18 December 2014

my first home: an urban compass starter story

I was asked to write a blog post about my first starter home for urban compassurban compass is an apartment rental company that pairs online search-engine-optimization with the friendliness and personality of a real person.  you can research by neighborhood and figure out what sort of place you want to live in, and they’ll match you with a broker who can work with you to find the right apartment in your neighborhood of choice.  it’s a very readable website, and very user-friendly.  the downside is that if you’re in philly, or chicago, or seattle… you don’t have the chance (yet?) to utilize urban compass.  they did just acquire a brokerage in dc, so maybe that will open up some doors for future endeavors. 






while i’m sure i’ve written in the past about my first real home, that i shared with my now ex-boyfriend, this post serves to encompass everything we and i did in order to make it a real home.  at the time, we thought we were a great match and moving in together was just a head start in our future.  the house was odd - i’ll give it that.  that was the first thing i noticed.  we’d been driving around looking for houses.  my ex had an area of town that he wanted to live in, and so we settled for looking in the cheaper side of that area.  that meant small homes where people didn’t necessarily care about the look of their home.  some did, for sure, and we were lucky enough to end up on a street with some fantastic neighbors that put a lot of effort into their homes.  (ALSO - i am sorry there is a lack of pictures here... this house was a) several years ago and b) with my ex, so you can imagine that i don't have a lot of pictures...)

but the house was strange.  really strange.  for one, it was set far off the street, and our front door was parallel to the neighbors’ back decks.  it had a smallish patio off to the left of the front door and large windows that looked into what we eventually ended up using as the dining room.  to the left was a five foot space between the neighbors fence and the house, and to the right was a one foot space between the neighbors chain link fence and our house.  it was filled with weeds and cobwebs, and we were never able to cultivate it.

 {image from google maps... how do i not have a photo of my old house?}



upon entering the house, the first thing i noticed was that there were curbs inside.  literally.  to step into another room, you either went up a step or over a step.  over.  yes, people tripped on that one.  up into the kitchen, up into the bedrooms... but all steps were not the same height either.  you entered through the front door into what we later deemed the sunroom.  it was maybe six feet wide and about twenty feet long.  off to the right was a small bedroom, inaccessible from any other part of the house.  my ex claimed that as the man cave, but in the end it became a storage space for all kinds of random stuff.  to the left, as you entered, there was a large window.  of course, there was no glass in there anymore, and with a wide sill it became the perfect spot to set plants.  it looked into the kitchen, but in order to get into the kitchen, you had to step over the aforementioned curb, into the living room and around the corner into the kitchen, again stepping up. 

the kitchen wasn’t small, but it wasn’t big either and it lacked storage space.  my ex liked to cook, and we had a plethora of random cooking utensils, pots and pans, etc.  there was nowhere to put them!  we solved that problem, later, by purchasing a large hutch at an antique store.  it was massive, and solid wood, which made it exceptionally heavy. 

before i mention the bedroom and back of the house, there’s one small room i neglected.  if you hadn’t made the turn from the living/dining room into the kitchen, instead continuing through the room (which wasn’t big by any means) you would have found yourself in a skinny room with a door to what i guess i’ll call the backyard, for lack of a better term.  this room was a loss for us at first.  we had no idea what to do with it.  eventually, at the same antique store where we found the table, we bought a huge harvest table (are you seeing a pattern in the furniture we bought?).  it had to be at least nine feet long and was wobbly on four large legs.  it came with two long benches and i always wanted to find an odd selection of chairs to use in place of the bench.  when we threw our first party, trying to squeeze everyone into that room and around the far side of the table was almost comical. 

{party with the large table.. you could definitely get a lot of food on it!}

the back of the house was where the last two bedrooms, the bathroom, and the washer/dryer were.  it was a short, narrow hallway back to the first bedroom, which i claimed as an office/art studio.  i filled it with bookshelves and bookshelves, filled to the brim with my collections.  my desk was a slab of wood over two sawhorses, but eventually i needed more shelf space and i purchased some square shelf sets from target. 


                                                                       {how i decorated the back hall}

the last room was the biggest and so we decided to make that the bedroom.  it had two windows, one faced our backyard and the other faced the last corner of neighbors backyard.  i personally never felt comfortable in that room, since it turned out that the window wouldn’t lock and if someone was sketchy enough to be lurking, it was the perfect spot to get in.

the bathroom, located in the back corner, was tiny.  i mean, teeny tiny.  in order to brush your teeth, you had to go in, step to the right, close the door, and then step back to the left in front of the sink and behind the door.  and there was no storage space there.  we ended up buying an above the toilet shelf system - that was such a pain to install - and we left there when we moved out. 

one of the coolest spaces in the house, or maybe i should say outside of the house, and one of the biggest reasons we chose this house, was the weird upper deck.  in order to get to it, you walked out back and up the stairs.  it was a rickety thing, and whenever we had more than ten people up there it felt a little wobbly, but it was a fun space, and thanks to the fact that our house was so far off the street, it didn’t look out into anyone else’s house.  in the summer, it was hidden by the large trees that graced the neighborhood, and in the winter no one ever went out there.  the backyard was a mess, however, and we tried a lot of different things before we settled on a rock garden backyard.  it was expensive, buying gravel, but we spent so much time hacking down the weeds as they sprouted almost every hour that it was worth it.  we also had two dogs and they couldn’t be trusted in the front yard (they jumped the fence constantly, and really in the end couldn’t be trusted in the backyard either...), but we didn’t want to introduce more mud than there already was.  a rock filled yard sounded good.  the backyard was narrow, anyway, so we put weed repellent down, poured wheelbarrows of rocks down and raked them out.  over time, we added string lights, a wonky iron patio table from a garage sale, and a couple of chairs.



