The offbeat occupant: Ariel Meadow Stallings, Offbeat Empire Publisher
Other occupants: Andreas (spouse), Octavian (son), Sassafras (totem animal)
Approximate square footage: 650-1000 sq. feet
How many bedrooms? 1
Neighborhood: The tip top of Seattle’s Capitol Hill
How long have you lived in this home? Four years.
Let’s start with the neighborhood. What’s it like where you live? I grew up coming to visit my grandmother and aunt in this neighborhood, back in the early ’80s when it was known for drunks, junkies, and “the gays.” I got my first apartment here in 1997, and with the exception of a few excursions (Olympia, WA; New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA; South Seattle), have lived within a few blocks of that first place ever since.
I LOVE THIS NEIGHBORHOOD. We’ve made a lot of concessions and pay an ill-advised financial premium to live here, but it is so incredibly worth it. I wrote about this before, but we have everything within walking distance here, including downtown Seattle. But I don’t just mean grocery stores, restaurants, bars, boutiques, parks, museums, libraries, etc. I mean like, I have a hospital out my back door if something goes wrong. The police and fire stations are so close I’d likely hear the sirens before getting off the phone with 911.
Capitol Hill is isn’t that much of a gayborhood any more. The LGBT community has filtered out into the rest of the city (yay for people feeling safe outside the gay neighborhood, but boo for Pride Parade leaving), and the Hill is as much about 20-something creatives who like to drink (cough hipsters cough) as it is about rainbow flags. And let’s just say we’re not the only 30-somethings with strollers cruising down 15th Avenue…
What makes your home offbeat? The space we live in has had a lot of lives. It was a single family Italianate four-square built around the turn of the century. Then, in the 1920s, it was chopped it up into apartments and had a wing of studios built onto one side. In the ’30s, a second wing of apartments was added onto the other side of the house. The whole weird complex was a rental until 2006, when it was converted from apartments into condos.
This is all to say, the old girl is a bit odd. We have the original house’s grand staircase, which leads you up to our humble one bedroom. There are odd angles and you can see where old walls were just cut open to open up rooms. We have the house’s original balcony — but one of the balcony windows looks directly into our geighbor’s living room. Luckily we love our neighbor Brett (who I’ve written about on Offbeat Wed) so instead of being weird, we use the window for gossiping and passing food, babies, and small dogs back and forth.
The wings built onto the house create awkward closeness. Our bedroom window is about three feet from the bathroom and kitchen windows of one of the wings built onto the house… so our bedroom alternately smells like someone else’s shampoo, or spaghetti sauce. Our bathroom window looks into Brett’s kitchen and his bathroom window. From our toilet, you can sometimes see Brett in the shower. In the summer you can hear another neighbor getting spanked by his girlfriend, and his bong smoke oozes into our livingroom windows. Ah, the urban village!
When the units were converted to condos, the decor was pretty standard Contemporary West Coast Yuppie. Stainless steel kitchen appliances with stone counters, nice window frames, laminate wood flooring (cheap and plastick-y to the touch, but looks good until it gets scratched, which is constantly), all beige and sage paint palettes. It was nicely done, but completely void of personality.
And then we moved in. And the personality was inflicted.
I don’t have a very refined sense of interior style. It basically boils down to this: I love color. Lots of it. My color choices don’t always (…ever?) fully work or coordinate well, but my appetite for color is boundless. Many blocks of bright color.
ORANGE WALLS! PURPLE COUCH! PINK CHAIR! GREEN RUGS! BLUE WALLS! MY LITTLE PONIES AS DECOR ITEMS! I tend toward the modern end of furniture, so I’ve jokingly referred to my aesthetic as “Space Station Toddler” (and that was before we had a kid). I’m not sure anyone would call these things tasteful… but they’re what I love, and what my partner puts up with in our living room.
Andreas, meanwhile, got complete domain over our bedroom, which he painted a pale purple called Silverberry and furnished with a bed straight out of the virginity loss scene in Twilight: Book 4. Andreas has apparently always dreamed of a lavendar bedroom with a white gauzy canopy over the bed, proving that (despite my My Little Ponies) I’m not the only one in the house with the aesthetics of an 8-year-old girl.
Historically, our furniture has tended towards the very cheap and utilitarian, with lots of used Ikea crap from Craigslist (why pay full price for crap, when someone else can put the crap together for you?). But then my mother-in-law got into woodworking, and she makes the most amazing furniture I’ve ever seen… so we have this weird mix of gorgeous high-end custom fine woodworking, and second hand press-board modern furniture.
