Straight out of college, I rented and moved into a huge, pre-war, second story apartment in old town Farmingdale, New York. To get to the lodgings, you walked from Main Street through a narrow alley between two tall, brown bricked buildings. After about fifty feet, to the right, stood an entrance. Once you crossed the bottom floor threshold, your nostrils filled with an acrid smell – more pungent than boiled cabbage – that reeked and permeated the walls. Immediately, were a steep stairwell with slanted, broken linoleum steps reached up to the rooms. A 25 watt, bare light bulb dimly lit the landing.
Inside my walk-up, I was powerless to remove ancient wallpaper or eliminate much else. I was, however, allowed to improve or add to the premises, at my expense.
With this in mind, I stenciled red, orange and yellow flower clusters on the claw foot bathtub to match the design and hues of the wallpaper above the white, wooden chair rail. On the twelve-foot-high, tan walls in the common rooms, I stained the raised paneled, plaster millwork in a mahogany hue.
As there was no closet in the walk-through, I created one by sectioning off a three-foot-deep space between two walls with velvet curtains. The makeshift wardrobe was in a small, windowless antechamber of the east-facing back bedroom.
Meanwhile, in the front rooms, the buildings blocked the western sun from fully reaching inside. Yet, a limited and sufficient amount of sunshine dropped in during the afternoon from narrow, floor to ceiling windows. I suspended spider plants from macramé hangers and set iron shelves against the wood sills to hold a jungle of ferns and impatiens.
In light of living in shared dorms for five years, I was euphoric to have a multi-room place to call my own.
I am here to testify that no matter what you call home – big, small, old or new – you can flourish, entertain and be satisfied with enough ingenuity, inspiration and creativity.