if we don’t afford the child freedom in the environment – freedom to move, choose work, and work for as long as he likes.

You may also like:

Konmari and Montessori in our small London home

Video explaining what’s on our shelves (which also includes the answer to the most commonly-asked question, where did you buy your shelves from, heh).

2 thoughts on “A Montessori Family’s Living Room

  1. Great post!! I love those lovely simple shelves and easy care plants. And my love for those slim little books by Marie Kondo abounds. We are slowly moving towards minimalism as well, as well as homeschool preschool (no Montessori schools in our area) so balancing these two is somewhat tricky. I’m also torn between using what I have (for shelving, work tables, furniture) or replacing it with something I actually like. …Elusive balance.

    I read in a National Geographic recently that Singapore is a one of the happiest countries on earth. True? 🙂


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