Many people cherish the concept of “home,” but for photographer Kelly Marshall, the phrase has a special meaning, as it involved patience.
Marshall returned to New York City after living a nomadic existence for several years, bouncing between San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Paris. How she found this apartment is a testament to the power of social media.
“I wanted to avoid paying a broker’s fee,” she says. “I put it out there on my social network that I needed an apartment. Within a day, a client of mine responded with a tip about this place.”
The location was perfect. “Nolita has a reputation for being very bourgeois bohemian—you see a lot of models, musicians, and actors walking around,” Marshall says. “Its central location is perfect for me, and I don’t need to worry about commuting to my bookings.”
What she did need to be concerned about was privacy, as she shared the 900-square-foot space with two other people. Sharing the space meant curating her possessions. “A lot of my art pieces were in storage or just didn’t fit with the style of the place,” Marshall says. “I had to collaborate and be considerate of the space of others instead of having full creative freedom.”
But the housing gods were on Marshall’s side. Over years, roommates came and went, but she eventually ended up as the sole occupant of the apartment. For the first time in a long while, she was able to express her creativity without restriction and she could move her office and studio into her home. “I looked at it as investing in myself,” she says.
The home is now a look inside Marshall’s taste and work, and the walls record a rich creative life. Marshall’s taste and career manifests in gallery-like walls painted white, bold color and textile moments, and evidence of ongoing projects. One of the bedrooms in the three-bedroom unit has become her studio.
“One of the reasons I justify living alone is that I can use this place as a studio,” she says. “The walls are white to make a neutral background, and I mostly chose furniture I can quickly and easily move out of the way.”
In the living room, a black-and-white, asymmetrically striped rug grounds the space, while a white sofa displays an array of brightly colored textiles from Africa. A large mirrored dresser and an oversize, full-length mirror bounce light into the space, but the real glow comes from the more unique touches. On one wall, Marshall hung up a photograph she took of people gawking at the Mona Lisa, on the other wall is a prop she created for a photoshoot and works in progress.
“I took the Mona Lisa shot while I was still living in Paris. I had photographed in the Louvre a million times before, and I was looking for a new perspective and a fresh way to explore it,” she says. “The other wall has backdrop I created for a portrait of an author, where I dissected a book and pinned the pages to a board.”
A series of portraits that hang on and above the board are an exploration of identity. “As an African American, much of my ancestral history is lost,” Marshall says. “I started imagining what it would be like to have historic family photos in my home. This was a blueprint for a creative series that would examine themes of black portraiture in domestic spaces.”
Smaller spaces in the open-plan living room are as much about function as about style. A small, cloth-covered dining table and a pair of chairs compose the breakfast/dining room and a bench defines the mudroom. “I wanted to make a place where you could enter, take your shoes or boots off, and then come inside,” she says. The photos here are her own, one is an overview image taken from the interior escalator of the Centre Pompidou and the other is a fold-out page from her most recent promo piece about her journey to South Africa.
In the office/studio, formerly a bedroom, the exploration of creativity continues. Marshall’s work mixes with artwork from friends, and more in-progress work is displayed for contemplation. For example, the photographer is shooting a series about birth workers (such as midwives and doulas). One of the gowns she asked the women to wear hangs on the wall, and images from the series surround it. “The walls are a blank canvas, and they are always changing,” she says. “I feel like they reflect me and the things I’m interested in and thinking about.”
In Marshall’s bedroom, the color turns dark and cozy. “When everyone else left, I decided to take the smallest room for sleeping. “I decided to paint it a dark color, and accent it with gold,” she says. “I love the way it turned out, it feels like a cozy, warm cocoon.”
It seems the apartment is all about feeling. “Living here and making it my own has affected me in ways I didn’t realize it would,” Marshall says. “I think that how a person lives and decorates gives you a bird’s eye view of their belief systems, as we tend to surround ourselves with meaningful things. When I look at my space, I see a woman who has come into her own and has created a comfortable and welcoming home.”