A Successful Rental Search: Settling Down in the Heart of Boston

A Successful Rental Search: Settling Down in the Heart of Boston

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Emily Billings
Aug 26, 2016

Name: Max Shay, Emily Billings, and their cat, Snowboots
Location: South End — Boston, Massachusetts
Size: 655 square feet
Years lived in: Rented 5 months

As you may remember, a couple years ago, Max and I left our city life behind for rural New England where we moved into an old farmhouse with plenty of room to roam. Fast forward two years through a handful of moves and excuses to travel, and we found ourselves missing the community and social opportunities Boston afforded us; so we decided to give it another go. We are feeling right at home on our quiet street nestled in the city; surrounded by brick walls, unbeatable views, and space to entertain.

Max and I approached the rental market with high hopes. We were no longer on the dreaded September 1st rental cycle and we had a place to stay for the interim. We were in no real rush to settle on a space. It was the rental off season, and it was a mild winter so moving wouldn't be a pain. As a writer for Apartment Therapy who has toured many Boston apartments I was confident we could find the perfect space. I was hopeful and maybe a little overly-confident (okay, more like foolishly idealistic) we could stretch what our budget might afford us. Case in point; I had my eyes set on a renovated, two bedroom, two bathroom, with a chef's kitchen and a working fireplace in the heart of Boston's historic Beacon Hill.

After touring a handful of spaces and low-balling my dream apartment, it was obvious we would need to compromise just a bit, even with our flexible move-in date in the off-season. We found an amazing a realtor who happened upon a gem of an apartment, which had slipped through my obsessive Zillow and Craigslist searches. The apartment had carpeted stairs (something we did not want to compromise on with a cat), a tiny kitchen that left much to be desired, smaller square footage, and was missing the sheen of a newly renovated apartment. But, it had outdoor space that captivated us at first sight, and we couldn't pass it up.

The compromises we made on the inside of the apartment have been more than made up for by the outdoor space. Getting outside has been a godsend and we've spent our first summer relaxing on outdoor furniture (worth splurging on), kicking back in $7 plastic kiddie pools (worth every dollar), soaking in the city views and feeling more at home than we ever have in the bustling-but-removed center of Boston's South End.

Sadly, days after taking these photos, our dear cat Snowboots passed away from health complications. It is true your loved ones make a house a home and it just doesn't feel the same without her, but we are thankful for the memories we have of her soaking up the sun in this apartment and enjoying life as a city cat.

Get the look! → Pared-down Comfort

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Mishmash mid-century modern with an emphasis on handmade textiles, collected ceramics, warm natural materials, and plant life. Functional, pared-down comfort.

Inspiration: Working for Apartment Therapy means I get to tour such amazing homes and meet the inspiring makers, doers, and adventurers who live inside them. I love photographing spaces different from my own where I can instantly see why it works so well for the homeowners. Some days it makes me want to purge half of my belongings, other days it makes me want to run home and hang a gallery wall. Usually, I just tuck ideas away and enjoy the moment. Our space is reflective of each place we have lived in the past; and I love how our pieces have adapted to each new home along the way.

Favorite Element: The roof deck sold us on the space. In the past year we've been lucky to live in a large farmhouse with acres of land, in a solar powered home tucked up-island on Martha's Vineyard, and on a tiny Caribbean island with a breezy veranda overlooking the ocean. There was no way we could settle in Boston without outdoor space!

Biggest Challenge: The kitchen is tiny. We love cooking and baking but there is zero counter space and little storage. It just isn't practical. But, we were quickly willing to compromise on square footage after seeing the roof deck.

What Friends Say: Our favorite remark was when one of the guys who moved us in told us we had "a better view of the Boston skyline than he did" and he proceeded to roll up his sleeves and show us his massive Boston skyline tattoo.

Biggest Embarrassment: The "golden arches." Our landlord insists that we keep the window alcove painted this golden, orange color. The paint is chipping and wasn't taped well so it just looks sloppy. There are also a lot of other quirks we aren't the biggest fans of; like the shoddy re-grouting of the brick walls, the dated pass-through window in the kitchen, the brown bathroom, and the exterior windows that are in serious need of a deep clean.

Proudest DIY: Max and I had wood cut at Home Depot and bought inexpensive brackets to hang shelves above the sofa in the living room. It was the BIGGEST pain because you can't really drill into brick and expect it to be perfectly level. After a lot of swearing and sweat they were finished and we're pretty happy with the result. I'd rather they were lower or if we had more shelves on the opposite side to balance the ones we hung, but I would never put Max through that again!

Biggest Indulgence: We love to indulge in the smaller pieces throughout the space and support talented creatives—a Kat & Roger vase, Block Shop pillows designed by the talented sister duo, Hopie & Lily Stockman and made by fifth-generation master printers, and artwork by talented artists like Allen Whiting and Linzi Clary.

Best Advice: Invest in what you love. I am mindful when traveling to purchase local artisan items that can't be found elsewhere and can serve as subtle reminders of our trips.

Dream Sources: The Brimfield Flea Market and the the Rose Bowl Flea, with endless pocket change, water, and a truck to get everything home.

Get the look! → Pared-down comfort

Thanks, Max and Emily!


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