A weird little nest of my own

So my friend M lives in this gorgeous old yellow row house in Columbia Heights. If she is cool with it, one of my future posts may be a love letter to her house. Visiting her has gotten me thinking about how much I miss having a house with a soul.

Tragically, I seem to have very few pictures of my old condo. But this was my favorite spot.

Tragically, I seem to have very few pictures of my old condo. But this was my favorite spot.

My old condo had a soul. It was a shag-carpet, mood-ring, disco-ball soul, but it was a soul. It had a weird, mod fireplace suspended two feet off the floor, and all the cabinetry and wood had been painted incredibly dark brown, and the exterior was a brick-red-and-brown wooden California-style shingle that was super-hot in 1981. I loved it for a lot of reasons, not least because it looked for all the world like it was born the same year I was.

I sold it, of course, in order to move in with my now-ex. While I love the suburb I live in now, and it’s great to be closer to some of my best friends, I still rather regret letting go of the old place. The neighbors were rowdy and I had to fix anything that broke myself, or pay for someone to. The neighborhood was kind of shitty; it’s rarely a good sign when the best landmark to describe where you live is “near the sketchy Walmart, not the new Walmart.” The plumbing had issues; the A/C and heater were always threatening to crap out. But it was mine.

When I bought the place it was gross: the carpet had gone through several dog owners and didn’t show any signs of having ever been replaced, there was an endemic roach problem, the bathtub was badly rusted and surrounded by ancient yellow tiles, the washer/dryer were both dead, and the electrical was a little iffy.

I did a full face-lift on the place. My parents and I tore up the downstairs carpets and replaced them with walnut laminate. I had guys come in and put down new silver carpet on the stairs and in the upstairs bedrooms. We painted top-to-bottom: the bedrooms were white, the bathroom was pale green, the living and dining space was butter yellow, and the kitchen was harvest orange. We put down new vinyl floors in the kitchen and powder room. We replaced the washer/dryer, and I got a friend to do some light demolition and construction in the laundry room. I hired some guys to put a new cover on the bathtub, white with a subway-tile pattern.

It took the better part of four years to get it all done — I really only called it 90% finished even when I sold it. But right up until I had to start repainting to sell, that place was mine: I’d put my hands on every piece of it and chose everything to fit my weird vision for the home I wanted.

And yeah, it was weird. I chose the color for the kitchen based on a chip that was matte — when the high-gloss kitchen-specific paint went up, it turned out safety-cone orange. There was a wall of parquet-look wood paneling in the dining room. (When the realtor showed me the place, she said I could rip it out, and I was horrified. Why would you destroy such a bizarre little time capsule?) That fireplace was totally silly, even after I painted the slate surround slate-color (when I moved in, it was magenta). I had a cardboard deer head over the fireplace, and one of those black-vinyl sticker things over the TV: it was a small horde of zombies five feet across. All of the art involved either woodland creatures or horror-movie monsters. No living quarters could have more perfectly expressed the person I was at the time.

That said, while I miss my condo, it would also be fair to say that my style has evolved well past it. That’s one reason why an upcoming announcement about my new digs is making me so very excited right now. Yes, I’m moving! To a place with a soul! Thank god.

I’ve psyched myself out again.

I haven’t posted in… a while. It’s not that I haven’t started, even nearly finished, several entries. I just never feel like they’re really good enough. It’s like that with a lot of things in my life, really — I stop pursuing them because I feel like mediocrity is inevitable. But it’s high time I punched mediocrity in the face and forged ahead, right?

The Coil ProjectA lot of my attention lately has been occupied by a Very Exciting New Project. Please have a gander at The Coil Project, a brand-spanking-new theater company started by myself and several of my nearest and dearest. Our first production, “Come Out and Say It,” is a new play by local playwright and actor Erica Smith. We play May 2-3 at the Capital Hill Arts Workshop in DC, tickets are $12, and all the cool kids will be there.

“I’ve always felt very temporary about myself.”

I’m not putting up the Christmas tree this year. It’s in storage at my parents’ house, and my roommate’s cat is apparently a climber anyway, and… it just doesn’t feel like the place we live is “home” enough to really undertake seasonal decorating.

It’s been a rough six months at the Satellite of Love. We went from two healthy full-time paychecks to two part-time paychecks, and from jobs that were stressful but tolerable to jobs that are just stressful. We’re both in relationship limbo to varying degrees. The cats still hate each other and can’t be allowed to interact lest blood be shed. We’ve never hung any art on the walls in the living room, and one corner of the living room has turned into de facto open storage.

My bedroom feels like home, at least. Warm, dark lighting, textures in linen and fur, colors in fawn and rose and sky, burnished brass and dark walnut. Although my financial situation and the nature of renting in a high-rise didn’t allow me to go quite as far as I’d like making the place special, it’s enough to seem like a real place where I really live. Wherever I wind up next, the current contents of my bedroom constitute the belongings I want to live amongst.

