How I Got My Simple White Studio
The picture is of my new studio space, which came about after our latest shift in changing the function of the rooms in our house. Whether for temperament, health, or economics, we’ve never let “traditional” or “typical” or an architect’s intent stand in the way we use the spaces. Room-swapping occurs at least once every couple of years. Sometimes it’s nutty, sort of like the Mad Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland, where everyone moves down to a new place setting, except cleaner. Some rooms just seem better suited for some functions than others, and not just because of size and what part of the house they’re in. Finding the right space for the job takes a mix of practical and intuitive thinking, not unlike Feng Shui, and definitely not unlike Trial and Error. Anyway, I now have a nice-sized all-white, well-lit, and uncluttered studio space, and I’ve been enjoying a shift in my approach to painting, as well. I’m not feeling as if I am stuck in repeating old techniques and themes, but pushing them and getting some of the old experimental sense of fun back. That alone makes it worth it.
Our house is a small 3-bedroom bungalow built in 1920, and it has undergone many changes and served many purposes, including as a corner bar, thanks to its proximity to the town center. Its original layout included generously-sized windows in every room, but when a garage was attached to the entire length of the west wall of the house, all the windows on that side were eliminated. About half the windows on the north side were also removed, because a hall was created from the new garage to the kitchen; in so doing it took out a chunk of the bedroom which was between them. That bedroom ended up with no windows at all, not a good selling point for a house. But the location, the price, the size, the dryness of the basement, and the layout of the rest of the house were ideal and we figured we’d deal with the window issue ourselves at a later date.
When we first moved in, the windowless bedroom became our “big sleeping closet.” We are rarely in a bedroom during the day and the small size (just big enough for the bed and a single skinny chest of drawers) and plain white walls were actually conducive to sleeping. The other two bedrooms, which had windows, served as a home office for my husband and a tiny corner studio/office for myself. After living in a rambling 3+ story house with two separate staircases we were just glad that we no longer had to go on a hike to get to our workspaces or to find each other.
After a period of time during which we dealt with changing work and health issues we swapped the bedroom and my husband’s office. He wanted a different kind of environment for his work and the minimalist “sleeping closet” was closer to what he needed than the cushy room with its big window. We also missed the natural benefits of waking with daylight. It’s still a minimalist bedroom, though–plain walls save for three simple black/white matted photos above the bed, architect’s lamps attached to the wall on either side of the bed, two very small chests of drawers, one for each of us, and one standard-issue closet that we share. The wall opposite the bed is unadorned, the duvets are plain white, the window blinds are plain white, and mattress-topped boxsprings are on the floor (no squeaks, no dust bunnies). It’s soothing and roomy enough for us both to get dressed in at the same time, and probably the nicest bedroom I’ve ever had.
The windowless bedroom became an office, and while it’s windowlessness made seeing computer screens easier, it also got stuffier when three computers were going at the same time and a client was in there as well. It needed ventilation. The back of the small closet was the wall of the hallway between the kitchen and garage, so I took a reciprocal saw to it and cut out a doorway. Once trimmed out it became a really convenient access to the office from the side door of the house and of course it tremendously improved air flow and ventilation. Inspired by that success, we cut a “window” in the wall next to the closet door which ended up directly across from the side door. When the side door was open, the room had plenty of natural daylight, albeit from across a hall. So that solved a lot of problems with that room at next to no cost. If it needed to be closed off again, we could install shutters and put the closet door back on, but that issue hasn’t come up. The next step was removing the carpeting, as it contributed to the drag of airflow and the buildup of static electricity from the computers. The hardwood floor underneath the carpeting had a very dark finish, not the natural oak finish of the living and dining rooms, but my husband didn’t mind. The room adapted easily as he gained more painting commissions and it became more studio than office.
In the meantime I had installed a small commercial cookery at the end of the long, long garage, unconnected to the main part of the house as per health department regulations. When I closed it down a few weeks ago I had planned to move my painting studio out there, as the light is incredible (southwest corner) and it is next to my flower garden. But my husband and I know that I have had a hard time concentrating on my art if I am too isolated from everything, which is probably related to my deafness and its resulting effect on what I need to feel spatially oriented. We’ve noted I’ve always worked best if I am in the middle of a house. I write my blogs on the dining room table, and do the taxes there, too, the wall to my back, and a really good view of the rest of the house and the outside if I have the front door open. It’s my power spot.
After we got the equipment moved out of the cookery I noted how my husband’s eyes lit up at the space and his remarks about what an absolutely ideal studio space it was and so on and so forth. One big difference between the two of us is that he works best in a dedicated space, in isolation, like most artists. We’ve never been able to afford to rent studio space outside our home, which is what he would have liked ideally. But the old cookery space really feels separate from the house–its view is different, the sounds are different, the feel is different. And I realized, for me, probably too different. I would end up having the same antsy restlessness there as I did in the garden studio space in my former home. It was one thing to do very specific goal-oriented activities like cooking by recipes out there, but another thing entirely for me to work on a purely creative and intuitive level. So I took another look at my husband’s center-of-the-house studio, and realized the solution was to swap spaces. He could hardly believe my offer at first, but the more we talked about it the more he realized I wasn’t just being indulgent, I really was acting in my best interests, too.
So we did the big changeover, very quickly for him, slower for me because I first used his old studio as the dumping ground while I did my big kitchen decluttering project (which I wrote about at my other blog, Minimalist Cook). I got it sorted out after a week, and then proceeded to make the two changes in my new studio which I required: replacing the gaudy brown ceiling fan with plain white track lights, and to somehow lighten the floor, either with tile or with paint. Once I decided that paint was the best way to go, my husband enthusiastically tackled the job, from sanding to priming to three coats of gloss white porch paint. It transformed the room into my ideal all-white airy minimalist atelier, just as easy to work in at night as it is during the day. I can still see enough of the house to feel comfortably oriented and to know if there is someone at either door. It’s easy to go back and forth from painting to writing, which is another consideration in my working method. I feel happy in there. And my husband is in hog heaven in his new working digs.
My old studio? It’s going to become the guest room, something we know we’re going to need in the near future.
Check out my other blog: Minimalist Cooking