{image shows the stairs to the upper deck}


when we first viewed the house, it was still in progress.  the landlords - a group of three guys - had bought it in order to start their own rental company.  we had some input - what kind of fridge did we went, what about a dishwasher?  stainless steel or white?  the walls were beige, and the trim was all white.  in the living/dining room, there was a solid stone wall with a fireplace set into it; however upon closer examination of the fireplace from the outside, we determined that it was probably not in our best interest to ever light a fire inside.  later examination by the pest control guy determined that we had termites.  big, bad termites.  the rock wall also leaked, it turned out.  i came home late one night during a rainstorm to find water gushing down the wall in front of a window, just behind our brand new television.  the floor was soaked through and the water just kept coming.  i called my ex, who was at work, and the landlord, who was probably sleeping.  i can’t remember the details, but the roof ended up getting patched in more than just that one spot. 



i had high hopes for this house.  in spite of all of it’s weird spaces and odd floors, it was charming.  several things bothered me, and we modified a lot of things in order to change them.  the first was that there was no exterior light.  when we first moved in, a serial rapist was terrorizing the area, and i felt very unsafe walking through my front yard to a door that was not lit, when anyone could be concealed in the tiny space between the fence and the house.  two things happened to help me.  one, we bought a motion sensor floodlight (which to be honest, i don’t recall ever actually being motion sensored), and the second is that we adopted a dog.  we crated him for a few months just inside the front door so all i had to do was walk in and uncrate him.  the other thing that bothered me, along the same lines as the first, was that there was no light in the entry way.  in order to turn a light on, you had to walk round to the kitchen.  we solved that by putting a lamp by the door.  when our neighbors bought a new couch, my ex decided to take their old one.  it was torn to shreds by their dogs, but we pulled it into the entry way and it never left.  i added some bookshelves full of plants and pictures, strung some lantern lights, and that became the sunroom.  it was a nice spot to sit and enjoy a cup of tea in the winter mornings.




i am such a color person - in my homes at least - and i had been really excited to have my “own” place so that i could paint some rooms.  we asked the landlords and their condition was that we painted back when we left.  in the end though, they loved the colors so much that we left them.  i painted the kitchen a soft mango color, which complemented the light wood color of the cabinets, and the skinny room that we never knew what to do with became a bright blue.  we had hoped that we could fit our couch (the original couch) in there, along with the tv, so as to make a cozy movie room, but the couch was about two inches too wide. 

the house was a great starter house for us, and even though it had its issues, we lasted there for over a year.  we moved a lot of stuff around too.  we moved my office into the blue room, which ended up working out really well, and we moved our bedroom into the old office.  then we moved the dining room table in to the main room - the front one - since it fit so much better in there... and we moved the television into the back room that had been the bedroom.  my ex’s reasoning was that he didn’t want someone to be able to look in the front window (which admittedly was large and rather easy to open from the outside) and see the 80 inch television he had.  fair point, i suppose.  the back room was nice for a den, but it had the disadvantage of being small, and not meant for a couch and surround system, and it shared a wall with our bed.  that meant that guys nights and loud parties didn’t go over so well if i had to get up early. 

shall i tell you a funny story about the house?  well, funny may not be the right word… but i’d like to share something we learned about the house after we moved in.  it happened while my ex was building the fire pit in the front yard.  since we lacked a large backyard, we adapted by utilizing the front yard and we built a large fire pit from the bricks and old tiles that we found in all bits and corners of the yard, raised a garden bed from the railroad ties that were scattered in the yard, and planted another garden in the corner of the yard that would just not - under any circumstances - grow grass.  but - the story.  he was out in the yard working when the dogs started barking.  a man had come to the fence and asked if he was the homeowner.  he said no, but gave him the name of the landlord.  it turns out that the house wasn’t fit to live in, since the DEA hadn’t cleared it after the drug bust.  uh, what? 

we pieced the story together after various conversations with our neighbors who had seen the raid go down.  apparently, the previous owners kept hungry pit bulls chained up and - if you believe everyone - an alligator or crocodile.  in addition to their clearly humane treatment of animals, they also produced a staggering quantity of meth.  the DEA raided, the guys escaped through the backyard (and were presumably caught on the other side, however i am not sure about that part), and the house was sold to the men that eventually became our landlords.  we suspected they knew something of the house’s former occupancy, but i never asked.  it doesn’t serve to explain the weird quirks and curbs of the house, but it gives you an idea of the neighborhood we had chosen. 

