Jean Foley's colorful 'small' home took second in the Apartment Therapy blog's 'Small Cool' contest. | William Camargo/Staff Photographer

Since 2007, the blog Apartment Therapy ( has been bringing a distinct lifestyle brand to the internet. Founder Maxwell Ryan describes the blog’s mission as “helping people make their homes more beautiful, organized and healthy by connecting them to a wealth of resources, ideas and community online.” 

Today, over 10 million monthly readers are a part of that community. While the blog is followed loyally by residents of all kinds of dwellings — from apartments to homes to condominiums — for the past 12 years, Apartment Therapy has been embracing the art of small-home living with its Small Cool Contest. This year, two Oak Park entries made the cut, and homeowner Jean Foley placed second in the Small category.

Rules of the contest

Carrie McBride, managing editor of the blog, writes about the parameters of the contest: 

“Participants in the Small Cool Contest are required to submit five photographs of their home and one floor plan. We ask each entrant to tell us what they love about their home as well as provide three tips for successfully living in a small home. All homes in the contest must be under 1,000 square feet and lived in by the entrant.”

McBride explained that there are five divisions for Small Cool entrants: 

Teeny Tiny entrants are homes under 400 square feet 

Tiny homes range from 401 to 600 square feet 

The Little category includes homes 601 to 800 square feet. 

Small ranges from 801 to 1000 square feet

International division includes all international homes 1,000 square feet or smaller.

Over a period of weeks each spring, readers vote for their favorite in each division. Each division winner in the United States wins $1,000. A final round of voting among division winners determines the grand prize winner, who wins an additional $1,000.


Small, cool bungalow

Oak Parker Jean Foley shares her Lombard Avenue bungalow with her husband Brendan and their 14-year-old son Owen. Their 1926 home measures approximately 950 square feet, and the family of three, plus cat, find it is just the right amount of space. Foley, a stay-at-home mom and Etsy shop owner who designs clothing and fascinators out of her living room, is a big fan of Apartment Therapy. 

“It’s my addiction,” she confessed. “I look at it every morning when I have my tea. I’m really into interiors and seeing how people live. I thought my style might lend itself to their audience.”

Foley took the required five photos with her iPhone and sent off her entry, but she wasn’t sure her home would make the cut. McBride said the blog published 158 entries out of hundreds it received this year, and editors did indeed respond to Foley’s distinct sense of style.

According to the blog: “Unlike many small homes that aim for a more minimalist aesthetic, we love how boldly colored Jean’s home is and how she infuses it with her own personality and treasured objects. It goes to show that any style of décor can work in a small space.”

Foleys’ home is, in fact, bursting with color. Her living room, which doubles as her sewing studio, is a vibrant shade of blue. In the dining room, which also serves as the library, a lavender hue complements the dark woodwork. The master bedroom boasts aqua-colored walls. The Foleys redesigned their bathroom to suit their colorful aesthetic as well as the original era of the home. Jean said it was a labor of love.

“When we bought the house, everything had been done in the 1980s,” she recalled. “There was a lot of white Formica. In the bathroom, I redid the floors and hand-placed the tile in the center of each flower on the floor to add a blue center. There’s a lot of DIY in this house.”

She took her do-it-yourself skills into the kitchen to make it as vibrant as the rest of the house, covering the original kitchen cabinets with blue and white contact paper, and her colorful collections of plates and art make the yellow room pop. The adjacent sun room includes an eat-in area with a seat cushion that Foley upholstered and macramé plant hangers she created for the west-facing window.

Although she used her allotted five photos for the contest entry on the home’s main rooms, a photograph of Foley’s backyard at the height of spring would have made a nice sixth option. The colorful siding on the garage is decorated with a collage of vintage plates that Foley picked up at area thrift stores. A vintage outdoor dining set included brightly colored, rose-pattern seat cushions that blend in with the carefully tended flower garden.


Her second-place finish didn’t win her a cash prize, but Foley was honored to have made it so far in the contest. 

“What was really nice to me were the comments. People had such great things to say about our home. I was a bit worried because there are a lot of minimalist entries in the contest, and I’m a maximalist, so I wasn’t sure how people would react.”

Though losing out by only 30 votes, Foley enjoys knowing that others might draw inspiration from the way her family lives large in their two-bedroom, one-bathroom home.

“When I was really young, I had a dollhouse that I loved redecorating. I started thrifting when I was 14. Our master bedroom furniture is furniture I picked out when I was 15 at a thrift store. Just about everything in the house has some meaning.”

She points to the table in the eat-in nook, which is topped with vintage maps. Foley is currently searching for a vintage map of Seattle to add to the collection as the family prepares for a summer vacation to the city. 

“Part of the angle of having a small home,” she said, “is that it gives us the opportunity to do things together — like travel.”

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