Inside a artist's apartment

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September 13, 2004 // UPDATED 4:01 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Brian Voerding
Brian Voerding

Zenon's Marsha Palmer directs dance and designs with style

In a small, modular apartment on the 18th floor of the Oak Street Towers, jazz great Thelonius Monk plunked quietly on piano keys in a small stereo and rich, vivacious colors sprang from painted walls and furniture in every corner.

Welcome to the home of Marsha Palmer, managing director of Zenon Dance Company in the Hennepin Center for the Arts, 528 Hennepin Ave. S. Palmer combines jazz lounge furniture, clean lines and homey warmth -- all on a budget and imbued with meaning.

From her Loring Park perch, Palmer had recently watched the State Fair fireworks. The single west window offers a breathtaking look at Downtown, aflame with oscillating colors from the Target Plaza building and twinkling skyscraper lights.

Palmer said she consciously surrounds herself with vibrant colors.

"I grew up in apartments most of my life," she said, "and I can't deal with beige carpet and white walls."

Admittedly, her carpet is beige -- as a renter, this is something over which Palmer has little control -- but that was all the more reason to detract attention from it by using bright colors elsewhere, she said. Just three days after moving in, and after getting permission from building management, she started painting. She chose a yellow for the living room that she said feels like "a highlighter" during the day, but assumes a darker mustard color at night when aided by soft lighting.

"It can get intense during the daytime," said Palmer, who also noted that she'd more likely to be in the room at night.

The living room is sparsely furnished. There's a Scandinavian couch, which was in the back room of a Saint Paul jazz club Palmer worked at until it closed last March. Internationally renowned jazz artist Wynton Marsalis sat on it during his performance breaks the night he played at the club, she said, and it has also hosted countless musicians.

The tweed couch is checkered in unassuming grays and browns, bowing out from competition with other colors in the room. (Palmer noted that it breaks down well for easy moving.)

In front of the couch is a long, narrow table -- freshly painted a startling ripe tomato red. It used to be a bench, Palmer said, and it was given to her as a gift. The height is perfect for resting both drinks and feet.

To the left of the couch, next to a window, is a square turquoise table. "Ten dollars," Palmer said, "from IKEA." She debated green, but since it was selling so well, she chose blue and an opportunity "to be a little less hip."

Across the room from the couch is a bookshelf with horizontal black boards, vertical metal supports and no outer frame. Hundreds of books sprawl across the boards, stacked and scattered in every direction. A lava lamp on the top shelf spills lazy yellow light against the back wall.

Palmer said she juxtaposed the cluttered bookshelf against the angular, clean look of the rest of the apartment to give the room warmth and intimacy. The bookshelf is also from IKEA, and cost $50, she said.

"I love books that are used," Palmer said. "They're the most wonderful things you can have in a home. You can learn about people by looking at their books."

In the corner next to the kitchen, the dining area of the living or main room, is a long table resembling the bookshelf in design, with black covering and gray metal bars. Two white, egg-shaped Umbra chairs rest on either side of the table. Like the couch, they're refugee pieces from the jazz club.

The living room walls are essentially bare. Palmer doesn't own much by way of wall decoration. She's recently divorced and said her lack of possessions is "a bit like starting over."

She plans on adding photographs, however. She has a few series of images ready to display, some from the jazz club, others from trips to New York. Since she's looking for new ways to hang them, she said, she's toying with the idea of having them printed on wallboard at Kinko's. She'll also hang up simple wooden squares covered in colored canvas, a decorating trick from her last apartment.

Next, Palmer offered a view of her bedroom. It's painted in deep turquoise. Her tightly wrapped bed sheets are magenta. There's a nightstand stool in pale green, and a beanbag chair in the corner with matching hue. On top of the chair are two throw pillows, one burnt orange, one yellow.

Against the window is a short, white four-drawer dresser. That's IKEA, too, Palmer said. It's a child's dresser, but it fits the room and doesn't interfere with the view. On the top of the dresser is a large cherry with a light bulb and a white drape for a stem.

She can't see the cityscape from her bed, but she said with a laugh that she's content with her view of the Basilica "and I-94."

However, Palmer isn't entirely content with her bedroom design yet. Its colors clash, and she plans to redesign with blues and browns to create more of an "oceanic" feel. "Right now," she said, "my bedroom feels a bit like a little boy's race car room."

Perhaps in keeping with the move towards warmer, softer tones, Palmer's favorite color in the apartment is the modest chocolate brown she painted the bathroom walls. She favors the way they set against the white of the cabinet and bathtub.

There is one corner of the apartment Palmer has left relatively untouched -- the kitchen.

"It would be hard to paint around the appliances," she said, "and I don't cook much, and I'm never here."

Someday, noted Palmer, she'll probably move and have to repaint the walls to a nice, management-approved white. In the meantime, she says having her apartment the way she wants it is worth it, and she's hooked on Downtown tower living.

"I love living high," she said, "and I can't imagine living low again."