The offbeat occupant: Ruth, Middle School Math Teacher
Other occupants: Chloe the carpet slug
Approximate square footage: Under 650 sq. feet
How many bedrooms? 0/studio
Lives in: Salem, Oregon
Let’s start with the neighborhood. What’s it like where you live? I live adjacent to downtown Salem, OR, our state capital. I am on the edge of two distinct areas, just a few blocks in one direction is a gorgeous private college and the Capital with gardens, lawns, and other government buildings. It’s a very nice, clean part of town, with many cute shops, cafes and some decent bars which pass for night life in Salem.
The other direction is a more run-down and seedier part of town. There are several half-way houses, old homes, and cheap rentals. It’s an area of town where crime is high, and my male friends advise me not to walk alone at night.
It feels a little funny being right between those to dichotomies, but that is a good snapshot of the two sides this town has. In this in-between place I am just blocks from quite a few amenities, we have a park, the Willamette River, an amazing brunch place, grocery, mini mart (boasting the best beer selection in town!) and bank.
What makes your home offbeat? I am a performer and artist, I sing, play a few instruments, act, dance, and I’m a production technician. I am also a math teacher, and genuinely love to geek out about math-y things, scientific discoveries and progress (OMG SPACE, WE HARPOONED A COMET!). I live in Oregon, and my parents were (well, are) hippies, so I grew up with that type of culture. Environmentalism, buying organic, shopping local — social justice, these are all fully integrated elements in my life.
My space reflects the diversity of interest that I have, and is tempered by a love for the Mid-Century modern aesthetic. This space is particularly offbeat because I downsized myself into a tiny 380-square-foot studio. Everything in the space was selected very deliberately to serve a purpose, and I endeavored to make really efficient use of my square-footage.
What’s the most challenging about this space? How do you deal with the challenge? The smallness of the space is definitely the most challenging part. Before moving here, I was living in a larger studio with my husband, but not long before that, we lived in a three-bedroom house. We had downsized, and put most of our things in storage when he and I moved to Salem and into our smaller apartment, but moving into this place alone I had to be even more choosy about what came with and what did not. Choosing to get rid of things, or leave them behind, was a difficult but cathartic process, but even when my things were whittled down to those necessary for life and happiness it still took some creativity to make it all fit without feeling too much like an episode of hoarders.
The apartment already had some built-in “nooks” to divide the space. The kitchen was set into the wall, and a little foyer connected the room to the bathroom, and was also a coat closet. I used a bookshelf, table, cart and my piano as dividers to split the room into purpose-oriented areas, and give myself multiple places to be in the apartment. The nooks also let me have a someone over without entirely feeling as if I was hanging out in my bedroom teenager style.
I am particularly happy with how my vanity nook turned out. The bathroom is totally devoid of anything remotely suited to putting on make up or doing one’s hair. I found an ottoman with storage, and this thin little table to be my vanity table. The mirror I already had, but works perfectly above the table. The tiny round basket pillar stores my less used make up and toiletries. It turned out to be a really functional and attractive set up.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from this home? This home has taught me a lot about who I am. I had been in a very codependent relationship, so it had been a long time since I had only needed to worry about myself. Being able to express myself through my space was instrumental in my journey to finding my own identity after I left.
I also was forced to learn about staying on top of keeping a home tidy and clean. When you only have one room things like letting the litter box go for a few days, or letting the dishes pile up have a huge effect on your life. Living here has built habits that I will hopefully take with me into larger living spaces to keep my space tidy.
Photographing the studio for this tour also taught me an unexpected lesson; looking at the photos I realized how visually busy my space is. Part of that is a result of the small-ness of the space, but in the future I want to find ways to encourage negative space in my decorating style, and to make sure my focus is on a few decorations I love, rather than overwhelming the senses with too much variation.
The final big lesson that I have learned from this space is just how important being able to host is. I know I have always loved to throw parties, or have friends over for dinner, but being prevented from doing much, if any hosting, by the limitations of space showed me just how much I really need that to be part of my social life. I have a new appreciation for being a host, and look forward to having a space where that can be a part of my life again.
What’s your grandest plan for the space? The grandest plan for the space was actually to leave it! Once I secured a full-time job, I put myself on a wait-list to move into one of the larger apartments in the building. I upgraded to a one bedroom in the same building at the beginning of October. It has many of the same things that I love about this studio, but nearly twice the square footage.
I am thankful for my time in my adorable tiny studio, and I will miss my Tiffany-style light and crystal handled bathroom, but the extra space is worth it. It was a really valuable journey to move through, and I’m so glad that I did.
What advice do you have for other Offbeat Homies? When living in a small space, I really recommend being creative with your storage. My studio has very few cupboards, especially in the kitchen area so much of my dry and canned food storage was across the room in what was likely intended to be more of a linen closet.
I also really want to encourage people to allow your space to be an extension of who you are. When someone walks into my apartment, they instantly have a snapshot of who I am and what is important to me. That is as it should be. Display what you use, and don’t be afraid to use color. Your space is a reflection of yourself.
Show me the decor porn!