But it feels like a holding pattern. And that makes sense: this was meant to be a time for me to recover myself and my life. I guess I’m a little impatient with that process. And the line from Grosse Point Blank, as the lonely assassin eyes a stable suburban existence with equal parts longing and dread, keeps coming to mind: “I’ve always felt very temporary about myself.” Of course, being now substantially older than Martin was in the film (which is a terrifying thought), I have learned the hard way what a temporary thing stability really is. Like many things in life I’ll never have, though, it will never stop feeling like it’s only just beyond my grasp.

“Everybody’s coming back into town to take stock of their lives. You know what I say? Leave your livestock alone.”


Your brains, Fezzik’s strength, my steel. And a wheelbarrow and a holocaust cloak.

So, like I said a while back, this is a process. Life doesn’t slow down to give you a chance to get all your projects done, and occasionally lets all the water out of your budget to do them.

windowOne project I’ve been trying to figure out how to do with zero funds is turning this awesome window (snagged on sale for $15 at Community Forklift, which if you’re in the DMV and haven’t been there and you dig this stuff, go immediately because it’s fantastic) into… something. What I would really like to do is weld a long, low frame similar to the end table frame I made and make the window the top of a coffee table, which is a thing we could really use. Our living room currently contains a sofa, two end tables, two small armchairs, a shelf with some tchotchkes on it, and some piles of random… stuff. It’s like we got 80% of the way towards unpacking and setting up in here, and then just never got round to finishing it off.

On the other hand, the financial situation in our house has gotten unexpectedly precarious. At this point, it’s sort of up in the air whether we’ll be able to stay in this apartment, so I’m not really sure whether to keep nesting or, you know, start packing. And I definitely don’t have the money to get studio time at the Art League, or rent a rig. (Obviously I need to take up some cheaper hobbies.) So I’ve been casting about for temporary alternatives that would be as close to “free” as possible and wouldn’t be completely hideous. Maybe this will motivate me to learn how to nail two pieces of wood together. Money is really stupid and annoying, you guys, at least when you don’t have any.

So clearly I should ditch all this stuff and become a minimalist

There’s a weird pattern that’s emerged in my life over the last year. I don’t know if it’s actually a pattern so much as a coincidence, but here goes: within a week of getting all my art finally hung up on the wall, some catastrophe at least raises the specter of having to move months earlier than originally planned.

Back in January, having moved into our apartment seven months before, my boyfriend and I finally finished hanging the art on the walls. It was less than a week later that he came home and said he wasn’t sure this relationship was what he wanted in his life.

A few weeks ago, I decided to stop faffing about and finally get some stuff up on my bedroom walls. A few days later, my roommate got unexpectedly laid off. Now we have to consider that we might have to break our lease if we can’t pay the rent. We’re obviously hoping it doesn’t come to that, but it’s a bit of a deterrent to further nesting on my part.

Head. Desk.

So yeah. Maybe I’ll just have a big yard sale, get rid of all my Edison bulbs and gold paint, and just keep a mattress and one IKEA nightstand. That would probably be better.

They yell! Like cranky humans! And they prance!

There are trends in home decor around certain animals, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Owls have been hot for a few years. Foxes and deer are pretty omnipresent as well. And sloths are making a definite play for inescapability. So what’s the next big thing?

I’m voting for goats. Goats are great! They’re clever and sure-footed and sound like really grumpy old people.

You know what’s never going to be trendy? The star-nosed mole. Just putting that out there.

Green fairies and tiny bubbles

You guys, it is taking a lot not to just unload a bunch of stream-of-consciousness rambling on you right now. I was going to, and then I thought, why I don’t I just say I’m not going to, and then people will know where my brain is at without having to actually wade through all the random crapola that’s swimming around in my head, and instead read about how I decided to keep all that to myself. It’s just one of many services I provide.

Instead, I will ramble on about one specific thing: cocktails. I have been craving them lately. Fancy ones, with liqueurs I can’t pronounce and bizarre colors and garnishes. Like the “Dark Matter” at 8407 Kitchen Bar in Silver Spring, which is described as “Macchu Pisco, Luxardo-Maraschino Liqueur, Green Chartreuse, Lime, Black Currant Cube” in the cocktail menu. The black currant and the chartreuse made it taste quite sexy, which was just what I was looking for. Then at the LivingSocial Speakeasy, I had a “Sazer-wrecked!” (the exclamation point is not my idea), which is “Rittenhouse Rye 100, Pierre Ferrand 1840, Pernod Absinthe, Bitters.” That was quite excellent, a good drink for a cold night, a warm fluffy quilt of a drink.

It started when I almost went to brunch a few weeks ago: I had been anticipating that brunch because the cocktail menu listed Death in the Afternoon, which I learned is absinthe and Champagne. And then the OkCupid date I was supposed to be meeting stood me up,* and yet the craving for anise flavor that hit when I discovered you could combine absinthe and Champagne persisted. Which is funny, because I used to be staunchly anti-licorice, and had always found anything flavored with anise yucky.

The first time I tried absinthe was, of course, at the Manderley. I thought it was interesting, but kind of gross. The next time we went, we took new friends, and the absinthe shot beforehand felt like part of the ritual, exciting and magical like everything that touched the McKittrick. The excitement and magic have attached themselves to the taste of absinthe, and I just crave it now.

