While currently on leave from her role as the Bankview CA development committee, Talicia Wagner shares a piece of creative non-fiction about the space she and her family call home in Bankview. This piece was originally written by Talicia as a part of her academic training in urban planning and architecture.
Each day I spend in this tiny, poorly designed apartment, I strive to make it my own home, a space where I belong and not just a temporary stay; my inhabited rental purgatory.
One day I’ll have a real home, a real house, a yard, a driveway, a kitchen with an island and an ensuite off my bedroom.
This is a relatively ordinary dream as far as I’m concerned. However, there is a pit in my stomach regarding this dream. Beyond the severely inflated price of real estate, the dream-home fantasy I have is in reality, my kind of nightmare. Most of my friends who are homeowners live out in a suburb, in a cul-du-sac, in a veritable maze of a “community” where all the streets start with the same letter and the entry sequence into the house involves driving into an attached garage that dominates the façade. Generally, they work in high paying jobs and can afford to pay $28 a day to park and to fill up their gas tanks daily to accommodate the hour commute. My reality, however, is a small rental apartment in the inner city. Though now 26th Avenue is inner city, this neighborhood was once a suburb, near the end of the now defunct trolley line.
This neighborhood was originally composed of bungalows and modest apartments with massive yards. The almost-grid of narrow streets wraps over a steep hills with variable grades from street to street that allows for fantastic views to downtown, – hence the name Bankview. I once heard this part of the city referred to as a renovators paradise as the 1910-1950 era flats, although often rundown, have a charm and patina that cannot be reproduced. While some residences have been restored, a mass have been ripped down and replaced by in-fills that appear as four-story, 3,000 square foot single-family boxes. The streetscape is consequently an interesting mix of all kinds of houses, apartments and condominiums from all eras.
My building exists within all of this. It is a sickly wood frame, peach stucco, four-unit apartment with three other single strangers occupying no more than 2,000 square feet of space total. On Saturdays, the lady next door listens to the Irish wailing of the Cranberries while she vacuums. On Sundays, the distinctive smell of roast beef wafts through the shared hall.
This is where I make my home, where I come to end my day, to live in peace, to find gentle rest and leisure. I imagine it to be some character home with a claw foot tub, tin ceiling tiles, antique lighting and furniture instead of a teeny-tiny bathroom, white stippled ceiling and an exclusive IKEA collection. However, this reality is dressed up and covered over by the personal belongings filling the space, creating its identity as my own. I live here with my spouse, who loves it because it is our home and our own exhibition space for the artifacts of our life together. When I enter, I hang up my jacket on an exposed bar and shove my shoes under the couch. I breathe a sigh of relief at being home, and inhale the air.
First inspection: does it smell clean? Does is still smell like bacon from brunch? If the shower has been recently running the whole place is humid and fragranced like Ivory soap. Are there dust bunnies rolling around on highly scratched but most redeeming hardwood floors? I wander down the long hallway that bizarrely separates the living room from kitchen. This hallway has become the showcase our collection of large-scale maps and reproductions of the Japanese prints that inspired Van Gogh. They are a constant reminder of the infinite potential for the pursuit of adventure and inspiration that is waiting out in this huge world. I often stop here to imagine all the wild places I would love to escape to.
The kitchen is one of my favourite rooms. Our copper pots hang on hooks over the kitchen window and stained porcelain sink. It feels settled, like they’ve always been there. We have transformed our beige, unknown era refrigerator into our own scrapbook with strips of silly mall photo-booth pictures of us eating ice cream or wearing touques and drinking coffee from holiday themed cups. Postcards from our travels are held up with colourful alphabet or kitschy tourist magnets.
The windows in the apartment have been painted over so many times that they no longer open, save one in our bedroom, which has been used on more than one occasion to break in when we’ve both forgotten our keys. The shattered Venetian blinds are a reminder of my headfirst dive into the room off the shoulders of my spouse. The shabby blinds remain a fond and funny memory instead of a blemish.
Of course our bed is the centre of this home. The chocolate Egyptian-cotton sheets, so snug and comfortable, smell like our vanilla drier sheets and us. The warm feeling of curling up into bed, the safety, security and dreaming transforms this temporary space into a home.
When you live in a place for long enough, it becomes your own archeological site. The constant process of collection causes older items to become pushed back into the dark recesses of unknowable and untameable cupboards, only to be rediscovered on a manic cleaning spree. Other secrets, tricks and “open sesames” are discovered, as a place becomes your home, like the way certain cupboards require particular timing to close simultaneously, or else they won’t close at all. Transforming this shabby rental into a home has required me to be humble and grateful for all the good I have in my life.
“It was not the space itself, not the house, but the way of inhabiting it that made it a home…” (Boym, 1994, 166)
Boym, Svetlana (1994) common Places: Mythologies of Everyday life in Russia, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.