Bridget Watson Payne, her husband, Bill, and their seven-year-old daughter, Mabel, live in a cozy one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. Bridget is an artist, editor and author; and Bill is a special education teacher. They’re a family of color-loving maximalists, who make living in a small space more than work. “We kind of live on top of each other, but we’re all comfortable with that,” says Bridget. Take a peek inside…
On neighborhood shopping: When my husband and I decided to move in together 15 years ago, we walked around the city and fell in love with this area between Nob Hill and the Tenderloin. We love the wide diversity of people and how the sidewalks are never empty. There are cafés where you can sit outside and chat, and everything you need is within a block.
On the magic of windows: Our realtor mentioned she had an apartment that wasn’t ready yet. We convinced her to show it to us anyway. When we walked in, the floor was covered in tarps, there were paint buckets everywhere, and you couldn’t see anything except the windows. The light was flooding in and we saw the circular details, and even though it was basically a construction site, we instantly knew it was our place.
On living in a small space: Our apartment is 600 square feet, and we are certainly not minimalists! We make it work because I’m a bit of an organizational nuts. We tidy up every evening, and everything has a designated spot. Since our kitchen is so small, we actually store a lot of stuff in our living room. We keep our glasses on the gold rack, and the black desk drawers hold our silverware, napkins and linens. Inevitably, anyone who comes over and is looking for a fork won’t be able to find it.
On love letters: If there were a fire, we’d grab the vintage suitcases on top of the bookshelves. One is stuffed with all the letters I wrote to my husband in the early days of our romance; the other has all the letters he wrote to me. I was living in the East Bay and he was living in the city, so we only saw each other on the weekends, and got really into mailing each other letters. Yes, we’re actually old enough that we were writing letters on paper, although it was a slightly retro-affected thing to be doing even then.
On the bookshelves: When Mabel was a baby, we put her crib in the corner of the living room. When she got bigger, we put up a plywood wall of bookshelves to section off a room for her. We love the bookshelves. One of the first things we had to figure out when Bill and I moved in together was what we were going to do with all our books! We ended up creating a elaborate organizational system: they’re divided into books that I’ve read, books that he’s read, ones we’ve both read, ones neither of us have, and within these sections, they’re all alphabetical.
On early dinner parties: It’s a little tricky hosting now that the living room space is smaller, but we like to have friends with kids over for an early 4 o’clock dinner. This way there’s plenty of time for relaxing, and no one is rushed to get home for bedtime. Our table has an extra leaf, and we use the various chairs we have stashed around the apartment. It basically takes up the whole living room, but we can snugly seat eight people. It helps that some of them are children.
MABEL’S SLEEPING NOOK (FORMERLY PART OF THE LIVING ROOM)
Paper flower: Tiffanie Turner.
On chapter books: Mabel is very proud that she now reads by herself for a half an hour in bed before lights out. She’s obsessed with Harry Potter. I’ve been warned by other parents that the books get longer and darker as they go on. I keep waiting for her to get to the point where she stops because it’s too scary. We’ll see, she’s pretty brave!
On naming their daughter: Mabel is my great-grandmother’s name. We loved it, but we decided to wait until we met the baby to see if she could pull it off. We took one look and were like, oh yeah, that’s a Mabel. Her middle name is Peony. I have an artist friend, Tiffanie Turner, who makes huge paper flowers. When we were building Mabel’s room, we commissioned her to make a peony that would be the first thing you see. It makes me really happy.
On cooking: Bill and I have gotten good at cooking together in a tiny kitchen and not crashing into one another. With two jobs and a school-age kid, we do quick and easy stuff. Bill finds it relaxing to go into the kitchen at the end of the day and whip up dinner. He’ll make pasta or lamb burgers. We were really excited about asparagus season and had that every night for a few months.
On Cook’s Illustrated: We subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated, the beautiful food magazine that’s been around forever. On the back cover of every issue, they have a drawing of all the types of some food — all the citrus, all the oysters, all the cheese… We loved them and decided to hang them up around the kitchen.
On a multi-tasking kitchen: We have a rule: no single-use things. If something has the name of a food in it — an egg slicer, a cherry pitter — you can probably just do it with a knife.
Clock: Bai Design.
On keepsakes: The rose hooks in the kitchen are from my mom’s childhood bedroom. When I was first dating Bill, I was in graduate school and living at home with my mom in the East Bay. When I moved out, I raided the house a little and took these hooks with me.
On close quarters: Our bedroom is right between the kitchen and the living room, so it has become part of the common hangout space. We have glass doors to our room, so it’s possible to get some privacy, but most of the time we’re all flowing freely through it. Mabel might feel differently when she’s a teenager, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
On color: My love of color is deep and profound. An initial regret about our apartment, is that because we rent, we can’t paint the walls. But I’ve come around to feeling good about this — the white walls make a nice backdrop and makes the home feel eclectic instead of overwhelming. I usually want everything in color, my clothing, my decor, my hair! I had it platinum blonde forever, but two years ago I went pink and realized this was the true me.
On winding down: After we put Mabel to bed at eight, my husband and I try to get stuff done around the house for an hour; then from nine to ten, we hang out. Earlier in the week, when we have more energy, we’ll read. Right now, I’m loving Patti Smith’s new book, Devotion. By the end of the week, we just want to relax and watch TV. We’re into Drunk History — sometimes you just need a short and funny show.
On collecting art: As an art book editor, I’m lucky to work with lots of artists. The painting of the chair above my desk was the original cover of a book I did with the artist Lisa Congdon, one of my long-term authors. Lately, the art has been proliferating even more because I’ve gotten involved in Artist Take Action, an Instagram account that does an art auction every month with all the proceeds going to a charity. My own art has been auctioned, and it’s so easy and tempting to bid on things!
On sharing a bathroom: When Mabel started school, we worked it out very carefully on paper: when everyone gets up, when everyone uses the bathroom, when everyone leaves the house. Our morning has a choreographed, predictable routine. It’s sort of like a ballet, everyone goes in order and it works.
On creating personal space: I’m an introvert, but I feel like my introversion has made an exception for my husband and daughter. Bill and I are pretty quiet, while Mabel is a boisterous seven-year-old. But over the years we’ve gotten used to a certain level of noise. With anyone else, I would probably be like, ‘get out of my space!’ but we have such a porous relationship with one another that we’re comfortable being together.
Thank you so much, Bridget!
(Photos by Lena Corwin for Cup of Jo.)