How Designer Shavonda Gardner and Her Family Cut Their Living Space in Half—With A 120-pound Great Dane

By: Julie VadnalUpdated:

shavonda gardner
Photo: Robin Hagy

How Designer Shavonda Gardner and Her Family Cut Their Living Space in Half—With A 120-pound...

In 2014, interior designer and DIY expert Shavonda Gardner was living with her wife Naomi and two children in a 4-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot home in Sacramento, California—that is, until they relocated to a new home half that size. That’s right: Inspired to live a bigger life with a smaller footprint, Gardner and her family downsized into a 1,200-square-foot bungalow—and added a new family member to boot. 
shavonda gardner
Robin Hagy

“We made the very not-so-normal decision to get a big dog,” Gardner says with a laugh.

That year, they welcomed a harlequin Great Dane named Callie into their family—and into their much smaller-than-before home.

“We’d been talking about adding a Great Dane to our family for quite some time,” Gardner says. “My wife Naomi has just always really loved the breed, and we liked how lovable they are and how great they are with kids.” At the time, their children were 7 and 12 years old, and so Callie seemed like the logical choice—even if they knew she’d grow up to be, well, huge. (Today, the stately pup weighs in at 120 pounds.)

Plus, the timing seemed oddly on-point. “It just kind of felt like the right time to do it,” she says. “As we were transitioning into finding a new home, it felt like the best time to transition Callie into our lives as well.” Because Callie had never lived in the family’s larger home, it’s not like she knew the difference. Plus, the expansive lawn in the family’s new location would give her plenty of room to stretch her long legs.

Then there was Gardner’s secret weapon: As the professional designer behind the popular SG Style blog, she knows how to make a space serve its inhabitants. “The designer in me is always trying to bridge the gap between what's aesthetically beautiful but also really functional,” she says. So she’s filled their home with dog-friendly materials and products that don’t scream “We live with a Harlequin Great Dane.” (More on those below.) Her day job has also inspired Callie’s nickname, “Middle Management,” for the way she’s always inspecting—but never helping with—Gardner’s various DIY projects.

But most of all, Callie has given the family a new member, one with whom they’re constantly cuddling up and celebrating. Even if their home is small-ish, the backyard makes for a great area for some of Callie’s furry friends to gather, which they did for her 7th birthday this year with cake, hats and “Let’s Pawty” balloons.

Robin Hagy

“We usually just buy her a cake and sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ and open presents and do a small thing,” Gardner says. “This was the first time that we ever had a party and invited other puppies over.” In fact, it just might become a new tradition in their smaller, yet more functional home, she adds. “I felt like, ‘Why haven’t we been doing this the whole time?’”

Shavonda’s Tips for Having a Big Dog in a Small House

shavonda gardner
Robin Hagy

Research your breed.

Thinking of bringing a big dog into your small house? Make sure you pick a breed who’s likely to thrive there, Gardner advises. “In all the research we've done, we've actually learned that Danes don't require as much space as people think that they do,” Gardner says. “These are dogs that are really great in apartments.” Great Danes are also not a very energetic breed compared to, say, a Jack Russell Terrier, so Callie only needs one big walk a day, and is often found chilling on the sofa with the family. (And when she does need to run laps, she goes outside.)

Think material, not size.

Planning to snuggle with your dog on the furniture? Of course you are. So choose couches and chairs made of dog-friendly (aka extra-durable and easy-to-clean) material. “You're going to want to go with a very high-performance fabric,” says Gardner, who likes Crypton or Sunbrella, both of which are made to withstand stains. In her own living room, she has a sofa made with performance velvet that she calls “indestructible.”

Protect your furniture—in style.

If you’re not ready to reupholster a new sofa just for your pet, Gardner has another solution: dog blankets. If your idea of a dog blanket is an old, tattered or stained blanket that nobody but the dog wants to touch, think again. You can find dog-friendly blankets in a number of trendy patterns and materials like faux fur (Gardner’s personal favorite), and many have the added benefits of being waterproof and/or machine-washable. They’re a chic solution to protecting your furniture while also giving your pup a soft place to land on family movie night. Gardner throws hers over the sofa or her nice rugs when Callie enters the room.

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Customize their chow zone.

To give Callie’s feeding area a built-in feel, Gardner installed a shelf with cutouts to fit her bowls. Callie’s is in the kitchen area, but if you’re extra short on space, Gardener says you can even build one that flips up on the back of a door—that way, it’s concealed when it’s not in use.

If you’re not that handy, she suggests an easier fix: converting a bottom drawer into a feeder for what she calls “sneaky storage.” Just drop a dog bowl into the drawer and pull it out whenever it’s feeding time.

Robin Hagy

Baskets, baskets, baskets.

Gardner and her family practice minimalism at home—“We aren’t the type of parents that come home with a new toy every time we leave the store,” she says. That devotion to a streamlined aesthetic means Callie’s toys can’t be strewn about. The solution? Gardner stores her leash, baggies, toys, shampoo, collar and brush in a chic lidded basket that corrals the clutter and looks good while doing it. You can do the same—just find a storage option that matches your space.

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The small swaps and adjustments that Gardner made to their new, downsized home make it functional, but without losing any of the designer’s stylish edge—even with a giant new dog in the mix. Looking back, she has no regrets about bringing such a large animal into an abbreviated (for them) space. “It was really kind of strange,” she says, “but it worked out wonderfully.”


By: Julie VadnalUpdated: