Last weekend I invaded my friend Rachel’s house and gave myself a tour. She had no warning, except that I’ve been asking her to submit a home tour and when I showed up I sort of said, “How ’bout I just take photos and we’ll see where this goes?” [aside: if you have a friend with a covet-worthy offbeat home, grab a camera and get in there!]
Which is awesome, because Rachel, her partner Jared, her dog Juan, and her cat Out to Lunch live in one of my favorite apartments of all time. Rachel’s a sculptor, art center docent, nanny, and odd-job haver, and Jared is a musician. They have exactly the kind of home that would drive my partner’s orderly mind nuts — it’s the same reason he doesn’t spend much time in my studio.
From the outside, this duplex is nothing to look at. It’s, like, gray-beige with no landscaping. It’s in the Drake neighborhood in Des Moines — on the same block I used to live on. And on the same block as the School of Metaphysics! It’s an interesting mix of creatives, students, immigrants, and a few methheads: people moving up life’s ladder, and people on their way down. The Drake hood, for all its crime on the opposite end, is my favorite neighborhood in Des Moines.
The first time I went to Rachel’s place I was surprised; once you climb the stairs and step inside, it’s a totally different apartment than the outside of the building suggests. Tons of windows, lots of light, hardwood floors throughout (including the kitchen, which Rachel uncovered), and original wood trim. They’ve got three big bedrooms, a large living room and a dining room — a ton of space for an apartment. But you know, that’s sort of the joy of a college neighborhood.
Okay, so what makes their place offbeat? Rachel and Jared are avid thrifters, practicing artists, and intense plant collectors. The stuff in their apartment is arranged in a totally pleasant chaos. Records and other peoples’ art and instruments and Rachel’s art and succulents — OH! the succulents. And books and games and movies and electronics.
They are very talented at making their space reflect them — and at embracing shortfalls. Rachel’s recently taken over the fire escape stairs to expand her succulent garden. One room is a sculpture studio. One room is a music room. The dining room, it seems, has shifting purposes, but more often than not it also seems to be employed in art creation.
I think what most appeals to me is that this space is like an art studio or an artist’s warehouse took over a whole apartment. Most artists I know are collectors. Some of them know exactly what they want to collect: ’60s glassware, for example. Most of us just collect. I tend to keep natural objects: rocks, bones, teeth, good-looking sticks. Rachel tends to keep kitsch-like stuff. Lots of it is small, most of it is colorful, and she has a knack for picking out unusual stuff. From afar, it seems like a pretty standard collection of little old bits of plastic; close up, you can see these bits of plastic aren’t the standard bits that everyone seems to have.
And artists tend to want what they’ve collected to be visible. Yeah, just like hoarders. But most of them display it well, when they have the time to curate it.
Most of the furniture in the space is authentically old. I’ve done the post-college art grad thing, so I admire that Rachel has the scavenging skills to find the deals she does on these finds — when I was 25, we still didn’t really have much furniture.
On this trip I got my first tour of Rachel’s studio — before this, I’d stuck to the living room. I was instantly jealous of the size of the room! There’s a BED in there! And a workbench! And a primo big flat table! And shelves. And a million more old projects, in-progress projects, objets d’art, and tools. Oh, how I love seeing what tools people use.
So, let’s take a closer look at the art.
No shit, just that morning we’d gone to a temple rummage sale and seen another copy of the painting on the left.
I’ve never seen art hung under a fireplace mantle. This Keith Harring poster is kind of perfect there.
I blame rap music too, man. Me too. I blame rap music by radicalface.
While this home is filled with things, I’m struck by how orderly it feels. Maybe it’s that “stuff” is grouped into collections of “like stuff” — records are in the fireplace, there are lots of DVDs, but they’re all on one shelf together. The furniture has a similar style. The walls are filled, but filled with really nice art and interesting objects.
I loved the opportunity to sneak into a house unannounced — though that hadn’t been my plan. It worked really well to help me capture little bits about the people that live here, without giving them the chance to sanitize. Like, I have no idea why there might be a collection of jam packets on the living room table, but maybe someone was enjoying a bit of toast while they studied Claes Oldenburg.