In Brooklyn, a Tiny Apartment and a Neighborhood Filled With Families

Since Abigail Mlinar was 18, her superpowers have been her carefree attitude and the ability to move from one country to another, staying a few months at a time with only two suitcases.

It wasn’t until 2021, when she moved into a tiny rental apartment in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, with her husband, Joe Burns, and 8-month-old son, Henry, that she could finally call somewhere “home.”

Ms. Mlinar, now 30, who is the head of sales at MakeLoveNotPorn, a video sharing platform aimed at promoting users’ “real” sex instead of performative pornography, was romantically unattached until an encounter in June of 2019 on Tinder introduced her to Mr. Burns on her first night in London.

It was a fast, intense relationship, the way things are when two like-minded people connect unexpectedly.

By September, both had said ‘I love you.’ In October, they talked about having children. A month later, Ms. Mlinar moved into Mr. Burns’s flat.

When the pandemic lockdown happened, Ms. Mlinar extended her visa. In June 2020, she found out she was pregnant. That November, the couple got married and Ms. Mlinar, who wanted to have and raise their son surrounded by friends and family, bought a small house in Minneapolis, Minn., where she grew up, which she found on Zillow.

“Two weeks later we moved into a 111-year-old, two-bedroom, 1,000 square-foot house with a deck and a garden,” she said. “I thought it was charming.”

She went on, “Suddenly, I was a homeowner.” A $5,503 deposit was part of the first-time home buyer mortgage the couple qualified for on the house, which cost $255,000.

The move was easy — the newlyweds packed a few suitcases and tried to settle in Minneapolis after their time in London — but they quickly became “frustrated by the cold winters, the ice-slicked roads, the reality that we both hate cars, and that I was the only one who drove since Joe doesn’t have a license,” Ms. Mlinar said. “I love my family, but I’m drawn to adventure and newness. Plus, we wanted to be in a community that was filled with kids and parents.”

Mr. Burns agreed.

“We were working for New York-based companies,” said Mr. Burns, 35, who is joint head of strategy at Bartle Bogle Hegarty USA, a global advertising agency. “I needed more stimulation and a place where I could walk or bike.”

All of that and more was found — sight unseen — thanks to a thoughtful broker, who, via FaceTime, showed the couple a 750-square-foot, one-bedroom with an office on the second floor of a townhouse in Carroll Gardens for $3,000 a month in late July 2021. (They still own their house in Minneapolis, renting it out on occasion.)

$3,000 | Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

Occupations: She is head of sales at MakeLoveNotPorn. He is joint head of strategy at Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Kid Friendly: “We live near Carroll Park and there’s this guy who sings country tunes for kids,” Mr. Burns said. “Henry loves it. It brings me so much joy. The neighborhood is nirvana if you have kids. That was one of the reasons for moving here.”

A Better Life: “We are both from poor backgrounds,” Ms. Mlinar said. “We’re crafting a new life here in this tiny house that feels like a home. This is where we feel our best. It’s our balance point.”

It was just a few months after Henry was born that the couple’s deep desire to relocate was intensified.

Ms. Mlinar had a cousin who lived in Carroll Gardens and assured her it was overflowing with mothers and children. A seed was planted.

By June, Ms. Mlinar became “anxious about the insane housing market in New York City. I was on five different apps, and got obsessed with looking,” she said.

Weeks of searching continued. As the couple gained a greater understanding for real estate pricing, location, and timing in Brooklyn, they pulled back on their expectations. Outdoor space and a two-bedroom came off their list; a tree-lined block, tremendous light, and being surrounded by families with easy access to stores and subways stayed.

“Because we lived in Minnesota, we couldn’t see the apartment in person and thought no one would take us seriously,” Ms. Mlinar said. “And we both get 1099s instead of W2s. We needed someone who understood that.”

The broker, Lucy Perry, a licensed associate real estate broker at Compass, who lived two blocks away from the listing the couple had found, was unfazed. Hours later she took the couple on the FaceTime tour, virtually walking them through the townhouse apartment.

Mr. Burns, who said it was hard to see everything the apartment offered, liked the space because “it screamed New York, with its brick wall, wooden floors and fire escape, which I could see sticking out from the window.”

Though it was sight unseen, they wanted the apartment. They filed an application that day. Twenty-four hours later, the couple had a Zoom call with the owners, who lived on the first floor of the townhouse. They were accepted and given a move-in date of Sept. 1.

The family arrived at 7 p.m. to find their best friends and Ms. Mlinar’s cousin waiting for them on their stoop with sparkling wine, cheese and crackers.

The owners came out to greet them. Everyone climbed the two flights of stairs and entered an unexpectedly dark apartment.

“The owners had cleaned, painted and removed the old furniture. But when the handyman prepped the apartment, he disconnected the wires and forgot to reattach them. We couldn’t see anything so the owners brought up a camping light,” Ms. Mlinar said. “We crashed on the mattress I had preordered and hoped we hadn’t made a mistake.”

In the morning they awoke to an apartment “flooded with the most wonderful sunlight,” said Ms. Mlinar, who added that the windows were larger, the ceilings higher, the closets bigger, and the bedroom roomier than the virtual tour suggested. Even Henry’s room, described as an office off the bedroom, “had a door, huge window, floor-to-ceiling closet and mirrored sliding door.”

To the right was a tiny kitchen and tinier bathroom.

“I love to cook, so I’ve had to embrace the kitchen, but it’s limiting. The refrigerator is in the living room,” Mr. Burns said. “It changes what and how you cook. I’ve learned to be intentional and use as few pots and pans as possible. I’ve been perfecting pasta dishes.”

A gym locker that doubles as storage for shoes and jackets, “is a theoretical room divider,” Ms. Mlinar said. “The living room portion is to the left. We had to get creative with the space.”

A tree-lined block was revealed as well.

“We couldn’t tell from FaceTiming, but our apartment is the same height as the trees that surround us,” she said. “You feel as though you’re in the trees. That has become a part of our lives.”

They furnished most of their home from Facebook Marketplace and AptDeco online, or Yesterday’s News, a local vintage store, with rugs, shelves, desk, a bed frame, and a dining room table. Other items were found on the curb.

“I love the character of this apartment. It feels like history happened here,” Mr. Burns said. “We’ve grown as a family. We’ve made friends and found community. This is the first time I’ve felt purposeful. I’m shaping my destiny in our own little environment. I love our life here.”

For Ms. Mlinar, a small home has brought up big issues.

“I’ve become a mom here. I feel like for the first time I’ve taken a deep breath and have finally settled,” she said. Last year she joined a Brooklyn writers’ group, which she said was life-changing. “My body had been sprinting for a decade. This slowed me down. It’s made me savor life’s moments and manifest a space that’s going to be the next chapter of our life.”

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