Placing my first apartment room in New York City: August 2019 — August 2021
Our thoughts shape our spaces and our spaces return the favor
My first New York City apartment room has gone through many changes since I first stepped in August of 2019. From sleeping on a mattress on the floor, to creating the cozy nook that housed me during the lonely pandemic, it has evolved through many forms. Much has happened in those 2 years which has shaped the physical space. While I feel like I have made a number of impressions on the space from installing new surfaces and structure to carelessly scuffing parts of the white walls, I can also say that the space has made an impression on me despite the lack of tangible markings in the same way as the white walls.
When I first graduated and moved to New York, I felt like I was my own white walls; aimless, tranquil, neutral. I felt lucky to be there. I was beginning my first job and trying dressing “professionally” everyday for work. I brought with me many vestiges of things and thinkings from college. My sister had been generous enough to offer a majority of her bedroom to store my college things in the summer between graduation and my move. She lived amongst boxes for 2 months. These things included everything from my target kettle that I purchased freshman year, to the furniture that I painstaking crafted in my senior year, to the art projects that I’d forgotten about yet couldn’t quite let go of yet. I began taping small postcards and photos on the walls, little things on the shelves. It felt like enough.
My early days on the job kept me out of town several days a week. While that could be seen as a detriment to solidifying my sense of self, belonging, and presence in a brand new space, it did the exact opposite. Sleeping out of sterile hotel rooms makes you think about what home means. Taking ubers everywhere makes you appreciate how much is on your own block. Being on the move at airports multiple times a week makes you think about what it means to be stationary.
My room hit it’s first breakthrough when I rotated my bed. Here’s how that happened:
It took my roommate and I months to coordinate our house warming. To this day, that party has been the sole event that I’ve hosted in my life. With many friends in the city from college and other acquaintances from scattered places of my life, it felt exciting to be social; to feel like I had a network. With our Chinatown walk up apartment jam packed with people, someone came up to me at 11:30 during the party saying that my neighbor was at the door. I hadn’t met any of my neighbors yet and the first thing that they said to me was “my kid’s wide awake right now.” The subsequent events include a peace offering and card I left the next day, getting invited to eat with our downstairs neighbors, to lending each other tools, babysitting their cat, and proceeding to stay close in touch for the rest of my stay in that apartment (and beyond). It felt nice to have friends in the building. But here’s how I rotated my bed: when they invited us over for dinner, they gave us a tour of their lovely homey apartment that they’ve been occupying for years. Their walls mirrored ours and I saw for the first time that a full sized bed could fit from wall to wall, opening up so much space and creating a cozier bed space enclosed on 3 sides but with one of those opened to a south facing window. I didn’t change my room for weeks. I was in shock realizing that the bed fit in the other orientation. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The turning point was when one night, I couldn’t sleep thinking about it. I almost leaped out of bed right then and there, but realized that turning the bed would make quite a lot of noise for that late at night for my downstairs neighbors. I changed it first thing the following morning.
This major change made the space more functional and took me out of the initial “I just moved here” phase. With more space to walk around, I saw the potential of more improvements. This coincided with my first fall in New York, which has since become my favorite season here. I was soon introduced to the new phenomena of stooping in New York; furniture left on the sidewalk for anyone to take before the garbage truck comes. With all of it’s grand density and furious apartment races, New York never fails to turn up discarded items on the daily (there are entire instagram accounts dedicated to “Stooping” finds and success stories of dressers that we’re on the street that ended up in a new person’s home). A White Eames knockoff chair was my first find. I couldn’t believe it. Pristine and structurally sound. Transporting things back can be spontaneous and a bit of a struggle but I’ve kept a vigilant eye out for good stoops ever since.
My next find put me on another huge evolution of my space. A friend and I were walking home after departing a local bar and we came across a pile of nicely taped up 2x4s and a large 7' flat board. Having dearly been missing my school’s wood shop space, tools, and access to materials, I instantly snatched them (with the unsure enthusiasm from my friend) and hauled them back to my apartment (and up 5 flights of stairs. It should also be noted that this find was several more blocks further out than my first chair find). While this was just a pile of wood, I had been thinking about creating a “bedside table” of sorts to run alongside the newly cozy turned bed. With an extra $30 spent at my local Chinatown building material store, I now had the materials to create this new piece. “Woodworking” in your New York city apartment is quite the activity. It doesn’t feel graceful or patient. But I soon hacked together some wooden frames that stood out beautifully against the brick wall. For the first time in months, I also had my first surface to display things. It sounds underwhelming, but having space to display things was a huge turning point in my room. It was no longer the bare essentials, but the nonessentials that could occupy the space. I felt myself beginning to look back at me as I placed and expanded the little collection of objects I had throughout the space. I had pieces of clay that I had sculpted, gifts that friends had made me, and items that I’ve collected from Sedona, Arizona to Kathmandu, Nepal. I felt empowered through the furthered functionality. Inconsequential new interactions, like placing my water bottle that new surface by my bed instead of the floor, sparked little joys. Things were looking up and I was beginning to feel more real in New York. But I finished that project on March 1st of 2020.
March 16th 2020 was the first time I bought a plane ticket the night before my flight. I was gone from my space for nearly five months. The momentum of independence and self actualizing through my space stalled with the pandemic. I nearly gave up my space altogether as our lease came to an end. Through pangs of uncertainty, I finally returned to my space months later in August of 2020, a full tumultuous year after first stepping foot into the space. Somehow, it was exactly how I left it.
For a while, nothing changed. I re-familiarized myself, I tried to get a routine going, I read a lot more in bed, I watched a lot of movies on my laptop. I slowly began accumulating plants for my space. I placed my first propagations in my bedroom windows. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing that new leaf.
It was months before I stooped something again until one day, I peered out my window and saw a fully disassembled wooden bed frame with slats across the street. Upon closer inspection, it was in perfect shape. Once again, I stumbled upon material to create. Although there was a period of 8 months since I made major changes to my space, I picked up right where I left off. The need for more surface space and comfort was obvious. With the slats and boards I found, I made 4 additional shelves to fill the bare walls. I learned how to find studs correctly after much failure. Screwing brackets into the wall only to rip them out accidentally was aggravating. My wall was strewn with mistakes but I got to where I wanted to be; with more space for me to occupy. I could put even more things, house my booming collection of books, and feel even more spits of joy through the winter.
I had my first breakdown in my room in March. My brilliance shined through for unknowingly anticipating the dire need for comfort, for crying, for curling into a ball. At this point, not much was changing in terms of the space. Minor tweaks here and there, rearranging the plants, adding a calendar to the wall. Not changing things also feels good. Feeling overwhelmed made me seek out familiarity.
This week, I began taking the non-essentials down ahead of my move. Putting the post cards, decorations, and objects up cemented the room as mine, but taking them down didn’t trigger the opposite; I surprisingly felt cleaner removing things. I also strangely look forward to the potential of leaving things behind. The broker for my current apartment asked me if I’d be willing to sell any of my furniture. I was resistant at first: why wouldn’t I take everything with me? But as with removing and cleaning things, I find the idea of leaving things behind more appealing. I’m so curious how these things persevere without me. In particular, the new tenant seemed interested in the “bedside” table frames. I like the idea that something that I made outlasts my stay with it. I’m curious what kind of life it will occupy next.
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