Four years ago my husband and I moved into our first apartment together. It was perfect in many ways: recently renovated, great neighbors, plenty of storage. But it was missing something vital — light.
The rooms were large and empty with low ceilings— they felt cold, dark, and lacked the quirks that I loved so much in my previous, older apartments. For months, I devised ways to make the space more hospitable and energizing, buying plants (which quickly died due to lack of light), hanging mirrors, rearranging the furniture, and dreaming of ways to cut holes in the ceiling to let the light in.
I was convinced that painting the walls would give the space some personality, but this was discouraged by our landlord. The sickly yellow-green “Navajo White” walls were made even greener by the light that filtered through the oak branches that brushed against our windows.
As time passed and we settled in, our space eventually started to feel more our own. We created an environment that felt safe, familiar, and warm— it was ours and it felt like home. I decided that this was our “starter” apartment, which gave us room to dream about where we would live next. Would it be a Spanish bungalow? Or a strong, classic craftsman? Life moved on and my obsession with the light faded. But, a lingering, faint depression remained. My living spaces have always been my sanctuary, and while this was “home,” I never felt inspired to create the way I did in my other apartments.
Recently, I noticed little cracks on the ceiling where the weight of the building had shifted over the years. The new coat of paint had hidden the flaws when we moved in, but they were starting to reappear. The subtle shadows and gradations were beautiful and unexpected in such a well-maintained building. I kept looking, finding all the strange, subtle ways the limited light changed throughout the apartment. I became familiar with how the shadows shifted slowly throughout the day, finding corners to settle into and expanses of ceiling to reflect their depth. After four years, I’d finally found the personality of our space. It was not about the light. It was about the shadows.
Photographing these gradations of light and shadow has become my therapy. When it’s mid-day and our living room is still dark, I can find a way to make something beautiful. I’m inspired to create. This normal, boring apartment has taught me to be patient and look a little harder. Shadows are just as important as light, and there can be beauty in the boring if you’re willing to look.
Photos by Michelle Mishina