3 Design Lovers Tell Us About Their Very First Apartment

London, September 2010.

I’m in the cafeteria of my hostel, a local newspaper in one hand and my flip phone in the other. I scan through the classified ads to find an apartment for the next three months.

You see, I’m starting a class at Central St. Martins in a week, and for now, I’m sharing a room with three other girls and my two suitcases: one filled with clothes and the other, with school supplies. Since I wasn’t able to find a ‘flat’ from Montreal, I have to do it now. Just a little nerve-racking.

I call multiple phone numbers and I can’t understand a thing. The brit accent is hard to understand, even more so for a francophone calling from a prehistoric cellular and surrounded by a bunch of Eastern European guys still hammered from last night.

I’m 20 years old and it’s my first time leaving my parents’ suburban house. Did you say ‘stressful’?

I was lucky: I took the first one I saw. It was a room amongst four others in a house next to Notting Hill. It was so expensive, like 1100$ CAN per month, but I was desperate. Also, when you’re about to start the most stressful scholar episode of your life, you need a place to settle down, and fast.

Everyone has a “first apartment story”, whether it’s good or bad. I know we legally become adults at 18, but symbolically, it’s when we move into our first place that the real change occurs.

Being in the middle of moving season, I asked three women who now all live in Dwell magazine-worthy apartments to tell us about their very first experience — where it all began. 

MY FIRST APARTMENT: JEANNE RONDEAU-DUCHARME

Age back then: 23

Neighbourhood: Villeray

Size: 4 1/2

Rent: 820 $ / month

How long did you stay there: 3 years

Occupancy: With my boyfriend

Photo: @jeannemap

How did you find it?

I’m from Quebec and people around me had been raving about Villeray. I was more focused on finding the perfect neighbourhood than the perfect apartment. I wanted to give myself the chance to love the city as soon as I’d arrive, but I knew I was going to love it anyway.

My second criteria was for it to be clean and not to messed up. I didn’t necessarily want a condo-style place, but I didn’t want to see holes from which mouse could have come out either.

After visiting three or four, we found that one, which belonged to a friend of a friend.

Photo: @jeannemap

What was the decor like?

For my first place, let just say that I went a little crazy with the Pinterest’s DIY section! I was all about garlands and fairy ligths. I even cut out pennants out of a world map and built a little wooden house that transformed into a shelf. It was really cute.

It’s really funny, because normally, your first apartment is “whatever”, then your second one gets better. It was totally the opposite for me! Why? When I moved into my first apartment, I was in a relationship and way more into cocooning. It was really important for me to have a nice space.

My ex-boyfriend and I broke up in our second apartment and after that, my lifestyle changed. I’m way less at home than before and my money goes more into restaurants, bars and travelling. However, fundamentally, I know I am a homie kind of girl. For now, I’m okay with my current place not being perfect, because my life is also different. 

Photo: @jeannemap

Any anecdote from that first apartment?

My friend Sarah Babineau (@kara_bino) was doing a student exchange and was looking for a place with her boyfriend for when she would come back to Montreal. The timing was perfect: my neighbours had just left theirs. So we became terrasse neighbours for a whole year! Then, I moved with my ex-boyfriend to the apartment I’m now living in by myself, and guess who’s going to taking it on July 1st, when I move to my new place? Sarah and her boyfriend!

Anything you found particularly hard about living by yourself? 

I was 23 years old, so I felt ready and autonomous enough. I was also in it with my boyfriend who was from Montreal. I’ll always remember when I left though: my parents and I were balling our eyes out as I was about to take the car to drive to Montreal. That was hard, but I was ready to take the next step.

Photo: @jeannemap

Do you have advice for people moving into their first apartment?

Take care of it. You want to land in an apartment where you feel safe and can rebuild your nest. My parents’ place was a really nice living environment and I wanted to recreate that in my new apartment. Have a home that’s mine.

Also, if you’re moving in with your boyfriend, it’s really important that both parties get involved at creating that special place. For me, an apartment is a couple’s project. Even if girls are usually more naturally drawn to interior decor, involve your boyfriend. Find a way he can participate. Life moves quickly, but you have to pause and take the time.

MY FIRST APARTMENT: AUDREY HUBERT

Age back then: 19

Neighbourhood: Plateau Mont-Royal

Size: 2 1/2 at garden level

Rent: 600 $ / month

How long did you stay there: A year

Occupancy: By myself

Photo: @audreyhubert

How did you find it?

I’m from Tremblant, but I lived for two years at a student residence in Montreal before moving into my first apartment. Right from the start, I knew which neighbourhood I wanted to live in.

I visited three before finding this one on Kijiji. It was tiny, but it was freshly renovated. It was love at first sight — that little space I needed to start my life.

Photo: @audreyhubert

What was the decor like?

