an almost home

succulents in thrifted handmade pots (for sale)

In spare time, I've been helping my friend Jeff stock and style up his newly rented space over at Hawthorne Vintage, where Sheila, the owner, offers a wide range of mid-century pieces at reasonable prices. One of the homey touches I'm recommending—aside from piles of books and records, a woven basket or two, billy balls in vases, and more wall art, shelving, and fabric—is the addition of succulents in handmade pots, most of which will be fully planted in potting soil and gravel, though some will simply be tucked into their new (old) cachepots. So last week, we picked out a variety of plants and pots I've been tending.

The funny thing is the longer these things sit around my apartment, the fonder I become of them and the more they feel mine. (This is a pointed warning to Jeff, by the way.) After all, I was the one who imagined and then sourced these pots and plants, having to convince him they'll sell fast as marionberry pancakes, also happening upon the big, dimpled, possibly handblown vase I'd first envisioned as a terrarium, having since become enamored by its reflected light, especially once all the dust and fingerprints were washed off. In fact, Jeff and I may soon need to stop thrifting together, since we've been having tussles over who gets to keep what. Because he's taller, more curious, and generally more observant, he often spots big items first.

thrifted flower vases: handblown (?) glass vase of unknown origin ($5, Goodwill); white ceramic West Elm vase (.75)

In any case, with all the extra decorative objects stashed here and there around my apartment, I've been realizing that once they're in the shop, my flat will again be sparse, not empty exactly but far barer than the average house because of a) shortness of money, b) procrastination, and c) a lifelong bent to minimize that which must be dusted.

Not all the furniture is even mine. The galvanized-steel, repurposed industrial-stand coffee table showing up in many recent photos I'm babysitting for Jeff. The dining table (which never gets used as such) is my roommate's. The purple futon with oak Mission-style frame that replaced the sleeper sofa I'd sold to buy my camera was a hand-me-down from a neighbor who'd traded up for an antique daybed for her TV room. (Must I even bother to say I dislike royal purple, tired of Mission style while in California, and quit oak back in the early '90's?)

Hating clutter, I've always erred on the side of minimal yet not in a good way—because even minimal should feel complete. None of my apartments has ever felt cohesively put together along the lines of, say, any of the Apartment Therapy tours or Design Sponge sneak peeks of the real-life houses and apartments of creative types, whether the kitschy-vintage ones, the cutesy-paper-artist ones, the I-paid-someone-to-overdecorate-with-matching-fabric ones, or the move-me-in-you're-perfect ones. This half-done decorating style is partly because I've never lived in any apartment longer than this one at three-and-a-half years, and that's only because I haven't been able to afford to move.

billy balls reflected in low light

But that can't be the whole reason. Many people can make a house look like a home within a few months on not much money. It's not that I don't know how to make a space looked lived in and inviting. All one needs are stacks of books; walls of real art; framed photographs of friends and family; handmade pottery and globally sourced artifacts; healthy houseplants; bowls of fresh flowers; a combination of antique, vintage, and new furniture of both domestic and industrial origins; distinctive curios found in nature (e.g., animal skulls or horns, old coral, bits of geology, striking feathers); large mirrors; an overall mix of texture and pattern; interesting rugs over natural flooring; restrained window treatments; and varied forms of non-overhead lighting (just pop into any IKEA for examples of task and mood lighting, as well as efficient use of vertical space).

But no place I've lived has ever felt like home, not even the houses in which I grew up. Maybe I'm a generational nomad with spatial commitment issues who will never have a rooted home. How sad would that be? Or could it be that cold and impersonal is the congenital state of my heart? That's an uncomfortable thought. A smart ten-year-old who happened to be in the reading room at work for the first time a couple months ago while I was subbing an after-school knitting class asked why I didn't have any family photographs up on the walls of my cubicle like the other teachers. Good question. Let's step away from that abyss. . . .

On Easter, Jeff and I stopped into The Good Mod for some product and price comparisons, knowing they've got the best, most expensive mid-century furniture in Portland and so probably in all of Oregon. We hadn't been to their new West Burnside space before, but the place felt oddly familiar since both the old location near my Brooklyn neighborhood and the new building were labyrinths of corridors, right angles, and arrows concocted like some test for lab mice. (Were we being watched on closed-circuit cameras to see who found their way upstairs the fastest?) But they could keep all their pricey furniture, beautiful though it was, if only I could move into a corner of that old warehouse and set up housekeeping on the cold, polished concrete. That's another idea of my dream home, aside from the repurposed shipping container option and the whitewashed, adobe-and-tile house on an Aegean island: a refurbished old warehouse loft with giant windows and a wide-open, wall-less expanse a floor robot could spin in circles all day to sweep.

succulents ready for potting

But for now, I've got a purple futon blooming in the center of my living room, so I must work with that. Last weekend, I brought home a large, dark-orange, West Elm linen-and-cotton-velvet throw pillow from the West Burnside Goodwill, which has warmed up all the purple and gray. And at William Temple, I bought a pale-yellow, loose-weave linen-and-silk curtain panel I'll probably hang up to shield, without blocking light, the view into our closet-sized, vinyl-tiled kitchen. I'd love to arrange succulents and cacti in pots all over my apartment, with herbs seated on windowsills, but this place, this town, isn't for sun lovers—maybe when I move into that warehouse.

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