A 450-Square-Foot Harlem Home Marries Function and Beauty

published Sep 6, 2022

A 450-Square-Foot Harlem Home Marries Function and Beauty

published Sep 6, 2022
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Square feet
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Name: Katie Rogers
Location: Central Harlem, New York, New York
Size: 450 square feet
Type of Home: Apartment
Years Lived In: 3 years, renting

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“As soon as I walked into this apartment I was in love — the southern exposure, the fireplace, the exposed brick in the bathroom, the moldings,” begins Katie. “I knew it was going to be my home, and from the moment I moved in I felt at peace. I actually found this place amidst a horrific experience at my previous Harlem apartment that had me staying in a friend’s spare room for a month. I ended up going to an open viewing for another apartment in this building and I saw that this one was also for rent.”

Credit: Erin Derby

“The building itself was built in 1920, and one of my favorite details about the apartment is that it’s where the original owner of the building used to live. My current landlord mentioned that he has a picture of his pregnant wife standing near the living room window from many years ago. It was newly renovated when I moved in, and my landlord did a fantastic job, paying attention to even the littlest details,” Katie explains.

Credit: Erin Derby

Katie has her own consulting business: “I advise early stage start-ups on how to set up their business operations for launch or get ready for rapid growth, so I spend a lot of time working from home, even pre-COVID,” she explains. “It was important to me to create sections of my apartment that were work only, even in a small space, and it has really helped me set some boundaries, especially since my work tends to be so unstructured. When I step away from my desk, it’s almost like I’m coming out of an invisible room and I’m able to relax in other areas of my apartment.” 

Credit: Erin Derby

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: When my landlord stopped by after I’d moved in and gotten everything unpacked, he said “Wow, it looks like I’m visiting an apartment in Paris!” Truly one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. I always want my home to be a place of calm, so for me that means a place that is easy to keep clean and organized, has a lot of light and soothing colors, and holds things that have meaning to me. It’s a place where everything, even if it’s functional, is beautiful, and curated — I choose things with love and care whenever I can. 

Inspiration: I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska and was always surrounded by artwork. When my brothers and I were growing up, our walls at home were covered in pieces that my parents had collected, especially from Alaskan artists like Rie Muñoz and Byron Birdsall. In addition to that, my first job was working at an art gallery in downtown Anchorage, Aurora Fine Art. It’s played such an important part in my home and my life throughout the years, especially as I’ve started collecting my own pieces that mean something to me, that hanging up all of the artwork is often the first thing I do when I move into a new space. It makes it feel real to me. 

Credit: Erin Derby

Favorite Element: I absolutely love the fireplace. It was what really sold me on the apartment and brings a lot of majesty and sophistication to the space. The tiling is beautiful, and I love that there’s one dark blue tile off-center amidst the other turquoise tiles. It’s a great place for my books, small keepsakes, and old pictures of my family. I have a piece of artwork featuring Alaskan fireweed, and naturally that had to be the centerpiece in the fireplace. 

I have a picture on my living room wall that is of my great-grandmother breastfeeding my grandfather in 1913 — he was about four-to-six-months-old at the time. I think it’s beautiful and bold for a woman to have her picture taken during such an intimate moment at that point in time. It’s really inspiring. 

Credit: Erin Derby

Biggest Challenge: Finding ways to marry function and beauty can often be challenging, especially in a small space, so you have to get creative. My pots and pans wall is one of the best things I did to account for lack of storage, and I love my mirrored coffee table, which has a hidden drawer and acts as my bar cart. I think the great thing is that it’s forced me to be really thoughtful about what I bring into my home. Do I love this enough for it to take up space in my small apartment? 

I have had some stubborn moments as a result of my need to marry function and beauty, though. I refused to get a regular air conditioner because I think they’re just so ugly! So I pre-ordered an AC from July when they first launched, and due to some shipping issues I ended up suffering through a whole summer with no cool air in a south-facing apartment in 90-degree heat waiting for it to arrive. 

Credit: Erin Derby

Proudest DIY: When I moved in there was very little kitchen storage space and I had to figure out where to put all of these pots and pans and do it in a way that didn’t feel cluttered or overwhelming. I saw a picture of Julia Child’s kitchen where she has all of her wares hung up on a peg board and I loved it — almost like she was treating her pots and pans as works of art — so I did something similar. Now it’s the thing I love most about my kitchen, and I’ll probably do it even when I eventually move into a bigger place with more storage. 

