350-Square-Foot Mid-Century Cottage Carriage House

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Name: Erin Funck and her cat, Birdie
Location: West Mount Airy — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Size: 520 square feet total (350 inside, 170 outside)
Type of Home: Carriage House
Years Lived In: 3 years, renting

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After 20 years of city life in NYC, Chicago, and Philadelphia, Erin Funck was looking for a change of pace. “I was recently divorced and purged most of my possessions in the process, and was traveling often at the time,” she begins. “A smaller space with more affordable rent was sensible, especially during a time where I was feeling untethered and ready for a new chapter. I had no idea what a carriage house was until a colleague was looking for a tenant for the one on her property. A tiny refuge that’s super close to my job and the woods but 20 minutes away from my old haunts in Center City?  It seemed like the perfect situation to jump into.”  

“I moved here about six months before Covid hit, and when my school went remote, it was the perfect time to have some solitude to think intentionally about the outdoor space, and get creative with my limited space inside,” Erin continues. “The screened-in porch is functional for about eight months out of the year (with a space heater), and really acts as my living room during the warmer months. Spending so much time outside has made me become a birder and a gardener, and is most appreciated by my cat, who loves spying on the wildlife in the yard. During the colder months, I really try to lean in to the idea of ‘wintering’ and give myself permission to hibernate a bit more. There’s something about only having 350 square feet that gives you more room to breathe — I have less to clean, fewer possessions, and can really prioritize having a calm and visually appealing spot to unwind each day. Downsizing to this extent is an adjustment, but this spot has been a welcome respite for all the curveballs life has thrown us in the last few years.”  

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Mid-Century Cottage  

Inspiration: I’ve been obsessed with Tana Lawn fabrics from Liberty ever since I studied in London during college. I love to mix prints, and this space has been a fun exercise in using geometric patterns as neutrals in combination with florals. There are also a fair amount of plants and nods to animals and travel throughout my home — all things that are important to me and make my space feel like a safe haven that reflects my values. My furniture is mostly mid-century or vintage and creates a nice backdrop for the cozy elements incorporated from my love of prints.  

Favorite Element: The bird chair that belonged to my Grandma Peggy has traveled with me all over the country, and is by far my favorite piece in the house. The original cushions had a cool 1970s bird fabric, and when I reupholstered it, we kept a swatch of the old fabric underneath the new cushions, and chose a more contemporary bird fabric to keep with the theme. There are references to birds throughout the house (including a cat named Birdie), which was never intentional, but has turned into quite a thing over the last few years with my growing interest in birding, and the general notion of this home representing some newfound freedom. 

Proudest DIY: I’m far from an expert, but I really enjoy sewing. I made the slipcovers for my outdoor furniture, curtains, pillow covers, and a bunch of smaller items here and there.  Buying fabric is a small investment, and the satisfaction I get from making things that are unique to my space is a huge reward.

Biggest Challenge: Growing up, I was obsessed with moving my furniture around my bedroom and would make a graph paper scale model to figure out the best layout… and that’s exactly what I’ve done in this space! When my school shifted to remote learning during the pandemic, I wanted a spot to teach from that wouldn’t reveal my entire home to my students… but it meant moving everything several times (by myself, which presents its own challenges). This is probably my fourth and favorite layout, and I’m glad I took the time to figure out the quirks to ensure the space was working for my needs.

Biggest Indulgence: A recent indulgence is the “Why Not Though?” painting from Derek Erdman. I bought this at a time when my best friend and I were talking about how we were practicing worst-case-scenario thinking on a pretty constant basis, and how we needed to make it a habit to think about the possibility that things could turn out great. The best-case scenario is just as unlikely as the worst-case, but it certainly puts you in a more optimistic frame of mind to ruminate on the possibilities of what could go right. Seeing those words reminds me that being hopeful is a practice, and while it’s not natural for me, it’s something I can keep working at.

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? It’s strange to not have a sofa, but I love that my friends cozy up on my bed when they visit during the colder months. It makes us feel like we’re in college again and has unlocked some middle-aged sisterhood friendships that are a huge win at a stage of life where it can be hard to forge new bonds. It also means that no one comes to my house to hang out unless we are both cool with them cozying up on my bed all fitting with the theme of only inviting what you love into your home!

What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? Buying flowers for my home each week became a really important ritual during the pandemic.  My friend Kaitlin Orner, owner of Pomelo in nearby Germantown, started a bouquet subscription, and it truly was a bright spot that got me through the solitude of the early days of the pandemic (and is something I still look forward to every Monday). The lockers on my porch from Mustard Made are a new addition that have ensured all of the random odds and ends that don’t have a space are tucked away and out of sight. They had a pleasingly ingenious design and I felt like I was building with Lego when I assembled them! Finally, the bar cart from Society Social was a huge splurge in my 20s, and one that has held up beautifully!  When I was going through my divorce and trying to figure out how to downsize, it was the only piece of furniture that I refused to consider parting ways with.

Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have:  For me, storage is secondary to making my space work. Decluttering and organizing is an essential daily practice.  I’m constantly editing my wardrobe, beauty products, books, and pantry items.  If I haven’t used it, or it doesn’t delight me, I give it away. While baskets and pouches can help keep things looking pretty, truly, it’s about accumulating less stuff.  If you are really thoughtful about what goes and what stays, you wind up surrounded only by things you love. This is good advice for relationships and jobs as well.  

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? The challenges of living in a small space require unconventional solutions that often take time to figure out — live in a way that reflects your daily habits and taste, and your space will reflect what’s most important to you.

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