In Praise of Small Towns and Wall-to-Wall Carpet
I grew up with wall-to-wall carpet. Our small town, cookie cutter home was filled with soft, beige shag. It was a cozy playground that my siblings and I raced, rolled, and slid all over. On rainy Pacific Northwest days, I’d set up blanket forts and burrow into them with a small stack of library books. Despite these fond memories though, when the time came for me to move out, my eyes were drawn to hardwood.
Growing up, I never thought about my personal design aesthetic. Even when I turned sixteen and started working. My money went to books, concerts, and movies. Though I loved ogling interiors in magazines and in movies, I never considered picking up a bedside table or drapes that mirrored the looks I loved. When I moved out though, as I sifted through Craigslist ads of small studios, I realized that, unbeknownst to me, I had been mentally cataloging layouts, features, and colors that appealed to me: the muted green paints of the 1930s, the built-in furniture and bright bathroom tile of the 1940s, and the black and white checkered linoleum and parquet flooring of the 1920s. Aesthetics that were influenced by the old movies my mom played on weekends, movies that inspired me to become a film archivist.
As carelessly as my taste came together, it steered me well throughout my life as a renter. My first studio apartment on my own in Bellingham sat quietly above a row of local businesses — a creaky Murphy bed, built in bookshelves, and extravagantly tall ceilings contained within. Later studios featured seafoam green bathroom tile, thick crown molding, original glass windows and exposed wooden beams. I loved it all, but in every place, the hardwood floors were my favorite. Whether they were dark and scratched up, polished and light, each apartment had them and I reveled in their look.
“Later studios featured seafoam green bathroom tile, thick crown molding, original glass windows and exposed wooden beams. I loved it all, but in every place, the hardwood floors were my favorite.”
My last apartment, a 280-square-foot studio that I shared with my partner and cat in Los Angeles, featured the most beautifully polished hardwood floors that I’d ever had the privilege of placing my hand-me-down furniture on. Situated on the southwest corner of a two-story building, its highlight was an endless row of windows that looked out onto one of the few streets in L.A. that actually had trees. The building was built in 1939 and the landlord was insistent on preserving its original charm. I loved every moment of the three years we lived in that apartment. But I did not love L.A.
When I first moved from Seattle to L.A., I knew it would be temporary. I’d already spent a summer there for an internship and was familiar with Southern California’s aggressive heat. But soon after moving there, I wished my temporary move could be a truly fleeting one. My dream job turned out to be anything but. Due to financial reasons though, I chose to stay in L.A. I found comfort in nesting, turning my tiny charming studio into an air-conditioned safe haven that I could escape to and reread Harry Potter, watch black and white movies, and write about old Hollywood.
Writing started as a creative outlet during graduate school. In L.A. though, it was a much-needed escape that evolved into a part time job. Thankfully too, because living in L.A. on a nonprofit salary wasn’t working out. I knew it would be a few years before I could hop into writing full time, but after picking up steam, I decided to pursue it. I wrote in the morning, after work, on the weekends, and after three years — having since acquired a cat and a partner — I put in my two weeks and jumped ship.
We knew we wanted to move back to Washington but costly Seattle felt out of reach. After scoping out our options, we chose a small town on the Peninsula — population 9,000 — a little more than two hours away from the city. Port Townsend offered fresh air, much needed quiet, a flourishing arts community, and was a ferry ride away from family and friends. It was affordable, but the real estate selection left much to be desired. We scoured Craigslist for three months for a place to live before realizing that we had two options: pay too much for a charming old house that was far bigger than we needed, or pay less for a new build apartment — a carpeted one — that was more reasonably sized but void of the charm and character I’ve come to depend upon. Despite the obvious and smart choice, it was a difficult decision to make.
“We had two options: pay too much for a charming old house that was far bigger than we needed, or pay less for a new build apartment — a carpeted one — that was more reasonably sized but void of the charm and character I’ve come to depend upon.”
For nine years on my own, I had always let my apartment define me. Never having figured out my sense of style when it comes to clothes, I felt comfortable letting my home’s style speak for me. So even though we were taking a step in the right direction mentally and financially by moving back to the Pacific Northwest, moving to a modern new-build apartment felt like I was making a major life change in a majorly wrong direction. It wasn’t until my partner pointed out that we would be signing a measly six-month lease that I finally gave the OK. In early December, we put a deposit down on a modern carpeted apartment we hadn’t ever seen, and moved.
When we arrived, I fell in love. Winters in the PNW are cold and wet, a stark difference from the endless sun in L.A., and I welcomed the feeling of cushy soft carpet wrapped around my feet. I wasn’t the only one either. Friends gathered round on the carpet as we played games and caught up, nieces and nephews somersaulted around the living room, and everyone that came over to celebrate our move commented on how much they missed the coziness of carpet. Their reactions added to the warmth of our new home and confirmed that despite my relationship to hardwood, we’d made the right choice.
During our first few weeks, as we unpacked boxes and organized furniture, I scrolled through Pinterest in search of design solutions geared towards more basic contemporary apartments, but quickly gave up. I couldn’t find any. I walked away with the realization of just how much favor is given to hardwood floors over wall-to-wall carpet, as if the former is inherently stylish and tasteful and the other is not.
“I walked away with the realization of just how much favor is given to hardwood floors over wall-to-wall carpet, as if the former is inherently stylish and tasteful and the other is not.”
The internet may have deemed spaces like ours too hopeless for any tips and tricks, but that didn’t stop us from turning our apartment into a home. We hung a large gallery wall, bought wood for the fireplace, and scattered books and plants throughout. More importantly, we situated our furniture in a way that left large swaths of carpet exposed. We, along with our guests, gravitate towards the carpet. It only made sense to keep the space open enough to enjoy the underappreciated aesthetic.
Our new apartment, with its standard build and wall-to-wall carpeting, has gently reminded me that my space doesn’t have to mirror the old movies I watch or the design sites that I look at for it to be a home. We may have a short lease, but so far, it’s been well worth the stay.