Spaces & Places is a three-week series focusing on the private and community areas we occupy, the ways we personalize them, and the meanings that we assign to them. Organized and edited by Meg Jones Wall.
Spaces are more than just physical places that we occupy. They give us room to dream, to evolve, to connect, to rest, to entertain, to work, to play, to be our full and complete selves. Our spaces don’t have to define us, but they can help us understand ourselves more clearly — and in putting our personal stamp on a place that we call our own, no matter how big or small that place is, we can see ourselves reflected back. We can establish reminders of the things that matter to us, can allow our hobbies and loves and desires to take up space in a tangible, meaningful way. And as we wrap up our Spaces & Places folio, I hope you’ve found inspiration, joy, and a sense of empowerment for figuring out your personal style, understanding what your space needs, and sourcing pieces you love.
Yet sometimes this process feels easier said than done. Sometimes we might have all the right pieces, have maximized the space, love the individual elements, but still feel like something isn’t quite coming together. What’s a queer to do?
It can take time for a space to settle, to come together completely, to feel like it’s ours. Especially if you’re someone that moves a lot, that has been dealing with a lot of upheaval, or that has undergone a recent transition like moving in with someone, moving to a new place, living alone for the first time, swapping rooms, going through a breakup with a roommate or group of roommates, or something else that has left you feel off-balance. Sometimes even when it feels like everything should work, something still feels off. And if that’s the case, there are a few things that you can try to get your reality to align with your vision.
Pay close attention to whatever is catching your eye, feels off balance, or is rubbing you the wrong way. Is there a blank space on the wall that you find distracting, or alternately, is a piece of wall art not quite working the way that you’d hoped? Is your couch comfortable, but not quite as cozy as you were anticipating? Is that table you ordered a little too big, the rug a little too small, a bookcase a little too short? Even when we measure and research, sometimes a piece that we thought was perfect turns out to not fit, or not feel right. And that’s okay! Returns or exchanges can be a hassle, and reselling isn’t always an easy process — but it’s worth the effort if a piece really isn’t working for you. You deserve to have what you need, and to like what you have.
If changing a piece that isn’t working isn’t an option, consider ways that you can rearrange a room or switch out pieces from other spaces in order to make everything work. Even if something seems a little odd, don’t be afraid to give it a try. What if that dining table actually would work better as your desk? What if that chair you bought for a reading nook actually makes more sense in your bedroom? What if that gorgeous piece of art that you were sure would pull your bathroom together actually seems more at home in the living room? Don’t be afraid to experiment, to try something unconventional, to test out a theory.
Atmosphere can also play a big role in making a space feel more complete. Adding candles, incense, or speakers for music may have a bigger impact than you realize on how you feel in a space, and can help you utilize one space for multiple functions. My apartment is cozy, and I’ve managed to get the layout to a place where it’s very functional for me — but with only a few small windows in my living room, all of which face an interior courtyard, it often feels dark, cool, and closed off. I can’t do much to add natural light, but I’ve got mirrors tucked into a number of corners and walls, which helps the room feel both bigger and brighter, and I have about a dozen white pillar candles that I light in the evenings to lean all the way into my desired witchy aesthetic. (Sometimes I even run my weirdly powerful cool-mist humidifier, which really turns the Scorpio up to 11.) I have several speakers around my house that I utilize throughout the day, with different playlists for different moods. I pair this music with scents in candles and incense, sometimes even combining room fragrances with specific teas. In the winter I like to play YouTube videos of crackling fires on my television, while in the summer I’ll play ocean or lake sounds — and if I’m working, I love to add coffee shop or library background noise. It might seem cheesy, but it really does make my space feel brighter and more inviting.
Also: plants. I know, I know, you killed the cuttings that your friend gave you that one time and now you’re convinced that everything you touch will wither and die within weeks. But keeping plants in your home not only cleans and purifies the air, but it also can really make a space feel more welcoming. I committed to houseplants during the pandemic and while a few have definitely not survived, my snake plant is growing so well that I had to buy a larger pot! If you’re skeptical, we have a beginner’s guide to plants, answers to your biggest plant questions from Cee the plant doctor, and a roundup of the easiest houseplants to keep alive. And if you’d rather just buy flowers from the market and call it a day, check out these arrangement tips.
If you’re struggling to figure out what might help you feel more at home in your space, try letting your imagination run wild in a different way. Make a vision board of your ideal home or space, gathering images that reflect the kind of place you want to spend your time in — Pinterest is a perfect tool for this, but you can also look at magazines, home decor websites, or find images of your favorite tv or film spaces. Let the sky be the limit, and just save anything that resonates with you, that speaks to the heart of what you want your space to feel like. Once you’ve got a variety of images, look at all of them together, and find the common themes, the elements that keep appearing. Note the colors you gravitate towards, the textures and shapes that you like, the overall aesthetic. How can you bring those elements into your space?
Still need inspiration? Pull some tarot cards. Watch some queer HGTV episodes. Explore old Design*Sponge pieces. Check out our community galleries, including kitchens, bedrooms, and libraries. Browse the archives, especially tags like This Queer House and This Is How We Do It. Build a blanket fort, or a sexy fire, or a very queer craft. Autostraddle has so many incredible resources on home, decor, and organization, and it might be that a DIY project or flea market find can help you take your space to the next level.
What is something that you’ve been wanting to do in your space? How have you made small (or major) adjustments that have transformed the ways that you live in your home? Where have you found new inspiration in shopping guides, community galleries, or personal essays? What is next on your home to-do list? I want to hear all about your spaces in the comments, and thank you so much for being part of Spaces & Places!