Battle of the blands: making the most of boring spaces

By on Apr 25th

This is now how I picture artist housing.

Whenever I watch movies about scrappy young creatives (dancers! artists! musicians! writers!) fighting to make it wherever they're to make it (magazine! stage! tv!) they live in quaintly decrepit buildings. These buildings always feature lots of wabi-sabi idealized visions of industrial spaces supposedly no one else wants, or hilariously quirky bathtubs in the livingroom (ha ha!), etc.

But the reality is this: if you're growing up young and creative in the United States, unless you live in certain cities in the Northeast (and maybe even there), at some point in your life, you're probably going to live in the housing equivalent of a strip mall. We're talking mid-'80s constructions with grey carpeting and vertical blinds. Split-levels with sparkly textured walls and square corners. See, that romantically decrepit old housing that you always pictured your struggling 20something ass living in? Those places can be crazy expensive — they're all "vintage modern" with a brand new bathroom and stone countertops and stainless appliances in the kitchen.

The most challenging space I lived in was a 1970s apartment on the edge of Venice, CA. It was that ubiquitous Los Angeles three story, open walk-ways, cheaply built shitty building. It was on a busy street. There were vertical blinds, amber light covers, aluminium windows that slid horizontally. Everything was square, beige, and bland, with the exception of the lovely balcony that faced west and got an ocean breeze from the beach 15 blocks away. It was technically a decent apartment… but it was SO BLAND. I could never quite feel like myself living there. I never really identified with the woman who walked up those railed stucco steps and into the square, bland, door. I only lasted a year in LA (this was my farewell song), and I have to wonder if that would have been different if I hadn't been in the blandest home of my life.

Chances are decent that you'll live in at least a few during your life, and you have to do what you can to make the space feel like yours. I had some suuuper hippie friends in SF, and they managed to make a completely blah apartment in the heart of the Sunset neighborhood feel like an earthy hideaway. They had lots of house plants, indoor sprouting projects, Indian bedspreads, and mountains of pillows and little altars arranged on the floor. It wasn't quite my look, but there was no denying the totally owned the space.

I'm looking forward to featuring more of these "blank canvas" homes on the site. There are elaborate romanticized dreams about how young and creative people live — but very few of us are in gorgeous abandoned live/work industrial spaces. This is not New York in the '70s. Many of us can't afford the luxuries of gentrified quirky spaces.

I've got a theory that strip malls, office parks, and abandoned big box stores are the art districts of the future. Artists can't compete with yuppies for condo space, so creatives will go where the space is cheap. And the space is cheap in these abandoned places of bland commerce. 30 years ago, artists converted the industrial spaces. In my weird future, crumbling strip malls are taken over by squatting tribes of Fixie-riding street artists. It's a long ride out to the suburban art park, but once you're there you've got 40,000 square feet of former office space COMPLETELY at your disposal for your weird welding/zepplin-building/performance art pieces — and as a bonus, you've got T1 internet connections wired in for the mutlimedia broadcasting!

I'm telling you: we need to get GOOD at working with these bland, depressing spaces of abandoned service commerce and American consumer spending. Take over those abandoned strip malls. Buy that big box and build a theater with elaborate 360° stages. Go where the space is cheap, and make rad shit.

And for those of us who might be creative — not balls out ARTEESTS per se, but crafty thank you very much — we get to each work our domestic art of making these characterless walls our own. When you can't paint, how can you put your stamp on it?

I'm scheming a series of posts that fit into this "no-damage decor" category. Houseplants. Fabric. Mobiles. Ways to make big fingerprints on your space; ones that wipe up quickly so you can get your full deposit back.

And you! All of you drowning in beige! Stop being ashamed and start making it awesome! And sending us pictures!