Saying Goodbye to “Gay Gardens,” a Plant-Filled Seattle Rental

updated Apr 30, 2019
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“Tucked away along an arterial road snaking through West Seattle’s hillside, it’s one of those rental gems that only comes along once in a blue moon,” describes Matthew Mirarchi, of this Seattle home he’s rented for two years. (Image credit: Matthew Mirarchi)

Name: Matthew Mirarchi and JoJo the pup
Location: West Seattle — Seattle, Washington
Size: 1,000 square feet
Years Lived In: 2 years, renting

“Gay Gardens is my plant-filled genie bottle,” confesses Matthew. “Tucked away along an arterial road snaking through West Seattle’s hillside, it’s one of those rental gems that only comes along once in a blue moon. Having been overgrown and woefully mismanaged for years, Gay Gardens afforded me the opportunity to rebuild after my divorce; it needed a lot of TLC, and so did I. So we helped shape one another.”

Matthew poured a lot of time and effort into improving this home and, as he did, his appreciation for the building and its surroundings grew: “After pulling vines from beneath the clapboard and ivy from spider web-covered windows, and overhauling every aspect of the interior — within the bounds of my lease — I came to appreciate this little rotting oasis all the more. I found so many fascinating treasures — pottery, newspapers, planters, a jadeite towel rod, a forgotten 1950s larder in the crawlspace — and loved bringing the house and yard back from the brink. Probably one of the most heartening aspects of the landscaping overhaul was watching all of the wildlife — raptors, rabbits, songbirds of every feather, a coyote, and (of course) a trio of mischievous raccoons — become regular visitors, as well as bees and hummingbirds darting around incredibly old, flowering plants that’d once been choked by ivy.”

We don’t believe that all good things must come to an end, but in this case they did. Matthew explains: “When construction began on a development of million dollar homes two lots over from my forested oasis, and I saw multiple other renters on my street moving out as their modest houses were sold to box house developers, I knew my time at Gay Gardens was coming to a close. So now I’m selling off most of my stuff and spending some time digging up bulbs, rehoming plantings, and doing what I can to preserve some bits and pieces of this time capsule before the bulldozers arrive. That way, Gay Gardens will live on even after its walls come crashing down.”

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Worn eclectic

Inspiration: Plant Daddy meets Ms. Frizzle while soft-shoeing with Little Edie (or, greenery + imaginative color + eccentricity)

Favorite Element: The light. It’s one of the first things I look for in a home. I love old windows, and Gay Gardens retained all of its original frames and wavy glass. I didn’t realize until the fall that, thanks to all the windows, I have views of the mountains and the Space Needle (if I squint through the trees).

Biggest Challenge: Other than gentrification forcing out renters, I’d say the cold. Like a lot of homes in my neighborhood, Gay Gardens was originally built in the ’30s as a tiny weekend retreat — not be to inhabited year-round. Its walls are made of fiberboard (which is just fancy cardboard), and there’s no insulation. Couple that with nearly a decade’s worth of neglect/mismanagement and it’s an icebox with sky-high heating bills that gives my nonprofiter-self heart palpitations.

Proudest DIY: Honestly, the whole shebang. The house and yard were absolute wrecks. I ripped out “closets,” repainted every room, sealed and painted the sun porch walls and floor, replaced a window, resided part of the house, built a patio from discarded bricks, crafted together a deck from salvaged lumber, constructed a garden from roadside construction material (rebar, wood pallets, etc.), and completely overhauled and landscaped the yard for pennies. I even made refrigerator magnets out of the jar lids I found in the hidden larder. Being incredibly rent poor (like most Seattlelites) forced me to get really, really creative in maintaining this place. Granted, everything I built will soon be demolished, but the process of doing it helped me hone my restoration skills and allowed me to discover new ones. Gay Gardens taught me a lot about what I can accomplish with a little vision, a lot of sweat, and plenty of expletive-laden phrases.

Biggest Indulgence: A jigsaw. (I know, they’re somewhat cheap — but 50% of my income goes to rent.) I was hand-sawing recycled/salvaged wood for the kitchen shelving (which holds the Cathrineholm pieces), and finally broke down and pooled my nonprofit bucks for the saw. It made undertaking construction projects a lot more enjoyable.

Best Advice: As trite and cliche as it is to write, the advice I give anyone regarding design is to trust your gut and sprinkle your place with only joy-inducing pieces — whether it’s a family heirloom or a bobblehead you found on the side of the road. Only keep that which makes you smile.


Behr — Island Oasis (green/turquoise in kitchen/dining nook)
Behr — Lapis Lazuli (blue/periwinkle in living room/sun porch)

Married sideboard — Greensboro Flea Market (Alabama); I refinished it and added hardware.
Tramp art cabinet — Found in a storage closet at a past job (free)

Borge Mogensen style sofa & Lafer loveseat — Father & Son (Raleigh, NC)
Tan MCM recliner — Goodwill
Hanging owl macrame — VintageBohemian365
Coffee table — Retrofit Home (Seattle)
MCM fireplace planter — Rook (Seattle)
Hexagonal corner chair — Sanford Antique Mall (Sanford, NC)
All artwork — by me

Dining table — university surplus (UNC-CH)
Macaw plant stake — yard sale
Art Deco china cabinet — roadside (seriously)
Crocheted textiles — pink scarf (stranger at Women’s March, Seattle); throws: various thrift stores
Misc vintage planters (floraline, haeger, USA): estate sales
Mission style china cabinet — Sanford Antique Mall (Sanford, NC)
Jack Snailington (snail planter) — VintageBohemian365

All Fiestaware/Harlequin/Riviera — Family heirlooms and various thrift stores
Asparagus crates (above stove) — roadside
Potholder rack — VintageBohemian365
Misc studio pottery — Seagrove, NC/various Goodwills (I dug the brown studio pottery bowl — beneath the chalkboard — out of a yard at an estate sale.)

Thanks, Matthew!

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