Here’s the thing with moving to the city with your new husband and trying to nest when you’re twenty-two. It’s hard, it’s slow, and you don’t have a lot of the things you thought you’d have by now. Your worldly possessions besides clothes, whatever mishmash of stuff you collected throughout college, and defunct textbooks are few and far between. And functional home-making items? Near zero. That’s where a wedding registry comes in, and delivers, for the most part. You have an iron (shout out to all the first-time iron owners out there), you have dishes, hopefully you have decent knives. The building blocks of a home. But all the basics all thrown together into an apartment don’t make it feel like a real grown-up-person house. That’s the hard part.
This post is for all of us out there cobbling together apartments for the first time. Collecting bits and bobs, Goodwill lamps, cheap vinyl, wool blankets, scraps of paper to pin to the walls, and the occasional plant. Living in love and squalor, and dreaming of bright, airy, minimalist spaces like the ones created and lived in by idealistic and financially secure 35-year-olds in Brooklyn and California. Dreams of oriental rugs. Of gorgeous, sleek grey sofas. Of beautifully framed art on the wall and open shelves perfectly styled on every wall. It’s not real, all the blog houses and they way they look like no one lives in them. Cheerios end up on the floor in those houses too, but I don’t live in them so I dream of them. I dream of those sort of imaginary effortless homes, the just-right combination of personal things and lovely, well-crafted furniture made of things like wood and leather and linen, giant windows, and living green things. I click through all the house tours, the interior design bloggy things, the pinterest rabbit hole. I’m talking to you, Design Sponge Interiors. You’re beautiful and wonderful and frustrating.
Because we are so not there yet, we twenty-two year olds, emerging from our campus housing, dusting ourselves off, calling new cities, new people, new addresses something like home. It will get there. Someday I know I’ll wake up in the sort of room I’ve always pictured for myself, with the giant plant in the corner and a vibrant rug, lots of hard wood, and bright white bedding. Or maybe I won’t, never quite finding the home I hoped for, the right combination of things. For now I wake up on Bowler Street with my husband at my side and our Ikea furniture and the plates we share with the dorm boys. Things don’t happen all at once. It’s sort of wonderful that way.
I’m proud of the home we are building, piece by piece. I like to look at the things we have collected and imagine what might stay with us for our whole lives. My Barbra Streisand record collection? The beautiful painted nativity that a favorite professor gave me that I keep out all year long? Isaiah’s antique books? Even though our home isn’t yet what I imagine it some day could be, we are living here every day. This is our first home. This is the couch I watch When Harry Met Sally on when I can’t sleep. Those are the plants we picked out very carefully at one of our new favorite shops in our city. There is the desk where I write this very blog and the thrifted floral armchair that saw my senior year of college come and go. A banner from our wedding. My yoga mat. We live here. We’ve put nails in the wall and things on the shelves.
Sometimes I feel silly about concerning myself with things. I scold myself for caring about having the right sofa or lamp. Life is about far more than what furniture we put in our homes, oh yes that is true, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t valid to care. If seeing beauty in the world is important to me, which it absolutely is, then it is important to see beauty in my home. To surround myself with beautiful things, whether it is the perfect shower curtain that I searched and searched for or the flowers from my wedding. These choices are not trivial, nor are they unimportant. I want to love my home, or at least parts of it, and work on the parts that I don’t love. I can go slow, but I never want to give up and wallow in discontentment and despair. Small things matter. Homes and the things in them, no matter how big or small, matter. Our space feels to me like it is transitional, like so much of my life does right now, but it is home. And quite, quite a lot of it is beautiful to me.
Last night, after getting home from a long Saturday’s return to Wheaton for various things, Isaiah and I cleaned our space in the apartment to prepare for a late-night visit from friends. I put on the Moonstruck soundtrack and got to work. Friends, if you need cleaning, cooking, or anything music, look no further than Moonstruck. Also, if you need the perfect feel-good New York City / Italian love movie, look no further than Moonstruck. If you’re trying to win the heart of one of my dearest pals, Jess, the gal who introduced me to the film in all its glory in the first place, look no further than Moonstruck. It’s got Cher, Nicholas Cage, champagne, Vicki Carr, opera and a magical moon that brings lovers together. There is nothing not to love. And, anyhow, it was perfect cleaning music for tonight. After my dusting, clutter-busting frenzy, I took some pictures with this post in mind. Here is an update on how things are hanging in our little city home.
