Name: Jessica Malaty Rivera, Joshua Rivera, and kids Samia (4) and Laith (2)
Location: Los Angeles, California
Size: 1,600 square feet
Type of home: Craftsman bungalow house
Years lived in: One year, rented
If you’re the kind of person who likes to fill your Instagram feed with useful information, you may already know of Jessica Malaty Rivera, an infectious disease epidemiologist and the science communication lead at The COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. On Instagram, Rivera offers critical context about COVID-19 to her nearly 300,000 followers.
She also sprinkles in photos of her family: husband Joshua Rivera and kids Samia, 4, and Laith, 2. The four of them have spent the past year in a Craftsman bungalow house in Los Angeles, near Rivera’s childhood home.
“To be honest, my husband and I were not expecting to be in Los Angeles this year,” Rivera says. “We were days away from signing a lease to another apartment in San Francisco (a painfully more expensive apartment), where we were living at the time, when I thought, ‘Why don’t we look at LA and see if we can live close to my parents for a year?’ I found this spot on the first day of searching, and we both thought it was too good to be true. I knew the place was going to work for us almost immediately — the amount of windows, the layout, and the outdoor spaces were all on our ‘How do we survive all four of us being home 24-7?’ list.”
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Modern with an affinity toward things that are Spanish-Mediterranean. I like minimalist living spaces that are warm with a lot of light.
Inspiration: Travel is really important to us, and it’s something we’ve greatly missed during the pandemic. When we travel, we try to bring something home — specifically for the home — from each place that’s really special. I also follow a number of designers and brands on Instagram for room inspiration, like @moncxiii and @jakearnold.
Favorite Element: My favorite thing about our home is how much sunlight we get, especially in the dining room in the mornings. The kids love it too, and we have a “rainbow catcher” that just delights them every day.
Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge was knowing that we were only going to be in this home for one year, during the pandemic. I knew I couldn’t do the kinds of personal touches — fresh paint, new window treatments — that I would have done if we were staying a while longer. It was really important to me to make it as homey and as familiar as possible for all of us, especially the kids, without breaking the bank.
There’s also one structural quirk that we just never overcame: The closets upstairs are not full height due to the Craftsman bungalow roof shape. It works well in the kids’ room, but not really in ours.
Proudest DIY: The back patio! We didn’t really use it much because it’s just gravel back there. But my husband strung up lights and we got some affordable outdoor furniture, which really transformed the space. We kept telling ourselves: Why didn’t we do this sooner?
Biggest Indulgence: Our Restoration Hardware 1588 World Map, and yes, it was worth it. It’s my husband’s favorite thing that we own. And our Ratio Eight coffee maker. It’s like an automated pour-over system, which was our way of surviving without coffee shops during the pandemic.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? Since we weren’t hosting any friends or family during the pandemic, and we’ve never had this much space (having lived in tiny apartments in New York City and San Francisco), we turned the fourth bedroom into a playroom for the kids. With the kids being home from pre-K, that felt like a luxury to have a place dedicated to toys… and mess.
Do you work out of your home? If so, how do you make WFH work for you? Yes, I’ve actually worked from home since 2017, so in many ways this was familiar, except I used to be alone, in a quiet house. The house came with a built-in desk in the office, which has been great since I never had a dedicated work space. My husband and I review our work schedules each morning to see who needs the office (for Zoom calls, presentations, etc.) so that we can best share the space. Since our kids are home with us full-time, it doesn’t always work out perfectly, but that’s something that’s become so normalized during the pandemic that I’ve had to embrace the interruptions.
How does your home help you feel healthy (in whatever way that means for you)? My home helps me feel healthy because of how easy it is to step outside for fresh air, or a break from work. At least once a day, I’ll take a call from the front yard, or even the back patio. The kids love being outside as often as possible, and it’s been a wonderful way to boost our mental health.
How do you use your home to help keep your family healthy? I love to cook, but I’ve cooked way more than I ever have during the pandemic. It’s become a mental escape from the seriousness of my work, and a fun way to learn new and healthy recipes to feed my family. We also do a lot of at-home workouts, which the kids have enjoyed too!
Do you have any health-focused home organization, design, or cleaning tips and tricks? Having two toddlers means we have a lot of spills, stains, and messes. The pandemic has been a great opportunity to invite the kids into the clean-up process and to focus on good hand hygiene. All four of us are allergy sufferers, so we have a few air purifiers throughout the house to help us breathe a bit better.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? Probably our CB2 leather ottoman. We used to have an industrial-style chest for our coffee table, which proved to be quite hazardous for two toddlers. When we read the reviews for this ottoman, it seemed like the majority of them were written by relieved parents of young children. It’s cute, soft, and we don’t worry about the kids bumping into hard edges in the living room anymore. And candles: Jonathan Adler, BYREDO, and diptyque are some of my favorites.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: We’ve lived in small places our whole marriage, so we’ve picked up a few hacks, the most important being multifunctional pieces and, if you can, buying things you love, not just like. Since we move a lot, it makes packing and decisions on what to keep a lot easier and prevents us from accumulating too many things.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? If possible, only buy things you need and love. I think it’s easy to fill your home with things that end up creating clutter and/or end up in the donation pile in between moves. Fewer, better things is my motivation for my closet and my home.
This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.