I was browsing my old photos over the weekend, reminiscing on how skinny I was and thinking about printing out a picture of my 19-year-old self to hang above my mirror for inspiration, when I came across some pictures of my very first solo apartment – a one bedroom, one bath in the Nazareth neighborhood on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
Wait, wait. This was my third solo-occupied apartment; I’ve always considered it my first because it was the one I stayed in the longest and the one that I loved the most. My true first apartment came with a grumpy man below who listened to clock radio all night. It also featured competing churches a stone’s throw away. There is nothing worse than the sound of two different church choirs singing over each other at 8am on a Sunday morning when you work two jobs. I lasted six months. The second apartment was so dusty I couldn’t breathe and I stayed for less than a month before sneaking out in the middle of the night, pick-up truck loaded.
The third (first in my mind) apartment was perfect. My landlord, Arthur, was a landscaper at the University of the Virgin Islands and his wife Madelyn, a homemaker. They had raised three kids and sent them to college when he decided to build the house. Two apartments on the ground floor with their larger home on the top floor, it had a huge yard for their two dogs Hustle and Princess to play in. They went to the nines for Christmas and decorated the whole building with white lights and put ornaments on all of the fruit trees. I loved sitting on my couch with one tiny light on, staring at the glow on my balcony.
Being that I was 19, broke and living alone, I was pretty frugal. The couches came from a rug importer who was forced out of business shortly after 9/11 due the lack of tourism. A regular at the cafe where I worked, he had brought over six sofas and six loveseats from Ikea (I didn’t even know what Ikea was back then!) and sold me one of each for $100. The ‘curtain’ is a wrap skirt held up with a long stick of bamboo and raffia. The side table on the right is simply Coca-Cola crates from the cafe with a patterned blanket I got at the St. Thomas Humane Society Flea Market. The side table on the left was a K-Mart special ($6.99 I believe) that I decoupaged with a Putumayo calendar free from work and topped with glass. K-Mart was not only the place I could afford, but also one of the only resources for home goods and decor on the entire island. I remember bringing both of the rugs back to St. Thomas from a trip to TJ Maxx in Milwaukee and being so excited that I had something no one else on island could claim! I do owe a special thanks to Martha Stewart and her dishes, cookware, towels, lamps and bedclothes. I thought Martha très chic.
I collect cards still, and have all of the ones hanging on the wall in this photo. I used putty to hold them up and placed them everywhere. [Sidenote: pretty embarrassed to look at those shoes! My clod-hoppers in 90 degree weather… they looked so good with a wide leg pant.] These photos made me pretty happy to look at and I hope I can find more when I next make a visit to my dad’s house. I know my bedroom was awesome– I used flea market bamboo blinds to construct a headboard and my side tables were K-Mart workshop benches. My style has changed a lot, but I still have that empty frame in the first and second photo hanging in my current house. I’m also still hunting for the plant stand I got from K-Mart in 2000 for $16.99 and I would love to hang my curtains with bamboo again. And the stars that came free from work because they were too beat up to display in the cafe any longer? Still in a little box in my closet, waiting for me to string ’em back up.