City Spaces: Downtown St. Paul studio apartment nails the philosophy of minimalism

Lucy Hawthorne

Lucy Hawthorne

A photographer by trade, Wale Deen Agboola travels the world, capturing images for big name clients (Coca Cola, 3M, General Mills) and for his own stunning personal portfolio.

But back home in St. Paul, his photo studio and apartment feels somewhat vacant, its bare-bones aesthetic belying the vibrancy and fullness of his personal and professional life.

He likes it that way and he'll tell you why.

Who: Wale Agboola
Where: Lowertown, St. Paul
How long you've lived here: 3 years

Your style is very minimalist.

I like it simple. I want to come home and not think about a lot of shit. The simpler I keep things the better. And the simpler it is for me to wake up in the morning and think and not worry about my space. If my house is full of shit I don't need, what's the point of that? I've got a chair, I've got a bed, I've got a workstation, I've got a place to eat. What else do I need?

And what you do have fits the space perfectly. How did you go about collecting these pieces?

This place is like an advertisement for FindFurnish. I was in another store once trying to buy this record cabinet and the guy asked to see a picture of my apartment. I showed him and he was pointing to things like, "FindFurnish. FindFurnish. FindFurnish." [Laughs]

It works! What's your favorite thing about this place, aside from those amazing windows?

One of the greatest things about this place is the neighbors. Not everyone is an artist so it gives you a break from the trying to compete with other artists and a chance to meet up with people from different perspectives. For example, I have neighbors who work for 3M and the Current, one who is a police officer in Mendota Heights and one who works for Ecolab. We'll get together and hang out. We have a projector here that projects onto this wall so we can have movie nights. 

You say that, and you seem like a really affable guy, but then I see this necklace that says "No New Friends"... 

[Laughs] My friends and I share this necklace. They'll get a kick out of you showing this. Four of us guys got this. We're supposed to wear it all the time.They're the greatest friends ever.

But really, I think I like this place the most because I like my neighbors. Most people don't like their neighbors, but we get together quite often, whenever I'm around.

Do you spend a lot of time away?

I spend a lot of time on the road. UK and Europe and China and Africa. A lot of travels and journeys. And that's why there isn't much of anything really personal in the apartment. I don't know when the next assignment is going to come so I kind of leave things unattached.  

And this also doubles as a workspace, so there's a public-facing aspect to it.

Yeah, and I'm a very personal person. It takes a lot for me to open up. A lot of people come in and out of here and I don't want anybody really knowing much about my personal life. I think if you really want to know me, you'll take the time to sit down and meet me.

You don't even hang up much of your professional work in here. It looks like just this one framed one.

This was taken in Ghana, West Africa. One of my first big campaign assignments I shot in Ghana, for Coke. I walked around for an afternoon and photographed people in the street. I haven't been home in a long time, and this reminds me of home. He's washing his clothes in what you guys would call a sewer, but we'd call a gutter. This photo was not for Coke. This is my personal work and it's one of my favorite pictures I've taken. There are zero photos of family or pictures of anyone except that picture to remind me where I'm from. 

And you have a map of Africa.

My origins. Originally I was born in Nigeria, West Africa. And we moved here for my last semester of middle school. The map is super old. It's from FindFurnish. [Laughs] This has been the easiest apartment in the world to decorate because of FindFurnish. I met Brian [Wilcox] and we started talking about our similarities and when I moved back here the first thing I did was talk to Brian. He sold me my first piece of furniture in here which is this couch. This is the thing I would throw out of the window first if there were a fire because it's the first thing I got when I made money. It's old and it's not perfect, but it's a sign of liberation for me. It marks the first big account I signed.

Since you've got your biking loafers on, why don't you give this awesome vintage stationary bike a spin? And then tell us about the actual bike you have dangling from the ceiling...

Yeah! This bike is cool but that bike is how I get around. I do have a car because I'm a photographer and I have equipment, but if I'm going to smaller things, smaller gatherings, it's just easier to hop on a bike. It's a bike rack on a pulley system. The system was here when I came. 

Whoa. Wait, so how much of the apartment was already like this when you moved in?

Almost everything. These floors are from the people who owned this place before I did. They owned a barn in Wisconsin and they broke it down and resmoked the wood and turned it into the floorboards. The built-in, some guy in Northeast made for them. It doesn't move. One of the biggest problems was trying to find enough stuff to fill the shelves. It's not about quantity of what I can pack in. It's about quality. 

Which comes back to the minimalist philosophy.

Again, live as simple as you can. Money comes and goes. If you base your life on money, you're going to get lost. Do the best you can do for right now and the future will come. 

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All photos by Lucy Hawthorne.