Photos by David Ellis
Angela Fahl wants people to know that you don’t need a big house to have a big life. “We have four kids and less than 2,500 square feet. For us, tight quarters make for a tight family.”
Her 1931 brick Tudor revival is located on a quiet sidewalk-lined street in Marshall—a prairie city about three hours southwest of Minneapolis. Angela and her husband, Jacob, came here 20 years ago for school at Southwest Minnesota State University and, like many of their friends, never left. “It’s a small town but also a college town, so there’s always lots going on,” she says.
In 2019, Angela joined Instagram to spread the word about how much she loves her old house (and her dad’s bungalow across the street) and show that, contrary to popular opinion, family life does not require a kitchen island or walk-in closet.
That’s not to say that making their modestly sized house work for six people (Angela and Jacob plus Avery, 14, Julia, 12, Jude, 9, and Jonah, 7) doesn’t require a serious level of organization and discipline. But Angela is up to the task and strict about only bringing high-quality, essential items into the house.
For example, since the house doesn’t have a big mudroom with space for dozens of coats and piles of shoes, the family can’t go wild with clothing purchases. “In our entry, everyone has a single hook for their everyday jacket and a small, designated spot for shoes. So, we’re careful to choose things that fit the purpose and will last,” Angela says.
One exception to her less-is-more rule is holiday decor, and Angela admits to devoting one whole precious closet to her collection of ornaments and lights. She decorates five trees as part of the holidays. “Our main Christmas tree is out of control. It’s filled to the brim and has to be tied to the wall with fishing line, so it doesn’t topple over.” She also fills the calendar with festive diversions—making chewy molasses cookies (lard is the secret) and organizing a holiday lights competition in her neighborhood. “It’s very Griswolds, and we love it.”
What are some of your holiday traditions?
In addition to cookies, I make my mom’s bakalar—a Croatian fish and potato dish. On Christmas Eve, we eat steak and lobster with Jacob’s family—a carryover from when they lived in Seattle. On Christmas Day, we stay home and spend the day in our PJs.
Where do you find your pretty antiques?
I shop Gold Rush Days in Oronoco and the spring and fall Junk Bonanza at Canterbury [Park]. I’m also lucky that my dad, a retired teacher, refinishes antiques, builds tables, and is a self-proclaimed picker. He finds me so many treasures and spruces them up to fit our needs.
What are the advantages to living in a smaller home beyond having less to clean?
We use every square inch and don’t have excess stuff. And a modest-sized home means we actually spend time together and interact. Each child does have their own space though—to reset and recharge.
What are some favorite finds or items in your house?
I have a thing for vintage rugs, and I like pieces that come with a story. The church pew in our kitchen entry came out of our church, and each of the kids’ beds are antiques from our childhoods.
What’s next on your project list?
My husband’s office. It’s a sad space that needs some attention. My goal is to switch up the paint and add a lot of custom storage.
We live here for the simplicity of family being a priority. It’s a small-town feel with all the amenities we really need.