eight thoughts on a shack
by I. B. Hopkins
The 2 and 2/3s-room Shack I called home while finishing undergrad coursework at the University of Georgia slowly crumbles at the edge of the Oconee River. The fixtures were dated, and the rooms were tiny. But the Shack became more than just a place to crash at night. It was an itsy haven in the middle of swirling Athens, and I think the objects that populated it have a lot to do with why.
What follows are the highlights among what I think about when I think about the space where I live.
1. It’s okay to be from where you’re from. You could say that in general the Shack is pretty “Georgia,” and I’d take it as a compliment. But truthfully I didn’t set out to make something that felt southern. I’m not sure I could really decorate my home in any other way or why I would want to. The way that chain retailers and international markets work, they make it possible to be from no place. In a way, this is the goal. I’m deeply against that: place creates us. So anything I can decorate with that evokes a sense of north Georgia, I’m all over. (Note: that doesn’t mean Confederate flags or signs that read “In the South the tea is sweet and the accents sweeter…” or the like. Personally, I’m just not interested in commercial products that attempt to reproduce or fabricate the south. Or racism for that matter. Not interested in that either.
2. “Thrifting” is a generous term. There are lots of great things you can get from thrift stores—Goodwill, Atlanta Mission Union, and Salvation Army are all pretty reliable. (Side note: go to goodwill stores in resort communities / at the beach where rich retirees throw away their completely decent stuff…) Thrifting is great, but you’ve got to get creative if you want something unique. Garages, basements, and barns can be troves of things that nobody will mind you taking, but still ask first… The great thing about these kind of things—lumber, heavy hardware, glass, and machinery—is that you know it’s sturdy. I’m not above going to “street-mart” either. Be ready to disinfect, scrub, stain, strip, rebuild, rewire, and everything in between, though.
3. Unless you’re a surgeon, you do better in ambient lighting. Get yourself some damn lamps. Bluish-white overhead lighting in a home is a sin.
4. Multi- / Re- Purpose! It’s no secret that you get bonus point for using vintage items for tasks other than those they were originally designed to do, but in a tight space like the Shack, it became necessary. When room is limited, your everyday objects have to serve as your decoration as well!
- Cigar boxes – hold handkerchiefs and stationery
- Coffee table – sweater storage
- Lamp – gears from a car motor
- Wooden tea box – rolodex (handier than you might think)
- Dining table – auto shop machine table (rebuilt)
- Tie organizer – coke bottle carrying case mounted on wall
- Side table – small barrel
- Bulletin board – piece of a chicken coop
- Fruit bowl – WWII ammunition box
5. The simplest thing you can find is probably the best. The less things that are there, the less there is that can break. When did you last asked yourself why your coffee pot has 37 buttons?
6. Every “moment” counts. I have been made fun of for this, but I often refer to any single visual segment of a room as a “moment.” A moment is a collection of items—furniture, knickknacks, wall art, etc. Moments make up rooms. Rooms make up houses. My goal is always to balance dense, zany, colorful moments with simpler, sleeker ones. So although I have a tendency to drive people (cough, cough, Hannah…) into madness asking what a particular moment is “about,” I do think it helps in creating the aesthetic variety that makes your home a pleasant place to be.
7. It’s okay to have a work-in-progress on your hands. Most of this stuff is pretty slow-going unless you want to spend a lot of money to speed it up. Truly, though, I think it’s best to take your time, to decide what works for you and what doesn’t. As long as you find a way to close up any walls you made holes in by the time you go to sleep, I don’t see a problem.
8. Plants. You need live plants. No excuses.
Besides that, it’s just about making a comfortable place for you. Regardless of what mask you might have to put on to face the outside world, your home is your crucible, your cradle. You get out of it what you put in.