This past summer, in between working on stories about people and places in Newport for Puddingstone Post, I had the chance to photograph my own apartment for an article written by editor Meg O’Neill. Although my attempt to remain an objective photographer for this one failed spectacularly, the project evolved into a loving documentation of the place that has been at the center of my life for most of my 20s, so I thought I’d share some photos if you’d like to see.
Aesthetically, my apartment, which occupies the upper floors of a 300 year old colonial house in the Point neighborhood of Newport, is a steady experiment that will never really be finished. Every corner has fallen together slowly – many a morning coffee was had while contemplating the light and the feel of each room. Over many years, I got to know the house and my own routine within it, buying or changing things only when I felt I knew what the house truly needed. I mixed family heirlooms with pieces gleaned from travels abroad, or my neighbor’s trash pile dressed with a fresh coat of paint. Ever conscious that I was working in a very traditional space, I opted for white on the walls, and a few choice modern pieces, to keep things from looking too frozen in time.
Psychologically, my relationship to this space is not so easy to describe. In all seriousness, I’m turning 3o next week and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the last decade of my life. I don’t think I would have grown into the person I am without the steadfast, welcoming walls of this dwelling place. It has been my anchor and my creative bubble, it has been light-filled and cheerful even when I have not, it has stood by patiently when I have left it to explore the world, and it has held me through raging hurricanes, tearful breakups and the mind-boggling pain of chronic illness. Yet, despite the years that I have filled the house with friends, roommates, lovers and pets, our time together is no more than a blip on its long history.
I recently heard something intriguing on NPR (I wish I could remember what story it was a part of, please tell me if you know!): we frequently talk of the ephemerality of objects. Yet, if you consider that good design and well-made structures have the tendency to persist beyond our lifetimes, then in a sense, we are the ephemeral ones. We barrel into the quiet lives of these houses and these things, and then one day we leave them sitting and waiting for their next occupants or possessors. I rather love this idea. Here I’ve been thinking that this space was mine these past 7 years, when really, I have been its guest all along.
If I can share one piece of homemaking advice, which I read somewhere once, to anyone kind enough to have made it this far, it is to take the time to truly know your space before you do anything. There is a bottomless rabbit hole in space-making today: pinterest, home decor stores, magazines, and blogs (this one included), offer a limitless blue sky for the imagination to ponder, but you shouldn’t lose sight of the space that you actually have. For example, drooling over sparely furnished Swedish apartments with soaring, 20-foot ceilings is something of a pastime for me, but what works in those spaces does not necessarily translate to the more intimate proportions of a New England colonial. Embrace your reality and its inherent parameters, such as budget, regional history, sustainability, and the quirks of your home: they will help you wade through endless possibility and hone in on a design that makes sense for your life, while honoring the space in which you are, for a time, a guest.