I had a few furniture from my parents’ and everything else was white, like too much white. I had a white couch, if you had seen all the chocolate smears on it…

I had also found a vanity at a garage sale in Tremblant for 10$ and I revamped it with my mom: we painted it all white (shocking!) and replaced the handles with ones from V de V.

Another thing I loved, in addition to the amazing natural light I would get, was the old pale wooden floors. They cracked and I liked that a lot.

Photo: @audreyhubert

Did you host a lot at your place? 

At that time, I was more the kind of girl who’d hang out at other people’ apartments. My place was very small and I had no dining table and almost no chairs. That’s one of the reasons why I eventually moved out. I wanted to be able to host my friends.

Any anecdote from that first apartment?

I have two. I kept seeing a bunch of centipedes one summer. You know, those ones with huge bodies? I saw 12 in one week at some point… I was losing my mind!

The other anecdote really confirmed that I needed to find myself a new place. One night, at 2 AM, I was asleep and was woken up by some noise. I was sure it was an animal, but then I realized it was two persons having sex on my wall. It was 30ºC and my window was wide open. It lasted for a good 45 minutes. I learned from my mistake: I now live on the third floor.

 Anything you found particularly hard about living by yourself? 

Not at all! I left when I was 17 (in residences) and it was my decision. I was really excited to live by myself!

Photo: @audreyhubert

Is there an advice you wish someone had told you before moving into your first apartment?

Check certain things when you visit an apartment, like the windows or the heaters. Okay, maybe they’re super cute, but do they actually work? Turn on the shower to make sure pressure is good. For a whole year, I couldn’t wash my hair properly because it was too weak.

MY FIRST APARTMENT: LAUREN MACLEAN 

Age back then: 31

Neighbourhood: Old Montreal

Size: 450 square ft.

Rent: 850 $ / month

How long did you stay there: A year and a half (to then move across the hall)

Occupancy: By myself

Photo: @livingbylo

How did you find it? 

I had been planning a move to Montreal for a while so I was always keeping an eye on listings for available apartments. This place was vacant and one weekend, when my friend and I came for a visit, we decided to check it out. I loved it, but I still had no opportunity to move yet so it was hard to see and let go! Little did I know, the following week I got a job opportunity that let me finally move, so I quickly contacted the agent and took it!  

I felt so unsure because the place was so small, just one open room with a small kitchen area, tiny bathroom and not one single closet. Though I had already seen the space empty, it was hard to imagine fitting in everything I needed, so I decided to hop on a train from Toronto and see the space one more time before moving in. I went only with a pad of sticky notes, measuring tape and some standard measurements for furniture pieces like a bed, sofa, and table.  

It wasn’t a very traditional approach! But it gave me the peace of mind I wanted before jumping in a U-Haul and making the move.

Photo: @livingbylo

What was the decor like?

The reason I chose this tiny studio is because of its architectural charm. This is something I truly value over square footage. The character resembled an old Parisian apartment with wooden floors, 15 ft. high ceilings, and floor to ceiling windows with old shutters.

In such a small space I wasn’t looking to play it safe. You assume you have to make smart choices with no storage, finding furniture that is dual purpose, but I didn’t want to fill my home that way. Instead, I embraced the idea of living minimally. I started with very little, I moved to the city with only a sofa, bed and some winter clothes. I didn’t want to fill my space for the sake of being ‘done’ so this really let me take my time and connect with what I chose. Living minimally forces you to think about these choices and they become much more meaningful.

With a lot of old charm and just a small room I chose to incorporate some modern pieces to create some interesting juxtaposition. I kept a soft, neutral colour palette to let the space flow and then added bold design where I could without compromising square footage such as large art on the walls and a statement light fixture hanging from the ceiling. I didn’t want the size of my space to dictate my desire for design so I chose to break some rules, and create a setting that felt like home. 

Photo: @livingbylo

Any anecdote from that first apartment?

When I first moved in, I was looking for some art and was put in touch with a local artist (Lysa Jordan). She came by to visit my space and then created two custom canvases for me. It was a very special thing because, being new to the city, I really wanted to find local art as a way to reflect my overall experience. I fell in love with the art pieces, but they are also something I hold dear to my heart because of the story they tell. That experience led to a friendship which, along with the two art pieces, I still have with me today!  

Anything you found particularly hard about living by yourself? 

Um no, well maybe having no one to kill spiders for me, but otherwise I have loved living alone.  It’s such an important phase in life to spend time with only yourself and really learn from it. I am a bit of an introvert by nature so maybe it was an easier adjustment for me.

Photo: @livingbylo

Is there an advice you wish someone had told you before moving into your first apartment? 

I would advise that starting from scratch really helps make the experience special. Living in the space first and then furnishing/decorating over time really helped me connect with my home instead of feeling like you’ve moved into a space that was someone else’s. Make little projects for yourself like painting, DIY décor, and parenting plants!  It’s a way to connect with your home and add ‘you’ into your space, because I truly believe that your surroundings can really influence your state of mind.

 If you liked this post, you’re going to love these ones 

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