It’s always a beautiful surprise when you discover that your tastes have evolved to embrace something new. I tend to develop intense cravings for new things that I encounter this way, because why simply like a thing when you can obsess over it? A few years ago, I discovered, quite to my surprise, that I had developed a profound love of the color orange, about which I had always been at best ambivalent. As love often does, it prompted me to make some questionable choices, like painting my kitchen the color of a traffic cone. But it takes those small catastrophes for us to learn and grow as people.

*And then — then! — my dear friend who was supposed to meet me for brunch at the same establishment stood me up last weekend. He has promised to atone with Champagne cocktails as well as chicken and waffles next weekend, so I can’t stay mad.

Spaces, like species, evolve slowly

My desk has been disappointing for a while. This doesn’t have to be the case.

It doesn’t fit in my room, but roomie TC and I have no need for a dining room, so we turned that space into an office/guest room. So it currently houses my desk and her desk and the extra bed. And very little else except clutter, at present.

So I decided to try to do something to bring beauty and character to the space because it looked like this:

Desk covered in crapJust depressing to look at, isn’t it? It made me feel powerless in the face of inertia. I get enough of that in the rest of my life: my apartment will not yield to entropy. So the first step was just to get all the crap off it:

clean desk

Then I decided that Marvin could live there, as a weird little inspirational sprite:

desk with Marvin

Now… what? Now the creative part has to happen. And it has to happen for cheap.

One thing I have in my possession already is a roll of black contact paper. Which means I can create a removable vinyl sticker, so long as it’s not bigger than two feet in one dimension. So I’m considering, since I can’t afford another pharmacy lamp (having blown my budget on my bedroom), I could create a silhouette of one. That’s a thing the cool kids are doing now.

But I also need to bring my signature aesthetic to this space. Given that the desk is modern and white, and the wall is “neutrals-mean-universally-appealing-to-realtors” beige, and the room has a gigantic (and lovely, don’t get me wrong) modern high-rise window across one entire wall, flooding the room with sunlight, there are some challenges to doing the thing I do.

I need to consider my assets: a big bin full of fabric, albeit not more than about three yards of anything. Enough to make at least a little bit of curtain, maybe? And maybe do some low-rent upholstery (I have a staple gun, nothing can stop me now) on the desk. I can also probably spring for some more contact paper, so I could put a pretty metallic, like a steely silver, on the little white metal IKEA drawers. And possibly the desk legs? Oh, I could also paint the chair, give it a little flavor.

Oh, here’s a weird thought for the good folks of IKEA Hackers — would it be possible to just replace the legs altogether? like with pieces of wood? So long as they have that one screw in the base, I wouldn’t think there’d be anything else special about the IKEA table legs. Hmm. A trip to the salvage yard and/or hardware store may be in my near future.

And roof of mossy green

bathmat made of moss

Posted by Radhika Seth at Yanko Design, http://www.yankodesign.com/2009/01/09/immaculate-mini-lawn-in-your-loo/

I have a weird affinity for moss. Weird because generally speaking, I try to avoid Things in Nature as much as possible. Well, that’s not fair — I love most types of animals that have four legs or fewer. But I’m just allergic to every damn thing that grows.

Not moss, though. And I adore the feeling of moss under my bare feet. Which is why this fantastic bathmat makes me super-happy. Not being commercially sold, sadly, but I’d vote for the designer to Kickstart that shit, because I would fork over for something that awesome.


Dreams in Steel

I was in a “yes” mood when a friend suggested I take a metal sculpture class with her. At the time I signed up, I was just looking for occupations while I took a break from theater work. By the time the second class rolled around, my relationship had just dissolved like wet Kleenex and my life was in the process of complete collapse.

metal table

My first welding project.

In that horrifically sad time, I discovered that nothing in my life was as soothing as welding. The heat, the intense concentration, the sheer pyromaniacal joy of using a torch to melt steel — it all gave me the boost of confidence and satisfaction that I needed to survive.

My first project was this metal table, custom-built to fit over the arm of my sofa. I designed it specifically for the apartment my not-yet-ex and I were living in, where the end of the sofa butted right up against the entryway, leaving no room for a table on that end. I feel strongly that every seat in the living room should be accompanied by a spot to put a drink, so I started this.

Now, of course, having given up some of my furniture to move in with the ex, I no longer have enough furniture on my own to furnish an apartment, and my lovely roommate has almost no furniture at all. So the original point — saving space — is kind of lost, but it’s still a sturdy little table. I measured everything very conscientiously and yet there are still imperfections, which is a lesson about steel I still have yet to really get my head around — when it’s hot, it will shift and settle in totally unexpected ways.

my first welding projectBut I caught the bug. Now every time I can’t find or afford a piece of furniture, I think, could I weld that? I’ll certainly never buy an end table or a metal shelf again. Although the raw steel can get pricey when you’re buying larger pieces of welding steel. Continue Reading →