A Charles Village rowhouse, very similar to mine, minus the colorful facade.
Location: Charles Village, Baltimore, Maryland
Size/Type: Spacious one bedroom, basement apartment
Length of Residence: 1 1/2 years
Technically, it wasn't my first apartment. During my college years, I briefly shared an apartment not far from campus, but I have always considered this my first "real" apartment. I had recently graduated, spent the summer traveling around Europe and returned to the States with no job, money, or place to live. It was a time of uncertainty and while I might not have had much, I did have a very clear idea of what I wanted.
First off, I knew I wanted to move from the county to the city, with Charles Village being my #1 choice. I also knew I needed to find a place that would allow the only roommate I intended on having — my furry, 85lb Labrador Retriever. And since my roommate wouldn't be chipping in on expenses, I needed cheap rent or I wasn't going to be able to afford it. Somehow, even throwing a dog into the equation, I managed to score exactly that within a couple weeks!
What I loved about this home: Location, location, location! Charles Village is a very diverse community (home to Johns Hopkins University and the Baltimore Museum of Art), so while it's a cultural mecca, it's also a college town. Proximity was key, I was a straight shot from downtown but still far enough removed that I had ample parks for my dog to play. I was smack dab in the heart of Charles Village so within one block I had a market, restaurant and bars, liquor store, laundry mat, video store and a park. I loved that my apartment was always cool during the hot Baltimore summers and I never had to turn on (hence pay for) the AC. I loved that I had a private patio and a backyard that I only had to share with the cool next door neighbor (also a basement dweller). And surprisingly enough, he also had a Labrador. After cramped dorm life, I loved that I had the entire floor of an expansive rowhouse all to myself, even if I did have to live with some pretty hideous brown carpet and very outdated cabinetry. And probably the best feature? I paid only $350 a month and not a cent extra for my roommate!
I have such found memories of hanging out with neighbors and friends on my stoop or roof, which was anything but easy to access. We'd wait till dark to climb up the treacherous fire escape, toting our blankets and wine, all while we quietly tried to sneak by the windows of other apartments. The nights were memorable and the view was amazing.
What changed when I moved onto my next home: Definitely a lot! I had graduated from my basement digs and moved into a bright space with a boy to boot. We'd only been together for a short time, so it was a brave step, but I guess it worked out for us. That was eleven years ago and we're still together. The boyfriend came with two dogs, so my once peaceful lifestyle became 3 dogs, 2 humans and way too much excess fur! Fortunately, we had quite a bit of room for a one-bedroom apartment and we purchased a top-rated vacuum. While my roommate situation may have changed, my heart was still in Charles Village and I moved all of a few blocks away.
Best bit of advice for people moving into their first home: For me, community is at the top of the list when it comes to finding new digs. Regardless of the place you find to rent or own, if it's not situated in a vibrant, conscious community, I have no desire to reside there. You can easily decorate and redecorate your new space, but there's no escaping your surrounding environment if you aren't happy there.
Image: Kimberly Watson