Annie's Micro-Museum, Nostalgic Stories

My NEW “Vintage-Euro-Theatre” Inspired Songwriting Space

We moved to our current house in the summer of 2019. I’ve always wanted a house with a great basement. To me, a great basement is simple. It has one key element: it’s fully underground and would protect me in a tornado like the one I saw in “The Wizard of Oz” as a little girl. Ha!

Our last house did not have a great basement. I love this one better.

However, this basement is totally unfinished. It has absolutely zero windows. I mean, none. It also only has four single lightbulbs on the ceiling and one outlet, cement walls and floor all around. Aside from the steps leading down, it has a doorway and stairs leading up to our garage on the other side. That is the only other way out. Handy for sure.

As you can imagine, this type of space creates some challenges. I love that.

Turning any space into something else has always been fun for me, like: The year I slept in our dining room and used an old wardrobe for a closet. I like figuring out how I can use what I have, work out solutions to problems that might turn another person away and give up.

How do I do this?

Well, first I decide how I want to use the space. That was simple here. I’ve already been using it for songwriting pretty much since right after we moved in, and definitely all through the Covid-19 pandemic. I love sneaking away to my own little spot.

I have my guitar, keyboard, a couch, writing supplies, and a few things I’ve purchased for doing live virtual performances like a light and tripod for my cellphone.

Next I look at limitations to the space.

I got a new treadmill at the beginning of the year, and that is set up next to the only outlet we have, so that heavy piece of equipment has to stay put. Since I need an outlet for my keyboard and lights, and enjoy being next to the side by the steps coming down, I have my songwriting spot by the outlet side there as well.

Then I come up with solutions to any problems.

I got an extension cord for my equipment to reach the outlet. My husband changed the bulbs in the basement to be both brighter and turn on right away, rather than have to wait for them to gradually get brighter. This is nice.

I also found my collection of mirrors I had at my other house and hung those to help reflect light. Some are old, some are newer, some I painted. I love that they’re all white so the lighter color brightens things up. Will we someday finish the walls? Maybe. But for now this works.

My wall of mirrors to help reflect light.

Lastly, it’s all about details and adding some charm, color and textures.

I wanted some inspirational things to hang and place around the area that I love from my past. I found my very first ballet costume and decided to hang that with the mirror wall. It reminds me of my humble beginnings and how I first started performing on stage at six years old. I continued with dance and musical theatre all through my school years and college, as well as after performing in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota professionally.

Interspersed there too is a peach hat I used to wear playing dress up with my sisters. (I added a clip on flower I found at the Dollar Tree to sparkle it up a bit. A couple more flowers on one of the mirrors too, cuz why not?) I also found a stitched picture my grandma made for me that I had in my room growing up. I thought that looked cute next to the hat. The water colors are from Europe. I got those in Prague when I toured with my high school, all girls choir. It was a really memorable experience and time in my life.

Across from this wall is where I like to write music. If you look in the reflection of the mirror below you’ll see my favorite yellow chair that used to be my other grandma’s. Also, one of the pillows I designed and sell in my Etsy shop that has two sides with “You got this” and “Keep Going” on it.

On the other side I have an area to sit that includes an old wood rocking chair that was my mom’s. She gave it to me after I had my second son to rock him in. The story goes that it was her great grandma’s from Germany. So, my great great grandma’s. Her mom told her that it was atop the wagon rocking in the movement as the wagon made its way to her grandparents’ home and farm in Waukesha, Wisconsin. My mom’s great grandma lived with her grandparents until her great grandma died. Her great grandma only spoke German, and my mom said that is how my grandma learned to speak some German as a little girl. I remember at Christmas time that my grandma would sing “Oh Tannenbaum” (Oh Christmas Tree) in German. The rocker stayed for many years in the upstairs bedroom of that house that my grandma shared with her two sisters. Unlike another tall-back rocker my mom has, that doesn’t have arms and is meant for sewing and bending down to get mending, she said this is a “comfort rocker” because it has armrests. She said it always made her feel like it was giving her a hug. Hearing that and knowing where it came from makes me love it even more.

Here’s a picture below of my mom’s grandma Margaret, my great grandma, outside her farmhouse. She used to show my mom how to carefully gather eggs in a way to not scare the hens. My mom also loved to go into her pantry, pull the long string to turn the light on, and sneak a freshly baked cookie her grandma always had ready for her. Love that story!

Thrown over the rocking chair is a yellow and white flower crocheted blanket my other grandma, who had the yellow chair, made. Yellow is my favorite color, as I wrote all about here: Why I love the color, yellow. I like having that in the space. Cheery indeed.

Rocking chair, trunk, and Minnesota Centennial Showboat armrests

I also have and kept this old army green trunk my parents had in our basement when I was growing up. It served many purposes in the past. It had my Barbie dolls in it recently, but we used to use it for our dress up clothes mostly. My sisters and cousins and I would spend hours playing with costumes and making our own little shows in our basement. Those are great memories. On top is a real sheep skin with wool. My mom got that from a college friend who lived in Scotland for a while. It was always in our basement too. It’s just so unique and I love the fluffy texture on top the trunk. I figured it’s kind of a nice place to sit now.

Behind that I’ve got a few old theatre chair armrests from when I performed on the Minnesota Centennial Showboat in the summers of 2002 and 2003 on the Mississippi river in Saint Paul, Minnesota. They were from the first boat I believe. That one burned down before they built a brand new one that I was able to perform on in the first season it was used. Not sure how these survived if there was a fire. I’ve forgotten that detail. (We did “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” where I played a newsboy and “Dracula” where I played the crazy character Renfield.) They were getting rid of these beautiful vintage armrests and offered them to the cast members if anyone wanted them, so I grabbed a few. They are incredibly heavy. I have had them in my apartments, former house and moved them with me all these years later. To me they are a real work of art. I love them.

Below is the armrest up close, and a picture of me playing the newsboy yelling “paper!”

A couple other pieces are the blue suitcase that was in my great grandma’s (Dad’s side) closet in her apartment on Atwood Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin that she lived in for over 50 years. I only have a couple things of hers, this is one of them. (Read: Sunday Brunch with Rose for some other stories related to the one other thing I have of hers.) I’m not sure what I’ll put in the suitcase now. I had some old dance and costume things in it at one time, but right now it makes a nice endtable flipped on its side.

On top of the suitcase is a picture from when I played Bonnie in “Anything Goes” my junior year in high school. That was my mom’s favorite show I did I think to date. I remember it well because it was the first time I had a lead roll in a musical with lines and a solo dance number. I learned to use a New York accent. It was a lot of fun! I also put out a couple scripts from that same year and my senior year when I had the leads in both plays. We did “You Can’t Take it With You” and “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.” Learning lines and being a part of those casts are some fabulous memories for me. It gave me confidence in myself as a performer and really launched my interest in perusing it as a career. While I’ve had sort of a twisty journey, those days in high school and college continue to be incredibly special in my mind that have led me to where I am today.

Making a space for myself to write music that feels inspirational has been fun. It’s kind of a vintage, European, theatre feel, and totally unique to my tastes and likes. Creating it has been like uncovering my past and really taking a look to see where I’ve come from. I like looking back. I also am excited to look forward at what other adventures and music will come next. I know having a space that inspires me a bit more will help. That definitely made taking the time to do it, worth it.


Do you have old things from your past you incorporate into your space for inspiration now? I’d love to hear your stories. Leave a comment below.

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