The hustle and bustle of city life can be deemed an urban orgasm to city dwellers who long to live close to swag eateries, arts venues, the avoidance of nagging traffic, and if you’re lucky ─ you’re a stone’s throw from work.
But myth’s prevail: living downtown is a crowded existence and there’s not enough space!
Still, the social appeal of real estate’s downtown dwell is hip and happening in sprawling cities across America from Brooklyn to Houston to San Francisco. And then there’s Florida, and let’s further narrow the field to Jacksonville, statistically the nation’s most populous city in Florida, the most populous city in the southeastern United States and the largest city by area in the contiguous United States.
The aforementioned render Jacksonville a real estate magnet as much for the allure of the Atlantic Ocean’s beaches, the Tournament Players Champion at Sawgrass, and the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. The U.S. Navy, insurance, and banking serve as industry leaders while homes in Queens Harbor, Saint Johns Bluff, and Ortega are optimal neighborhoods for families seeking a slower lifestyle pace and lower crime.
But if you’re single, an artist, and an eclectic “so-and-so,” where’s your mecca? Where exactly in such cities do you belong? When my father retired here in the late 1970’s from the United States Army, my immediate concerns were not the benefits of the St. Johns River. I just wanted to graduate from high school and immediately move back north. Now an adult woman, I am an artist who firmly supports Virginia Woolf’s adage, “What a woman needs to write is a room of her own.”
Walking in the direction of Woolfe’s words, a decade ago a quaint studio was all I needed and required. My huge home on a North Florida cul-de-sac had become a financial casualty following divorce, and I wasn’t seeking to keep up with the Joneses by moving into a second home while in a relationship with myself. My kid was a successful college graduate, the cat ran away, and my heart had flat-lined on love.
What I sought was the perfect abode that would allow me to scribe metaphors and muster creative phrases, and I found exactly that in the most unlikely place: “Residences at City Place” located in downtown Jacksonville. Who knew?
A fellow artist, Sharla Valeski, bought the studio-condo apartment months prior as she and her husband Brent wanted to grow additional income streams via real estate ventures. It’s availability was one of their many available rentals, and at first glance, it looked like an 800 sq.ft. over-sized Kleenex box.
It was the smallest space I’d ever seen and was on the 5th of 15th floors in a secured-entry, high rise that housed a motley crew of city employees, techies, policemen, artists, and whose paths crossed only at the apex of elevator stalls and dog walks.
How would I fit all of my Pier I imports “Boho Chic” and vintage treasures in this piece of a space? With amazement, I totally pimped out “Studio 515” earning me the title, “space-o-logist” by my former landlords who have since kept the condo in the family by renting to other artists.
For $500 per month, I strategically created an “L” shaped living area by situating my leather sectional in the farthest right corner of the room and building out from there. My three-shelf mahogany etagere` swallowed the length of one wall and equally served as a captivating focal point that housed my silk rose bouquet, family photographs, books and of course, my antique gold, “Om Frog.” Yes indeed, my studio promoted relaxation and yoga too!
Did I previously mention books? Yes, let’s talk books. I aligned the back of the sectional’s longest side with two small book shelves to partition the room and create an intimate sitting and meeting area that was small (everything was small!) but effective. As a writer, my literary collection of books is coveted and vast, and throughout any home I’ve lived exists a necessary presence of books. Moreover, coffee table books are integral to interior decorating décor but also for guests to peruse. They add ambiance, color, and most important: books inform and educate the masses!
Art! I am a visual creature and wherever I saw white paint on a blank wall, I complimented it with artwork that has been inspirational to me for years. Earth tones of burgundy, sage, rust, gold all gathered together to resonate peace, beauty, and what it means to live your best life in the space you’re given. And that leads me to food. Where does an artist in a small studio space eat?
Small Dining and Living Room Divider Ideas
The kitchen nook was tiny, but by utilizing my favorite three-panel screen as a room divider, I privatized my cooking space with a shelf large enough to rest a microwave, store essentials beneath and invite a visitor to join me while I cook by sitting in the director’s chair. And yes, there, too, was art. My “Metropolitan Opera” thrift shop find hung with care just off the kitchen, next to the stove was a two-seater, wicker bistro table with maximized value for its folding mobility.
A humble, but adequate second room hid my bathroom, closet, and dressing area that I managed to fit a chest of six drawers inside. Every space in “Studio 515” was just enough. But wait, where did I sleep? This narrative would take an incredible turn if I shared that a Murphy bed folded out of my wooden etagere` like an accordion, but the reality is that my sectional by day morphed into a bed by night.
The ottoman merged into the triangle of both sectional pieces and at night, I slept comfy on a wide array of bedding and pillows kept where? Inside the Pineapple! It was a divine find at an Ashley’s Furniture Store sidewalk sale and additionally serves as a formidable conversation piece:
“Hey P, what’s in the pineapple?”
For fodder and fun, I’d say things like
Arguably the best real estate value of “Studio 515” was the view. Each morning, I gently rolled open rows of vertical blinds that the broad, horizontal window. Grinning at me daily were two, skinny skyscraper friends: Wachovia and at &t whose lower case alphas have since been replaced by “Everbank.”
Singles who choose to downtown dwell may not have the luxury of vast pace, grass, built-in backyard pools and barbeque pits, but I adored being so accessible to MOCA, Jacksonville’s Museum of Contemporary Art and her Louisiana cuisine girlfriend NOLA. Blocks from both was the new and improved public library, Chamblains Uptown Book Mine, a poetic gathering magnet and home to the world’s best African Peanut Soup, Indochine Thai, Zodiac Grill, and all the reggae and jerk chicken at “De Real Ting” I could devour. Hey mon…life was good!
Studio living and a downtown dwell are both doable and trending. If you’re single, you’d likely agree that space is overrated and its high time cutting grass became managed by a smart phone app. In the millennium’s real estate market, bigger isn’t always better, but having the space to meet one’s personal needs is always a foreboding “best.”
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Penny Dickerson is a journalist who recently returned from an Africa sojourn. Her editorial focus is human interest, healthcare, arts & culture. She is a recipient of multiple journalism fellowships including H.F. Guggenheim, The Marguerite Casey Foundation, The Gerontology Association and is a 2019 Association of Healthcare Journalists Ethnic Media Fellow. Her portfolio can be viewed at pennydickersonwrites.com.