The family had outgrown their life in a condo in pricey downtown San Francisco. At 500 square feet, it was adequate in size but too far from Danny Montoya’s business, a woodworking workshop for children called The Butterfly Joint. A butterfly joint is a carpenter’s term for the bow-tie-shaped piece of wood that is used to splice a split in a larger board. And that’s exactly what Montoya and Erin Feher wanted to do: to marry their two spaces—home and work—into one family-friendly life.
At the time, Feher, now 38, had been editing Habitat, the San Francisco Chronicle’s design magazine, and was five months pregnant with her second child, Vega, when San Francisco Magazine approached her to become its design editor. “I didn’t think I wanted a full-time job. But I’ve always loved the magazine,” she says. She ended up taking it, which made Montoya, 41, the primary childcare provider for Orion, 5, and Vega, now almost 2.
A mixed-use building four blocks from the beach solved their problems. The neighborhood is good for kids. There was space downstairs for the shop and space upstairs for a two-bedroom apartment. A small business loan made it doable for a young couple on a budget. “It was a goal to make our family integrated with our business,” says Feher. It was small, though. “I write about houses that are 10,000 square feet, and ours is 550 square feet,” says Feher. “One day we’ll add on, but for now it has plenty of space for us.”
“It was a goal to make our family integrated with our business. We really enjoy parenting and our kids, and want to make them a full part of our life.”
It was a DIY from the get-go. When the couple met, Montoya was working as a kindergarten and first grade teacher and moonlighting as a DJ, but he later segued into commissioned woodworking. When he set up the woodshop for kids, he had a ready-made clientele from his 15 years as a beloved teacher. He also had the skills needed to reconfigure their new place. He set about remaking it with the help of Feher’s father, a retired contractor. They all slept on mattresses in the shop downstairs for a month while they built out the upstairs. ”And then, my dad left, and we had this empty house,” says Feher.
Montoya began building furniture: a table, bookshelves, and, most important, a loft bed to carve out a space from the kids’ tiny bedroom for Orion to call her own. To take one thing off Montoya’s plate, Feher commissioned a custom closet beneath the loft bed for him as a gift. “Closet organization is super important in such a small space; if you don’t have room for all this stuff, it’s just chaos,” says Feher. “And we’re both really organized and clean, and get frustrated when things don’t have a place.” So successful was that project that she again commissioned his and hers closets for the master bedroom and installed them while Montoya was away. “He came home, and he was like, ‘What?!’ It was amazing, and such a luxury when everything we do is DIY.”
In The Butterfly Joint downstairs, Orion works alongside a dozen other children enrolled in the class while Montoya keeps an eye on the baby sleeping upstairs via video monitor. Feher leaves work promptly at five PM. She thought they might have to get a car, but instead she got an electric bike with room for three children, like the ones they had seen parents using in Amsterdam when they were child-free. Like many older millennials or echo boomers, Feher and Montoya had children later in the life, and the second child changed their lives significantly. They no longer travel to Europe annually or go out as often at night—but they were ready for the new lifestyle. They entertain at home or, after the kids are in bed at 8, stream HBO on a laptop. “Your life changes,” says Feher. “We do so many more close-to-home things. We go camping. We really enjoy parenting and really enjoy our kids. We want to make them a full part of our life.” The butterfly joint worked tenfold, marrying both their work and family into a strengthened whole.