Home in the time of Coronavirus

White walls. White tiles. A white ceiling. Surrounding me is a whole lot of white, and not much else going on.

the main bedroom | photo credit – Quyen Tran

Being enveloped in this house for too long didn’t evoke the clarity every interior design book promised white would bring. To me, these walls reflected what COVID-19 had left us in its wake: 

Empty. Passionless. A constant reminder to keep things sterile.

My partner and I bought our first house prior to the pandemic, with the intention to make it an investment. But instead of the quick-fix market ready property we wanted, we found ourselves freezing our newly-established home loan, and making this place our permanent address. 

Before all this, we had been somewhat transient. We’d moved between three cities in the last three years, going where the work was. Our livelihood had been predominantly dependent on film production, and when Mortal Kombat, the biggest production for SA yet, rolled into town, it was an easy decision to make Adelaide our next temporary destination. I hadn’t lived here since 2011, but I’ve come full circle. I’ve returned to my hometown.

It’s hard to describe how gratifying it is to see Adelaide pulsating with life after leaving it for so long. Festival fever was at its height, infecting everyone with its energy. We celebrated long, balmy days in style with live music, art exhibitions and street theatre. It was sensory overload but I loved every second of it. I was the busiest I’ve been for a long while, attending and reviewing shows. While G, my partner, answered the call to move again, this time to film in the Gold Coast. 

But when the worst of the coronavirus hit SA, and G had to return prior to the border closure, our supposed investment property became a quarantine safehouse. Since then it’s evolved to more than a locale for us to stay for now. It’s become our hub for inspiration.

“It was so wonderfully fulfilling to see the results born from our own creativity when the world outside seemed to have forgotten art and beauty.”

– Quyen Tran

We are two restless and out-of-work creative freelancers, who, until recently, have spent a decade renting. The freedom to make changes in our own house was greeted with almost reckless abandon. I say almost because renovating with depleted savings and no income was in all respects counterintuitive, bordering irresponsible. But in spite of bleak job prospects, making a home in the least expected of places has been an extreme comfort during this time.

living room | photo credit – Quyen Tran

Our lack of funds (and lack of skills) were compensated for by frenzied enthusiasm and an eagerness to control something – anything – in our lives. Like most of my friends, I went through several phases of isolation stereotypes. But unlike my sourdough starter (which I had christened Sim, and who’s unfortunate life barely spanned three baking sessions), DIY home improvement has become a constant for me.

We landscaped the backyard; created a native garden bed and started growing our own vegetables. We injected colour into every bedroom, painted the walls and adorned them with vintage or upcycled pieces I’d procured from roadsides and private sales. I would find wooden furniture and homewares often left precariously by previous owners and restore them. It was so wonderfully fulfilling to see the results born from our own creativity when the world outside seemed to have forgotten art and beauty. 

the second bedroom | photo credit – Quyen Tran

It became part of our everyday schedule to create something. We attacked project after project – sometimes with too much gusto and not enough planning. Like the time I was so sure I could paint a perfect semicircle on the bedroom ceiling and wall trims, only to fail tremendously, resulting in an emotional breakdown for however long.

Despite the tears, frustration, and the late-night Bunnings runs in a bid to fix whatever DIY mishap occurred – I am extremely lucky. The privilege of owning a house is not lost on me. Without this home, I would not be handling the pandemic all that well. It’s given me countless opportunities to develop myself – whether it’s patching holes or simply cultivating self-awareness and patience. It’s helped me be mindful of just how much more blessed I am to have my companion with me, and more importantly, to have my health. We may have lost our livelihoods, but here we are together, homemaking in the time of coronavirus. 

Beautifying our home has led to many a quiet contemplation to smile about. Recently I purchased a pair of teak chairs to restore from an old man named Graham. He sold them to me with a markedly generous discount despite the already low asking price. So we decided to return with cake to thank him. Our little gesture brought him close to tears. I will never forget Graham’s face as he expressed how he wished to hug us, knowing full-well he couldn’t.

I still have white walls but they don’t bother me so much. 

I have plenty of other things to be happy about.

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