We bought ourselves some living green things at Sprout Home in the Ukrainian Village, one of my very favorite shops in Chicago. It’s the sort of store I could spend a good hour in, touching all the leaves and pots, sniffing things. I love it. This little succulent and green leafy plant are new to us, and we are trying to get them enough sun, but the onset of dark, cloudy days isn’t helping much. Still, they cheer me up every time I see them. Also, as I took this photo, Muzetta’s Waltz was playing on our bluetooth Tivoli Radio, a prized wedding gift. It’s easy to feel grand with bright music wafting through the whole place.
I’ve been slowly adding things to this shelf. We bought the gold picture frames, as well as the floral tin, and the silver and glass pitcher at Goodwill. The painted wooden nativity is closed until Advent, but I love keeping it on the shelf as a reminder though the year of the incarnation (Wheaton, I see you). Then, of course, our wedding invitation, the original with the dried flowers all glued on, and a polaroid my friend Sue snapped of Isaiah and me at our wedding and sent to me in the mail as a surprise. My dried flower bouquet, some of Isaiah’s books, and a cigar box from the magic cigar shop in the Loop. I love this shelf. It feels very much like who we are right now, collected, resting, gathered together, the two of us, Isaiah and I. Special things melded, with marriage and Jesus in the middle. It’s good.
More plants from Sprout Home, re-potted in terra-cotta pots Isaiah made at HoneyRock. And a vanilla candle. I’ve become obsessed. Help, from me and everyone else caught on the candle train. There’s no end in sight.
My stitching basket on top of our recently-received book of our wedding photos from Artifact Uprising (It’s gorgeous), and the quintessential The Kinfolk Table. This is really a “sorry not sorry” moment, because I asked for the book on my wedding registry before I realized it was cool. I had seen it in a friends house and thought it to be a lovely coffee table book with wonderfully unique recipes and stories inside. Little did I know all the other bloggy people would too. So, here it is. Sorry not sorry. Isaiah brought the wool blanket back from the vintage section Ragstock in Wicker Park for me as a present one day. The wire basket is full of odds, ends, and randoms. I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.
My own little corner, my own little chair, and our new hanging plant. The few square feet I’m most fond of, I think.
Someday I’ll put something on the walls beside the door. For now it’s just things on top of stacks of books. We have plenty of books.
Real small apartment life: NO WHERE TO PUT BULKY COATS. For lack of a coat closet, we created one in the hallway from the living room to the bedroom. Here, all our coats and bags and things in all their glory. Thank you Ikea for the extendable wooden hooks, I don’t know what we would do without you. Be buried in our coats, I suppose.
Bathrooms are hard, but I’ve grown somewhat fond of ours. It helps to have towels that you ADORE, and a Nancy Drew book or two for good measure.
I was really picky about picking out the perfect shower curtain. Believe it or not, it’s hard to find a decent one in the great wide world of the internet. One that isn’t too gaudy or plasticky or mainstream or silly. I wanted white, calm, and classic. This one was splurgy but perfect from Schoolhouse Electric, and I expect that we will keep it around for as long as it stays nice. It is one of my favorite things in our home, which is funny because it is a shower curtain.
This is our bed, the one Isaiah’s dad built for us in his garage by hand. It is gorgeous, and sturdy, and cuddling up next to Isaiah every night in this bed is seriously one of the best parts of every day. It’s a space that we kept intentionally simple, and I like it that way. Our wedding quilt is hidden under the cotton blanket, because it’s November, which means chilly, which means double blanket season. I’ve always been a big double blanket girl. There is something wonderful about two blankets, I think, layers between myself and the air. More cozy. More safe.
Also, Salinger. Isaiah’s reading Nine Stories, which makes me a happy gal. Often, while nannying, I find my self channeling Boo Boo Glass’ approach to interacting with children as demonstrated in “Down at the Dinghy.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read some Salinger. It’s good for you.
My two earliest embroidered hoops hang by my bed. Two quilt patterns, one of them inspired by our wedding quilt. I’ve deviated from quilt patterns in my stitching for a while, but I think I’ll go back to it on my next hoop. They look so nice on the wall there. Also an embroidered flower piece bought at a library art sale in Wheaton, a lamp and table thrifted in college days, and the ever-present and rotating library books. Right now its Denise Levertov and Annie Dillard.
Oh, the woes of not having a closet. We’ve made do, I suppose. I’m just constantly barraged by my clothes, and the messiness or feeling of messiness is hard to quell sometimes. But it brings nice color and texture to the room. It encourages me to keep only the clothes I like hanging up. The limited space limits my closet, which I appreciate. Also, look closely to see a photo of tiny Amy dressed up as Dorothy amidst giant cardboard cut-outs of the cast of The Wizard of Oz. It’s one of my favorite photos ever taken of me. Very fitting, I think, forever Dorothy, or hoping to be. I used to wear my Dorothy costume to the grocery store, ruby slippers and all, stuffed Toto and basket in tow. Maybe I’ll try to incorporate more blue gingham into my wardrobe as a sort of a nod to tiny me.
