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my first home

Inside the writer’s studio

-credit Sarah Wilkins

When I first moved to Boston, I lived in a Back Bay studio where the kitchen occupied one wall of a four-wall box and the out-of-work fireplace served as a headboard for my bed. At the time, I thought it was perfect. I was enamored with the idea that, though it was only one room, it was my room. I was a writer. Or at least I was trying to be when I was not crisscrossing the city teaching writing classes. This apartment gave me a space to be me.

Studios are “charming” and “quaint” until life begins to creep in, puppies are rescued, and your furniture starts to smell like yesterday’s burnt grilled cheese. So when I learned about Boston’s affordable-housing program for artists looking to buy live/work space in the city, I applied for an artist certificate and was accepted. Then I pulled together every nickel and dime I could find in the used-couch cushions my parents had gifted from my childhood home, and I won the housing lottery. What I never anticipated was that the newly constructed condo I qualified to purchase would be a one-room “artist’s studio.” In the summer of 2011, however, I packed my books and prepared to upgrade to a significantly larger studio space on the South End border of Roxbury.


By real estate terms, the studio is perhaps best described as a house with one room, where each space blends into the next, each corner used for multiple purposes. In most city studios, this usually means the bedroom doubles as a living room, and the kitchen counter morphs into a desk. If you are lucky, maybe there is an alcove or a loft. And if you have won the lottery, you have two closets not just one, so your mop does not sleep next to your party dresses. Versatile, some might say of the open floor plan and freedom to choose where your office space begins and the yoga mat — i.e. fitness room — ends. Privacy becomes the lost vision of an adulthood yet to arrive.

But as a writer, I did not need much: a spot for my desk, a well-placed window, perhaps a shelf to keep my growing collection of books and scattered Post-its and multiple-sized Eiffel Tower statues from my first and only trip to Paris. Unlike other forms of art, writing can be done almost anywhere, which I had been doing at every Starbucks between Massachusetts Ave. and Chinatown for the last seven years. I imagined what a privilege it would be to have a dedicated space for not only a real desk, but also the stories that occupied my mind.


Upon touring the finished unit, however, it soon became clear that the architect had a very narrow vision of an “artist’s studio.” In writerly terms, I would say the place lacked a cohesive narrative. On one hand, I quickly fell for the horseshoe-shaped open design with sleek concrete floors and industrial air vents — clear markers of every urban loft ever featured in a prime-time drama with the “bad boy who is actually a good guy” character. But I could not figure out why the living room included an exhaust fan in the outside wall, unless every artist was working with harsh paint fumes — or high-flying herbal remedies. The blueprints designated a clear-cut “work space,” located on the interior of the unit; however, the semiprivate space offered little to no natural light for a budding Picasso or a writer looking to escape her junior high memoirs.


The pièce de résistance remains the shallow porcelain sink in the shadowy work space, a feature I could only imagine was meant for washing tiny brushes from miniature paint-by-number masterpieces. I am not sure even a watercolorist could get on board.

Every perk comes at a cost — in this case, the doll-sized conversation piece in what became my very dark bedroom is a small price to pay for a room and an office of my own. Life is more crowded now than when I first moved to the city, and sometimes the lack of doors and walls means that even the most private stories I write can often feel very public, as though the man across the alleyway might bend his neck too far toward my balcony and read right over my shoulder. On the other hand, that might make a lovely story about city living.

Elizabeth Parfitt is a senior lecturer in the Writing, Literature, and Publishing Department at Emerson College. Send comments to bethparfitt@gmail.com. Send comments and your 600-word essay on your first home to Address@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we will not pursue.