The condo feels very much like a reflection of Dre and me: two urbanites who were raised in more rural areas by progressive outdoorsy types. There’s this weird mix of very urban (condo! modern stuff! bright colors!) and very granola (wood! prayer flags! plants!).
Bobos, I think we’d probably be called, although the term’s a bit out-of-date.
What are the challenges you’ve faced with this space, and how did you solve them? Square footage is our biggest challenge. We are a family of three living in a one bedroom. Oh, and not only do three of us live here — one of us works here, too. (The Empire is run from a wall of our bedroom, a few feet from the closet where our son sleeps.)
We’ve had to be super economical about space use, highly judicious about crap acquisition, and generous about quickly getting rid of stuff we’re not actively using. We’ve also had to remember that part of the advantage of living urban is that the city is your backyard and living room — Dre and I spent a LOT of time wandering our neighborhood with Tavi.
I worried that having a baby would make living here impossible, but it’s actually working really well. We’ve made a concerted effort to keep the space pretty open and not filled with much stuff, so it very rarely feels crowded or cramped.
The biggest shift in making this space work for us was when I got my desk out of the living room. Our bedroom is big, but since both Dre’s and my laptops were in the livingroom, we spent most days with all four creatures (two adults, baby, dog) in the living room, while the bedroom sat there unused. It was also extreeeemely hard for me to get any work done with the cute baby/cute husband combo in the same room with me. Now that my desk is in the bedroom, theoretically we can have a creature in each room (baby in nursery, me in the bed room, Dre in the living room, and the dog snacking in the kitchen) and actually get some personal space!
What’s your favorite feature of your home? The bookshelf my mother-in-law custom built for us. It pretty much owns the livingroom. My husband, the spawn of two academics, is a booklover who grew up surrounded by walls and walls of books.
We split the shelves roughly in half (his on the left; mine on the right) and I’m not quite as bookish as he is, which means there’s room for the baby’s supplies in the bottom right quad of the shelving.
Dre’s got a workspace built into the left, and there are two sliding cabinets on the right that have become Tavi’s toy chest. When I got pregnant, people looooved to tell me how once we had a kid, our house would get taken over by toys — “the plastic crap just seems to multiply,” someone once told me, in a “you’ll seeeeeee” kind of way. I am proud to say that thanks to these shelves (and our own resistance to acquiring too much stuff), our house almost never feels taken over by toys and baby stuff.
Obviously, as someone who decorated with My Little Ponies and Sunshine Buddies long before I had a child, it’s not like my taste in decor is so mature and sophisticated. I don’t want to hide evidence of having a child, and I think it’s pretty clear from our house that a little dude lives here. I just don’t want my home to feel like it’s been overtaken — we love our son very much, but he’s one of three people living here.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from this home? Downsizing is addictive; I’ve learned to LOVE giving shit away.
When Tavi was born, I decided I’d enact a strict “one in/one out” policy with stuff. I may over-compensate a bit: it’s worth noting that our house is emptier now than it was before I got pregnant.
I have pack-rat tendencies, and have spent years collecting little bits of Stuff that I would jokingly claim was for “The Ariel Museum.” I’ve learned to stop doing this — I have my sentimental talismans, but they’re all small. I shed crap constantly… in part because then it means there’s room for new crap!
Don’t let me mislead you: I like crap. A LOT. I am a total materialist and I LOVE my things… but I love giving them away, too.
What’s your grandest plan for the space? I have a scheme for how we can turn the space into a modest two-bedroom, and rip out the wall of the stairwell to create an epic family room/mezzanine space at the top of the stairs. That stairwell is so grand and filled with afternoon sun… but it’s a fucking stairwell. If we opened it up to a mezzanine, we’d really feel that square footage more.
Plus, Tavi would have a bedroom.
What advice do you have for other offbeat homies? Figure out what the priorities are for your lifestyle. Living small and in-city has made me happier than living big and suburban was ever going to. I can’t say how long we’ll stay here (I grew up on a forested island half an hour away, and the siren song of the island ex-urbs is hard to ignore — especially when I know first-hand how good the schools are), but these years in this condo have been some of the happiest and most… well, self-actualized of my life. I like where I am, both literally and figuratively.
Any stuff or services you want to recommend?
In my photos on Flickr, I’ve tried to caption all relevant artists, but here are a couple worth calling out:
- Nepotism alert: my mother-in-law’s woodworking is amazing. She’s in Iowa City, but does commissions all over.
- My favorite painting is by Kinoko.
- The big pink rocker is a brand called Nurseryworks. I got it half off because it’s an atrocious shade of pink.
Show me the decor porn!
I made a point to caption my photos pretty extensively on Flickr, so if you have any questions about stuff in pictures — head over there!