Biggest Indulgence: My cutting board from Toguchi Furniture, which was handcrafted by a childhood friend from Anchorage. He’s a self-taught woodworker and now does it full-time, and he does absolutely beautiful work. The cost of the board wasn’t crazy, and I’m all about supporting small business owners (especially if they’re my friend!), but the shipping of a pretty heavy object from Anchorage to New York ended up kicking the price tag up significantly. That said, it’s one of my favorite things that I own and I know it’ll be a mainstay in my kitchen until I’m old and gray.

Credit: Erin Derby

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? I think with any small home, there’s a lot of areas or items that do “double duty” in terms of function. My dining table has basically turned into a plant nursery, and the space under my couch is my makeshift gym storage. I’ve crafted a small yoga spot next to my desk that has just enough room for me to do a three-legged downward dog without knocking anything over.

I’m a big fan of using a whiteboard when I do my work, but I don’t have any room for one in my home, so I use my mirrors and the glass doors between the bedroom and living room to draw things out. It does the job and doesn’t stain. Very handy when I’m brushing my teeth and I remember that I need to get something at the store. I keep a dry erase marker in the bathroom too so that I can write it down on the glass shower wall. 

Credit: Erin Derby

What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I love my mirrored coffee / side table from West Elm — it has a hidden drawer that no one knows is there and there’s a surprising amount of storage in it. I use it as my “bar cart” and it’s such a nice little surprise. 

My cutting board from Toguchi Furniture is something I love and use all the time. It’s beautifully made, and the fact that it was made by one of my childhood friends makes it something I will treasure forever. 

Credit: Erin Derby

Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: For me, in small spaces, everything needs to be both beautiful and functional as much as possible. It can’t really be one or the other, because either everything is purely functional and your space feels sterile, or everything is beautiful and you have no room. 

I think the best thing I did with my apartment was thinking creatively about where things could live. My pots and pans are on the walls and some of my artwork isn’t hung, it’s just leaning up against the wall or in the fireplace. Maximizing every square inch for function, whether it’s under the bed or under the couch storage, or using wall space by adding shelving, etc. is really crucial, and you can do it in a beautiful way. 

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Basically, if you love it, then it’s beautiful and I can guarantee you can make it work in your home. It’s okay to get creative with where you find things and how you use them. I’ve repurposed things I’ve found on Buy Nothing (FB Group) and StoopingNYC many, many times. You don’t need a huge budget to create a space that speaks to you and makes you feel good, and I think that applies especially to artwork. Some of the pieces I love and think are the most beautiful cost me as little as $20. 


Credit: Erin Derby


Credit: Erin Derby


  • Marco Metal Leg 77″ Sofa, Chenille Tweed, Frost Gray — West Elm
  • Geo Mirror Side Table — West Elm
  • Mid Century Mini Desk, Acorn — West Elm
  • Plants — Various: The Sill (Montsera, Snake plant, Pothos, Money Tree, Palm), Whole Foods (Peace lily, Gardenia), the Plant Shed (Fiddle Fig), Hawaii trip 2019 (Plumeria)
  • Leather Chairs — Gifted from a friend who was getting ready for a baby
  • Kneeling Desk Chair — Varier Variable Balans Monochrome Original Kneeling Chair Designed by Peter Opsvik 
  • Air Conditioner — July
  • Under couch storage — Open Spaces
  • Various framing — Framebridge
Credit: Erin Derby


  • Pots and Pans — Various gifts, usually from Dad who is a big cook
  • Cutting Board — Toguchi Furniture in Anchorage, Alaska. This is one of my best friends from growing up and he does absolutely beautiful work.
Credit: Erin Derby


  • Wood Dresser — Borrowed from my brother and sister-in-law’s set
  • Standing Mirror — Borrowed from my brother and sister-in-law (yes, I’m that sister)
  • Bedding, Comforter and Comforter Cover — Buffy, Casper
  • Air Purifier — Molekule
Credit: Erin Derby


  • Towels — Weezie Towels

Thanks Katie!

This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.

Correction: While Katie hails from Alaska, an earlier version of this post mistakenly referred to Katie as an Alaska native. We’ve updated the article to be more accurate.