Survival Tip #160: Revisit the spaces you’ve resigned yourself to.
Next month, it will be four years since we first rented this apartment. Four years since, while pregnant with Faye, I climbed onto the kitchen counters and stuck white contact paper over the offending multi-colored tiles interrupting a simpler backsplash.
Our kitchen doesn’t show up very often in this space in part because it’s in the very darkest corner of our apartment and impossible to photograph with natural light, and in part because as far as rental apartment kitchens go, it’s fairly generic. It’s the stuff of boring kitchen updates made on the cheap by a landlord interested in getting the job done quickly. It has a funky island spot that we mostly pretend isn’t there so that we can fit my desk and James’s surfboard beside it. It’s a spot that I often daydream about improving. What a difference there would be, I think, if we could extend the counter and have a row of lovely built-in cabinets beneath it? How much nicer would it look without a varnish on the cabinets and with a coat of ecru paint to brighten the dark corner? How lovely would a salvaged sink with a drain board look in that spot? If not a vintage sink, perhaps a more lovely faucet?
We get into tricky territory when we try to see the spaces that we live in as a reflection of ourselves. A kitchen isn’t a window into your soul, it’s a window into what kind of design you like and admire and, far more crucially, what kind of resources might be available to you at a particular moment. But living in a spot that looks a bit more like something you’ve imagined for yourself sounds nice, too.
As a renter, it’s easy to feel like you’re living in someone else’s home, because, well, you are. My general philosophy for inhabiting a space that I can’t do much to change has been to grin and bear it, and mostly, to ignore it altogether. In our apartment, our bathroom and the kitchen bones are so generally unappealing to me, that I’ve pretty much left them as is. But I think in some ways, I’ve over committed to my lack of adornment. It’s no news flash that I prefer under-dressed rooms but lately I’ve been trying to remind myself that not wanting to make rash or pricey—or just plain onerous—decorating fixes, doesn’t mean you have to abandon the idea of adding a personal touch altogether.
In the past year or so, I’ve been moving slowly in the direction of paying more attention to these neglected spaces by adding in things that feel a bit more me and a bit less someone else. In my space, that’s meant paying more careful attention to the elements in the rooms that I can control. Like slowly transitioning from cracked plastic brooms to more lovely looking ones, I’ve been thinking about what a big difference a small change in everyday objects can make in a small space.
Toward that end, we haven’t been undergoing a kitchen or a bathroom renovation or remodel, but we have been working on something of a slow-burn revisioning. Instead of making any huge improvements to these spaces, we’re playing around with the objects in them. Some of that has been about investing in new things. Some of it is about putting old things in new places. The revisioning isn’t about gutting or masking what I don’t love as much as showcasing what I do.
For the curious, a few examples:
Last spring, we decided to return our camping kettle to its spot in the closet next to the sleeping bags, and keep a more practical and also more beautiful wooden-handled kettle with a gooseneck spout on the stove instead. It drives our eye away from the contact-paper-covered tile and dare I say, the beech wood handle has almost made the honey-colored cabinets feel more intentional.
After Thanksgiving, we bought a new cast iron dutch oven and sold our old green one. A block pot with clean lines pulled the kitchen together and made even the elements that I don’t really love (the stainless steel and black microwave, for instance), feel in harmony with everything else.
Earlier this month, I decided to make my daydream a reality and bought a simple wall calendar to cover an ugly fuse box in the kitchen. The kitchen design might not be something that I’d choose for myself, but I love the stark simplicity of the calendar and having that in the space makes the stuff I don’t like (and certainly the fuse box) disappear a bit.
In the bathroom, just after Silas was born, we bought a charcoal-colored linen shower curtain. In the throes of welcoming a brand-new-baby I felt like I just wanted a tiny space with a bit of privacy. It’s hard enough to find a moment of solitude, but when you have a potty-trained toddler needing to barge into the bathroom alongside doting aunties or grandparents or any other number of helping hands, an opaque curtain, is…helpful. Bonus: It hides exactly half of the butter-yellow tile in the room from view.
Just this morning, I took the leap and decided to replace grungy bathroom hand towels with something fresh that might hide grubby hand prints a bit better.
All of this is about stuff, I guess. But it’s been a slow investment in stuff we can take with us. It’s stuff that we admire and that we’ve chosen ourselves. Mostly it’s been about making little changes to change my point of view about a place. Maybe one day I’ll be writing about picking out the right white tiles to improve a backsplash, or embarking on a DIY to rip out the heinous bathroom mirror and bring a bit of simplicity into that space, but until then, I’m focusing on what I can do. Petit à petit l’oiseau fait son nid.
Tiny apartment survival tips #1 -160 RIGHT THIS WAY.