An empty room vibrates with stories. It’s walls crackle with the twists and turns of its previous residents’ lives. Something brought each person to that particular room for a space in time. They nested. They had epiphanies, they doubted themselves, they had their hearts broken, they found love elsewhere. They left. What brought me to this particular room at this space in time? What similarities does my story have to those who have come and left, lived and loved, dreamt and despaired within this cube of energy sitting on a ball of matter floating through the vacuum of space? I’m not sure, but I thought it would look really cool to install shelves on that wall.
I found it hard to sleep in that room for the first week. Each night, my mind would be zipping around the room splashing light from imaginary fixtures, framing art in unusual places, and planting living walls that would overflow with green. I gazed at the plaster left behind on the recently exposed brick walls and saw waterfalls. I thought about making fountains in the room and wondered how I would keep them from leaking everywhere. I thought about tracing the shadow that the street lamp outside cast upon my walls after jumping through the branches of a tree.
The endless possibilities surged through my brains and couldn’t wait to be realized. Most of the possibilities are still waiting, or at least they flew into someone else’s brains as they laid in their empty room dreaming of how to nestle into it. Some of the possibilities, however, did become realized after a few practical conversations with their benefactors Budget & Materials.
Most of my ideas for the room were inspired by the room itself. It has a glorious window nook that I dreamt of turning into a magical portal draped with greenery and twinkling lights. The room also has a piece of wood that sits in between the bricks where mortar usually resides about 3 inches from the ceiling on both walls with exposed brick. I thought about attaching a piece of wooden trim to it and putting LED strips on it to illuminate the room with soft, diffused light. There were more segments of wood wedged between the bricks at seemingly random intervals on the wall next to the window nook. I thought about installing floating shelves where the wood wedges were, though I didn’t have any belongings to put on them. “I’ll just make candles and find plants to put on them.” I thought to myself.
The first thing that came together was the LED trim around the ceiling. With the help of Steve, the man who owns and maintains the community house I’m living and working in, we found some old wood behind the house, cut it to length, sanded and sealed it. We thought the look of distressed wood complemented the exposed brick quite nicely so we didn’t sand or seal it too much and let the wood’s aged, rough texture express itself. We then used a fantastic drill bit contraption that enabled us to drill into the wood at an angle in order put a screw through the top of the wood and out of the back of it so as to attach it to another surface. We took the trim to the room and screwed it right into the piece of wood between the bricks 3 inches from the ceiling. Now to figure out LED strips! To make a long story short, I found beautiful, powerful LED lighting strips on amazon and ebay and ultimately decided to get them at a local store for a slightly higher price. We liked supporting the local economy and having the option to return or buy extra pieces as needed. All together it was going to run us about $150. Just before I rode my bike to the store to pick them up, I thought “There must be a cheaper way to do this… Why not just do Christmas lights?” It wouldn’t be quite as slick but it would certainly contribute to the cozy DIY nature of the room. I found a string of remote controlled, malleable copper wire LEDs on amazon for $30. 2 weeks later, they arrived in the mail, I put them on the trim and I had remote controlled fairy lights dancing around the room.
I went on Kijiji (the Craigslist or Gumtree of Canada) and found some beautiful plants for sale on the other side of town. I made myself subterranean and stepped into a fast machine in an underground tunnel, reemerged in a different part of town, walked through a snow-covered ravine with a frozen creek, and found the plants in the house of a lovely old Italian woman. I brought the plants home, put them on the shelves, nurtured them, and delightedly watched them settle into their new room and erupt with life. Next, I took cuttings of plants from around the house using gardening forums and youtube videos as my guide and increased the saturation of green in the room. The final touch to the room came when one of our housemates, Ashley, informed me that her mother was moving to the other side of the country and had some big old plants to give to someone who would care for them. “I will! I will!” I excitedly volunteered. Next thing I knew, there was a massive Mother-In-Law’s Tongue, Snake Plant, or Sansevieria Trifasciata (however you please) reaching out of its pot at my bedside and tickling my dreams. Finally, the grand finale was a mysterious, dark green Hoya that was begging to be draped around my window nook. It transformed it into the magical, twinkling portal I had dreamed of.
All of this came together through bits and pieces of research, design, material gathering, and construction across the course of 5 weeks. In exchange for the work I did on the room, I got to live in the room and enjoy the organic food provided to all who live in the Lotus Feast Community House. By the time the room came together, I had 2 weeks of blissful mornings spent watching the sunrise from my magical fairy window nook. The evenings were remote controlled and I got to set the level of starlight falling from the trim with the press of a button. I didn’t have to leave the room when I did, but my story between its walls came to an end when I slowly pulled the door shut behind me like the cover of a recently finished book.
My story in that room lasted 7 weeks altogether. I flew into it in the middle of a snowy winter in Toronto. The last time I had my own room was a year and half previously in an exceptionally compact, yet comfortable apartment in Seoul, South Korea. There I discovered for the first time the joys of having a space of my own; a safe space full of my own energy that I could return to, wash off the worries of the world, and feel rejuvenated. In the following year and a half, I had slept in vans all over Australia, slept behind the bar in the basement of a sharehouse in a jungle town, lived on a boat in Tahiti, shared tents at a protest camp, shared a dorm at a meditation center, shared a bunk at a pearl farm, camped on the roadside while hitchhiking, and stayed in the homes of people who picked me up while hitchhiking. Six countries, tens of thousand of kilometers, and many strange sleeping situations later, I found myself in a room to call my own. I was what some people call “road weary.” I had been on the move for a very long time and desperately needed a place to curl up and feel desperate in.
Dufferin Grove, Toronto, ON, Canada
I am Ashley’s mom and I can’t tell you how much joy it has brought me to see my beloved plants looking so healthy and nurtured. It was so hard to let them go…like giving children away. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving them love and light!
Lovely story! Thank you for sharing! ❤