with two dogs, however, and the assumption that we would eventually expand our little family, the house felt cramped.  we moved within a year.  we were luckier the second time around: my ex had a friend that was moving away and wasn’t quite ready to sell their house.  we struck a deal and ended up with a split level, three bedroom, two bath house in a respectable part of the burbs.  we had a garage (something the old house lacked) and a large backyard for the dogs.  we had grocery stores within minutes, parks around the corner, and a swimming pool up the road.  the schools in that area are very good - both private and public - and there was a community feeling that i had never really found at the first house. 

urban compass strives to connect you with the perfect rental.  for me, living in a part of the country that is not yet serviced by urban compass, finding a rental was difficult.  i relied on craigslist.org, mostly, or by word of mouth.  apartment complexes, while definitely inclusive and well-maintained, were never someplace that i really wanted to live.  i prefer houses or apartments with character, and the aptly named “johnson county beige” doesn’t do it for me.  luckily for me, however, i also don’t have to deal with the horror stories that come out of larger cities when it comes to renting an apartment.  i’ve never had a shady landlord, never had cockroaches, or a basement apartment… but i know that can’t last forever… i’m crossing my fingers that - when i am ready to settle down - urban compass can help me find the perfect place to live. 

08 December 2014

winter in italy: in pictures

i've been in italy for the last week, and i'm having a blast.  rather than write all about it not (but i will, i promise), here's a smattering of pictures to get you through (in no particular order...).

{oltrarno district, in florence}

 {santa maria novella, in florence} 

{piazza della republicca, in florence} 

{alleyway in siena} 

{fountain in il campo, siena}

{siena} 

{il campo, siena} 

{wrought iron detail, siena} 

{siena} 

{#myfeetgo to siena} 

{tasty lunch} 

{just your average lunch with the duomo and campanile} 

{reflections, in siena} 

{market in il campo, in siena} 

{view from the duomo, in florence} 

{rooftops, in siena}

{ponte vecchio and the arno and a sunset, in florence} 

{#pilesofthings lavender sachets at the santa maria novella farmacia, in florence} 

{random cathedral, in florence} 

{nighttime at the santa croce christmas market, in florence} 

{#pilesofthings spices at the santa croce christmas market, in florence} 

{#pilesofthings owl mugs at the santa croce christmas market, in florence} 

{palazzo vecchio, il campanile and il duomo, in florence} 

{palazzo pitti and the boboli gardens, in florence} 

{sculpture in the boboli gardens, in florence} 

{#myfeetgo to the boboli gardens, in florence} 

{details, in florence} 


{lunch and wine at the mercato centrale, in florence} 

{#pilesofthings teeny letterpress letters at a tiny shop, in florence} 

{il colosseo, in rome} 

{il colosseo, in rome}

{il colosseo, in rome}

{#myfeetgo to il colosseo, in rome}

{il colosseo, in rome}

{il colosseo, in rome}

{il colosseo, in rome}


{il colosseo, in rome}

{#myfeetgo to constantine's arch, in rome}  

{constantine's arch, in rome}  

{il colosseo, in rome}

{il foro romano, in rome}  

{il foro romano, in rome}  

{il colosseo, in rome}

 {il foro romano, in rome}

{#pilesofthings historic and modern rooftops from il foro romano, in rome}  

{il foro romano, in rome}

{il foro romano, in rome}

{il foro romano, in rome}

{the arch of septimus severus in il foro romano, in rome}  

{il foro romano, in rome}

{il foro romano, in rome}

{lampshade lights, in rome}  

{water on the ground inside the pantheon, in rome}

{lightening outside the pantheon oculus, in rome}

{il foro romano, in rome}

{walking to san pietro, in rome}

{the hall of maps in the musei vaticani, in rome}

{the hall of maps in the musei vaticani, in rome}

{the pantheon, in rome}

{the musei vaticani, in rome}

{il duomo by night, in florence} 

{gelato!} 

{leather shopping at the san lorenzo market, in florence} 

{il mercato centrale, in florence} 

{il mercato centrale, in florence}  

{il mercato centrale, in florence}  

{the david, in florence}  

{the david, in florence}  

{the david, in florence}  

{the david, in florence}  

{the david, in florence}  

{me at the david, in florence}  

{offerings at the duomo, in florence}  

{the duomo, in florence}

{the duomo, in florence}

{the duomo, in florence}

{the duomo, in florence}

{#myfeetgo to the duomo, in florence}

{the duomo, in florence}

{my travel companion inside the stairs to the top of the duomo, in florence}

{view from the duomo, in florence}

{the duomo, in florence}

{#myfeetgo to the top of the duomo, in florence}

{view from the roof of the duomo, in florence}

{r happily atop the the duomo, in florence}

{#myfeetgo to the top of the duomo, in florence}

{the baptistry, in florence}

{the baptistry, in florence}

{details, in florence}

{the duomo, in florence}


{the duomo and the moon, in florence}

{#myfeetgo #ourfeetgo tromping up the campanile, in florence} 

{bells, in florence}