We love a creative workaround, especially when it involves small spaces. (Let’s be real,
any measure taken to gain a little more square footage is okay by us.) But we’ll admit that when we first spotted Rebekah Carey of A&B Creative’s #bittyberkeleybungalow on Instagram, we were totally fooled. We would have never guessed that the 200-square-foot space is actually her grandma’s garage. Not only is the revamp completely flawless (hello, oak floors and exposed beams) and completed on a budget of less than $2,500, but Carey shares the space with her husband and three (three!) dogs. She’s got tiny-house living on lock — and of course a fair share of tips and ideas for small-space dwellers everywhere. Get ready; grandma's house just got a facelift.
Tell us more about the home and how you found it. "Our Bitty Berkeley Bungalow is really the garage (or carriage house) to my grandma's 1905 home. I had somewhat seriously joked years ago about how Alex and I should just move into the garage, but no one took me seriously until a few years later when my grandma was beginning to need a little more help around the house." What are some of the space-saving features are in the home? "Our kitchen unit is a fridge, stovetop, and sink in one. The mid-century double drop-leaf table is by far my favorite, and our most impressive. It's a console table during the day, a desk when needed — I can just flip up one side — and lastly a dining table with four hidden folding chairs and two sides that flip up to seat at least six. My 'bedside table' is a vintage filing cabinet where I stow necessities, books, my computer and charger, and a few board games."
Did you guys have to do any work to the place before you moved in? "The space was literally a garage before we moved in, so while it was less work than adding a completely new structure, it wasn't by much! The slanted concrete floor needed to have a sub-floor built on it to support the reclaimed hardwoods we would put in, and to make it flat; everything had to be insulated. Then, we added the two types of siding: one to the walls and one to the ceiling. " What was the most challenging renovation? "Without a doubt, putting our reclaimed strip oak flooring to use. We got it all for free, which was incredible, but it came with thousands of old rusty nails in it that had to be pulled out. Luckily no one ended up with lock-jaw by the end of the project. And we installed it all by hand. It was sufficiently miserable. But we love how they turned out and they really help to feel like the space isn't brand new and matches the age of the main house."
What are some of the challenges that come along with living in such a small space? "I wouldn't say I am naturally inclined towards minimalism and organization in my own home. However, living in such a small space requires it — especially because we have three active dogs. I have become much more appreciative of a more simplistic design, cleaning more often, and generally being more organized. Luckily, having our big yard and my grandma's house just 'next door' allows us to not be cooped up whenever we feel like having more space."
It looks like you guys do a lot of entertaining – how does that work? "We have had cocktails with friends and general hanging out just in the little house, but the dinner parties we have had so far we like to spill out into the yard. We have a seven-foot-long farm table with a canopy of greenery with globe lights hanging from them up above. It's so lovely. We can pretend that we're in the French countryside and don't have to be hemmed in by just the indoor space."
What’s one thing you wish the apartment had that it currently doesn't? "We don't have our bathroom inside the little house. Luckily, the bathroom inside the 'main house' is closer than it's been in some of our previous apartments."
What was the inspiration for the decor? "As we were building the little house, I knew that I wanted to use all reclaimed materials, which is quite doable in the Bay Area. This space was our respite, so it was important that the colors and decor felt very tranquil."
How do you keep your place from feeling cluttered or overrun? "There is a place for everything, and everything is in its place. Anything new that I bring in, I have to know where to put it, or what I'm going to swap it out with. I've done that with pillows, chairs, and some decor so far...and plants. Definitely killed a few plants."
What are some items every small-space dweller needs?
"I am of the firm belief that white walls and a limited palette make an incredible difference in making your small space feel less visually overwhelming and cluttered. Also, storage that is hidden in plain sight. Our 'couch,' for example, hides most of Alex's clothes in the baskets, our dog things, cords, etc. in the little boxes and all of our books are behind those in the back section of the unit. My clothes and the rest of Alex's are tucked away in the cabinet next to our bed that we got at a second-hand shop and painted the same color as our bed and walls so it would blend in more."
Rebekah wears a Ginger Caftan and hair and makeup is by Katie Nash.
What was a non-negotiable for you guys when moving into the garage? "We really didn't want to feel like this was anything other than a chic space for two adults. No one was trying to relive their dorm experiences, or feel like this was just temporary housing. Thoughtful design and keeping our grown-up-sized bed was a non-negotiable." Tell us about the Murphy bed. "Our Murphy bed is the one piece of furniture that we had to have commissioned for our space instead of sourcing or creating it ourselves. Luckily, my dad was up for the task; we were able to create a simple design together, and he was able to house our very heavy, king-sized Tempur-Pedic mattress — that I was not willing to sacrifice in our downsizing — in it safely and stylishly."
A glimpse of the foldable table and chairs, which the couple sets up when it's time to dine.
The little yard is so dreamy. Tell us more about that! "Our backyard is actually over 1,500 square feet, which is pretty big for Berkeley. We are so lucky that my grandma was an avid gardener! She planted lots of native flowering bushes that have matured beautifully to fill in the spaces, and we've picked up where she left off, planting several jasmine plants that we are extremely excited to watch grow. Our next big project is to add a decomposed granite lounge area in the farthest end of the yard, where we can bring our little vintage rattan love seat and chairs...and lay with the pups in the warm weather."
At what point did it feel less garage and more apartment? "The floors were the last piece to be finished in the renovations. Once they were in, it really felt like a home. For Alex, covering that concrete slab made it look like somewhere people would actually live. For me, having the bed and couch and more furnishings brought in made it feel like it was less of a studio space and more like a real home."
What other advice do you have for people living in tiny places? "A pet peeve of mine is when all of the furniture is also bitty. We have a table that seats six, and a king-sized bed in our 200-square-foot space. Smart design can mean you can have your necessities! Multi-functioning furniture and having hidden storage are vital. However, I also think that incorporating a few items just because they're beautiful is okay, too."