When I tell people that I lived my first two years in Philadelphia in a trinity, most people look at me blankly. But Philadelphians look at me in disbelief and ask “How did you do it?” Here’s the secret — both what a trinity means, and how we made it work.
Trinity houses, also called Father, Son, and Holy Ghost houses, are mostly found in Philadelphia. The name comes from the fact that it has three floors. Each floor is one room, like a shotgun apartment turned on its head. Traditionally, the first floor is the kitchen, the second is the living room and bathroom, and the third floor is the bedroom. All of the floors are connected by tightly winding spiral staircases.
When we were first apartment hunting in Philly, I was determined that we’d live in a trinity. Down to the wire, we found one. In our trinity, the kitchen was in the basement, putting the living room on the first floor and a small office on the second. The entire place clocked in at about 550 square feet, but the multiple floors make it feel like far more space.
In the two years we lived in that apartment, I learned a lot about trinity living and how to make it work. Here’s my advice, should you be thinking about living in a trinity yourself:
- Buy flat-packed furniture. Getting furniture to the upper floors of a trinity is the biggest challenge you’ll face while living there. The easiest way we found to furnish our third-floor bedroom was to buy all our furniture at Ikea, and take it upstairs one piece at a time. We also scoured garage sales and thrift stores for furniture that folds up. Our best find was a Pier 1 bookshelf where the shelves fold down flat. Strategizing on furniture made it easy to decorate, and easy to move out once the time came.
- Hire movers. We hired movers to help us move out of our trinity, and they were worth every penny. Find a local company that’s familiar with trinity houses — we went with Old City Movers, and have only the best things to say about them. They moved us out by hoisting our furniture out the upper story windows like it was the easiest thing in the world. It was pretty amazing to watch!
- Implement a one-up, one-down rule. Fighting clutter is the biggest challenge while living in a trinity, because it can be a pain to carry things up and down the stairs. We implemented a rule that we always had to carry something with us when we went up or downstairs. It made a huge difference in helping keep our house tidy.
- Have a holding space for things that need to go up and down stairs. If you don’t have a designated space, stuff ends up piling up on the stairs and can cause a tripping hazard. (I speak from experience.) Having an attractive basket or box in each room for collecting things that need to move elsewhere can be a great safety trick.
- Downsize as much as possible. Living in our tiny trinity was one of the main reasons we tackled the konmari method. Being forced to change the way we lived with stuff was one of the biggest things we gained from living in a trinity.
- Get creative with storage.
Since trinity houses are usually short on closets (ours only had two!) you have to get creative with storage space. We tried to use the walls as much as possible, like the reclaimed wood shelves we installed into this nook in the wall. Ikea Expedits and a large wardrobe were also indispensable.
- Think small scale. Our leasing agent described our place like a “dollhouse,” and she was totally right. While living in a trinity, it helps to keep everything small-scale wherever possible. Sticking with small appliances, smaller furniture, and smaller-scale decor saves space and makes everything look cohesive. Midcentury furniture is great for trinity homes, since it’s usually built on a smaller scale than modern furniture.
Living in a trinity might sound like an ordeal, but we loved it. It was the perfect place for us to start our lives together, and we’ll always be grateful for the time we spent living in that piece of Philly history.
Credit for my early trinity education goes to this blog post at CasaCara. Engagement photos by Olya Vysotskaya.