My beloved books! Packed jigsaw-style into a wooden crate by my beloved husband! Maybe I’ll do a post on all my favorite books sometime, but till there, here are some of my all-time favorites, all of which can be found in this crate if you look hard enough.
Everything Matters by Ron Currie Jr. // An end of the world book like no other end of the world book I’ve read. I first picked this up in high school and it was one of the first contemporary adult novels that really truly gripped me both in form and style.
The Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore // She is my new favorite author. I’m currently tearing through her short stories, and she has a lot of them. This one is a novel about a girl who goes to college near Chicago and nannies in her spare time, so I’ll just go ahead and say that I’ve hardly ever related to a book more than this one. It’s exquisite, like everything else Lorrie Moore has written. Another favorite it Anagrams, which I can’t wait to read again as soon as I can get my hands on it.
Two-Part Invention by Madeleine L’Engle // This is the best memoir about marriage that I’ve ever read. I liked it even better than Joan Didion, which is saying something. There are a lot of parts of this book that have stuck with me, but I always think of the part where L’Engle talks about swimming every morning and working her way through passages of the Bible that she has memorized in her head as she swims. An image I can’t shake. This book is majestic.
Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh // It’s my favorite book ever. I don’t even know why exactly. Well, I do, but I don’t know how to talk about it. Read it now.
Angels in America by Tony Kushner // One of the most smart and special and dare I say it, holy, plays ever written. It’s rough, but its grand and gorgeous and hard and it goest to all of the places where most people can’t or won’t go. It’s big and vast and fantastic.
Remember my last post about nesting? The one about art? If you don’t remember, you can read it here! Anyway, after publishing that post, I received a mysterious tube in the mail, containing one of the prints I mentioned in the post!! One of the ones I said I was dreaming of hanging on my wall!! I had no idea who it was from until I talked on the phone with my mom and she asked if I got my present! I did! I did get my surprise present! It was such a happy afternoon to open up that happy tube full of special wall art! My mom picked this print in particular because of our family penchant for long summer days at the pool, reading, snoozing, dipping, and eating all manner of popsicles. It’s a big part of my suburban childhood, and now it’s on my wall. At some point I’ll frame it, and take it with me wherever we go. That’s the great thing about art. You keep forever it if you’re smart. I’ll never not have enough room for this delightful swimming pool print that I wished for on a whim and received on a happy and surprising afternoon.
Finally, one of my very favorite new additions to our space. This was a once-in-a-lifetime Goodwill find. A right thing right time sort of thing. Already framed, perfect colors, just the right feel for our space. Perfect condition. We love it for a bunch of reasons. My mom grew up in West Virginia, we miss thick green, green trees like those, Isaiah is really into whitewater kayaking. But most of all, the title. “TAMING THE NEW RIVER.” It seems to us that marriage is about taming the new river. It’s our new mission statement, our call, our subtitle. Amy and Isaiah, taming the new river. It feels just right. I love sitting in our little apartment, my husband and I, on the raft of our couch, riding rapids, avoiding rocks, squealing and laughing and enjoying the trip. If there is anyone I can tame the new river with, it’s Isaiah.
Some things that continue to inspire me in the search for home harmony.
- My Pinterest board, where I gather interior inspiration. I’ll warn you, it’s extensive. A gal can dream!
- I’m really into the simplicity of Snowe Home right now. They’re fairly new on the scene, and doing things very right.
- I’ve drawn a lot of home-building inspiration from Erin Boyle of Reading My Tea Leaves, especially her series on “Life in a Tiny Apartment“. She has some seriously good tips, coming from serious experience of years in beautifully cared-for and curated tiny apartments in Brooklyn.
- I always like to keep up with my gal, Natalie Jean, and her adventures in nesting. Lately, she’s moved to Idaho and nested her way into a sweet old farmhouse. I’m digging it. Very different vibes than what I’ve got going on around here, but definitely still in my wheelhouse. I feel like I end up linking a lot to Hey Natalie Jean. We could probably be friends. Actually, we definitely could.
- I said it earlier and I’ll say it again, I always find myself wandering into the corner of the internet that is Design Sponge Interiors. I’m especially feeling this Oakland, CA home. The cushions, the art, the fabulous plant wall, the etchings taped above the stove. Very good.
- Schoolhouse Electric is where I found my shower curtain, one of my current favorite home goods. But, surprise, I basically like everything they’ve ever made. I’ve linked to them before, and I’m sure I’ll link to them again. Truly beautiful things.
- Also, check out another fantastic home tour found on another favorite blog, A Cup of Jo.