Playing House, Part 2: Spreading my Wings and Buying Things

The second part of my decorating journey began, ironically enough, while I was still living at my parents’ old home in east Texas. I got my first full-time job in Jacksonville and commuted from Tyler. Suffice to say, it was not a great period of my life. As a new legal assistant, too, I faced the double problems of extreme shyness and awkwardness while learning a new field of work. At work, I was clumsy; at home I was stifled. I reminisced about my old apartment and furniture, much of which had been dispersed amongst charities and family. As I kept searching for jobs in DFW, I wondered if I would ever break free and be an independent adult. I was embarrassed to be “stuck” at home, though in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been; in 2016, roughly 15 percent of 25- to 35-year old millennials were living in their parents’ homes, thanks in part to the rising costs of housing and my generation’s debt profile (Pew Research). To keep my spirits up, I would sometimes look online for artwork that I wanted to buy for my first home. I began with the usual Google searches that took me to conventional retailers, like Art.com and Wayfair. It was during one of these “Windows shopping” episodes that I found my First Piece: “Woman in Red – Ascension” by Steve Goad. More specifically, I found this:

Credit (Pinterest)

This is the first picture that I can remember evoking an emotional response in me. What message could be more suitable for a new professional struggling to find her voice while battling imposter syndrome? The woman’s buoyancy, the flowing red fabric, the riotous black hair – in this picture I saw the image of the sort of woman I hoped to one day be – free-spirited, graceful, and self-assured. Ironically enough, this image caused its creator no end of annoyance. Goad made the picture, but someone else added the quote and began its spread on social media without giving him credit. This is the picture that opened my mind to the world beyond big box store art. I kept it in the back of my mind, and when I finally moved out, it was the first piece I bought, and I still have it today.

When I finally got landed a job in Dallas, I moved near my sister in a 1950s row house with questionable plumbing and a ghost-like property management presence. The duplex hadn’t been remodeled much, but it did have the holy grail of post-WWII homes: original. wood. floors. I’d never lived in a house with those, so I got to experience the magic for the first time. My floors were a smooth and lovely color, possibly from golden pecan trees. I had about 1,100 square feet to share with my eventual roommate, but when I first moved in, I rattled around the place. The tall ceilings in the downstairs area gave the place a lofty, rather refined feel, and the large windows let in plenty of natural light.

At move-in, all I had was my bed, a nightstand, and my old black ladder staircase (pictured below). I was at a loss to figure out how to outfit my place within a reasonable budget as a new Dallasite. I ended up buying the bulk of my furniture from Amazon: a beige couch (neutrals are safe!), a black wood- and particle-board dresser (suspiciously cheap, and for good reason), and a top-notch black wood coffee table. I rounded my selections out with a funky green and blue chair from Target and an elegant bistro table set from Pier One, which turned out to be too tall for my short self but was otherwise charming. For the most part, they were good purchases, except the dresser, which fell apart in the space of two years. But once again, I have to admit: they were very safe. They were cute, but blandly so. I started showing my personality a little more by designing my wall décor.

Over the next year, I bought several pieces from Wayfair and my then-favorite, Designs by Humans.  For those who don’t know, DBH is a sort of cross between Etsy and CaféPress.  It features independent artists from around the world who license their images for use on tees, prints, phone cases, mugs, etc. Once you have selected the image, you can print it in several sizes, have it framed, or (in some cases) change the background color to match your color scheme. I gravitated toward nature-themed art, with some whimsy thrown in for good measure. During the curation process, I learned more about the kinds of art and messages that spoke to me.

When I landed my current job, I moved from the townhouse to a generically pretty new apartment in Keller, Texas. (Note: for anyone who wants to commute to Fort Worth from Keller, here’s a tip: don’t. It can only end in tears.) While I had still had the basics to build on from my previous house, I continued buying DBH art, with a couple of basics from Wayfair and Bed, Bath & Beyond to flesh them out. I now try to avoid sourcing everything from big box stores, but I have to admit that Bed, Bath & Beyond has a good selection of metal art.

My last rental came about after I adopted my fur-baby, His Royal Highness the Pumpkin Prince Lionel (it’s his show name, if we ever do one). I needed to be closer to work, and I needed a place with a yard for my 40-something pound dog to run around in. I found a terrifically ugly duplex sans dishwasher for a reasonable price. (Note to millennials: always ask if an older building has a dishwasher. It literally never occurred to me to ask. I might as well ask if the bathroom had a toilet.) It was in this unprepossessing house 1950s home that I began experimenting with calendar art, as I ripped apart paper months and framed the attractive ones. It’s a good trick, if you don’t mind tiny holes from the hangers. I also used wall decals to spice up the living room, and after several months, I found the design mecca that is Etsy, which introduced me to the world of vintage and small-business artists. That is a story for Part 3, which began after I married and moved out of the duplex.

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