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Renovation Diary: How to move into a Trinity home

Hint: IKEA and windows are your friend

After years of fixing up homes throughout rural Pennsylvania and abroad, RoseAnn Hill had the itch again to renovate. Only this time, the home she fell in love with was in Philadelphia, and at 776 square feet, it was the smallest property she’d ever taken on. Follow along the renovation process from start to finish, as the 52-year-old works with local architect Timothy Kerner of Terra Studio to fix up a traditional Trinity in Queen Village.

This story was last published in 2017 and has been updated with the most recent information.

Before I could even move in my furniture, the contractors had to move in the cabinets, the kitchen appliances, and the laundry units. I wasn’t there—and that’s probably for the best because I felt so sick about it. Tim, the architect, had thought that the refrigerator could go in through the front door, but it couldn’t fit down those winding stairs. They ended up moving the appliances in through the kitchen window, which is a common hack for moving into Trinities.

The stacked laundry units were small enough to fit through the front door, but too big to fit up the stairs to the second floor. They had to to be taken a part a bit so that they could squeeze their way up there, then put back together.

The laundry units had to be taken apart to fit up the spiral staircase.

Once the renovation was pretty much done, I really was forced with actually configuring the furniture to fit into the home. At first, I had planned to just use some furniture that I already had, but I realized pretty quickly that the scale of that furniture would not work for that house.

The Trinity has just such small spaces. I had to be careful with having too much.

I wasn’t in love with the couch at my current house, which is a heavy, leather love seat—it was too big and “gloppy” for the space. IKEA was right in South Philly, so it worked out great. I found a dual-functioning couch that was surprisingly simple to put together: It’s a pull-out bed with storage, so you can lift it up and store blankets and pillows in there.

I think dual-functioning is the way to go in a small space like that because every inch counts.

In the kitchen, I still haven’t figured out what use for a kitchen table. Right now, we’re using a tiny, little cafe table that I had in my basement. I just thought, ‘Let’s put that there for right now until I can get my head around what I can do there.’ That’s all the kitchen can really afford.

In the office, I can’t afford to fit much furniture there, so I added a nice desk chair. Tim was such a genius to think about the built-in bookshelves and the built-in desk. Even though we knew we weren’t going to have that much stuff in this house, even with small spaces you still have stuff that has to go somewhere.

Finally, for the third-floor bedroom I brought in a sitting bench and two night tables that I had hanging around. When I bought the house, I was able to keep the bed frame that was already there, which was huge because I didn’t know how I would ever get another bed up those stairs. I had heard that people usually cut their bed frame in half and then move them in through the third-floor window, so I was really glad I didn’t have to do that.

The contractor, Rob, said he would store the IKEA bed and return it to the space. But he ended up just buying the same one for me—he made it happen. It was magic that the bed was there when I was coming in to move and I just needed to sleep.

All that’s really left now is figuring out the rugs, fabrics, and window treatments. I’m thinking a very clean, simple look, but I’m not going to do that until the very, very end. I feel that with small spaces like a Trinity it can look very crowded very quickly, so less is more.

—As told by Roseann Hill