People who know me in person have often heard me refer to my studio as a "cave." Since 2002, I have been making pots in the basement of my 78-year-old house. I have always appreciated that the space was essentially free. It came with the house, and I didn't need it for anything else. It has been great for the bottom line. But it was a 78-year-old basement. It had no natural light. It was dark and grimy. There were areas that could rightfully be called "makeshift" or "weird," and other areas that could be called "gross" or "scary."
All of those issues could be tolerated. But here's what I couldn't live with: I had outgrown the capacity of the space. I wrote about this last summer. To me, the source of the bottlenecks was clear. I could only produce as much pottery as one kiln could fire. In order to make room for a second kiln, I'd have to rearrange. I did not want to add any more makeshift to the situation. I was feeling confident that the business was going to last for the long term. Did I want to live with weird and dark that long? Working as a potter gives you a lot of time to think. So after months of contemplating all of the paths I could choose, I decided that I would not just make room for a second kiln. Instead I would make a bigger investment, and create a space that would work for me all the way into retirement.
It took me over a week to remove everything from the basement. Here's what it looked like when empty. The space in the foreground was my old studio, roughly 350 square feet. It was separated from the other half of the basement by ugly, dark wood-paneling walls.
The walls are gone now. The creepy corner behind the chimney does not exist anymore. All of the exterior walls, and the staircase, were given a fresh coat of paint. The space on the far side of the stairs was not part of my studio before. I am going to use it now. As you'll see in a later photo, that space will be used to store and display the finished pots. I am visualizing boxes of clay stored under the stairs. Or maybe packing peanuts. Overall, the studio has grown to almost 600 square feet.
Here and there were remnants of an old drop ceiling. Definitely gross. The ceiling tiles were older than the invention of aluminum. They were installed onto wooden strips with lots of messy leveling shims.
All of the ceiling tiles and wooden strips were removed. At the suggestion of my contractor, he sprayed all of the exposed rafters with a coat of white paint. This makes the entire space feel taller and brighter, and all of the pipes and conduits seem to have disappeared.
This was the only troublesome part of the renovation: vinyl-asbestos floor tiles. Very common in houses this age. Don't worry, this is not as hazardous as it sounds. They were generally in good condition, and I had never aggressively disturbed them. Still, it's a good idea to cover them up, so they can remain undisturbed.
The new flooring is a solid vinyl product that is intended for garages. It's very different from the vinyl floor in my kitchen. There is no fabric backing, and the surface is much harder. I have dragged heavy furniture across it, and the floor doesn't seem to notice. The surface is slightly textured, it's seems to be a good balance of "easy to mop" and "non-slip." Time will tell if it holds up well in a pottery studio, but so far I am impressed.
Although I've often complained about the lack of windows, the truth is my basement has four windows, which had been boarded up by a previous owner.
The amount of light coming in through the new windows is so bright, I had trouble photographing them. And you are not imagining, the glass has a pebbly texture that you can't see through. As much as I wanted some natural light, I did not want my studio to be visible from outside. I did not know that "privacy glass" existed until the window salesperson suggested it, at which point I heard the British-accented character from the beer commercial shouting "Brilliant!"
The gaps that surrounded the old door were so big, during the winter months the cold wind would just show itself in. The door opening is a non-standard size, and also slightly distorted, so whoever installed this door did their best to make an off-the-shelf door fit.
The new door was made to the correct size, and the weather-sealing around it was pitched as "like a refrigerator door." As an added bonus, I got another window, with more privacy glass. Brilliant!
You can probably guess what the blue tape, the new 60 amp circuit, and the swinging arm bracket for the vent hood mean. The new kiln has been ordered and is coming soon!
I love shelving. Shelving makes everything better. You can't have enough shelving.
I love wheels. Wheels make everything better. You can't have enough wheels.
Oh my goodness, shelving on wheels. My heart flutters. I can't wait to fill this up with pots. In the old studio, the shelves where the pots dried were about 15 feet from the kiln. Loading the kiln involved a lot of walking back and forth. The first time I roll this entire cart over to the kilns to begin loading, I'm going to faint from happiness. And although this cart looks fairly compact, it actually gives me almost twice as much drying space as I had before.
With all the additional square footage, I created a new area for storing the finished pottery, packing and shipping, and taking photographs. I used to do this in a bedroom on the first floor. Try to imagine ... every time I unloaded the kiln, I put the pots into a plastic bin and carried them up the stairs in two or three trips. Now I will unload the pots onto a new utility cart (pictured), and roll them over to here. Oh, how I love shelves on wheels. Yikes, my inventory is really low! I need to get back to work.
Right after all the renovation was finished, the space looked so pretty when it was empty, I almost didn't want to fill it back up, or get anything dirty. But that didn't last long. I missed my studio. Now that I have put everything back, I think it looks amazing. And I can't wait to get it dirty.
I shut down the studio on April 1, and I am going back to work tomorrow, May 7. It was a long five weeks. Lots of noise. Days of high stress. Days of utter boredom. Lots of excitement, anticipation, relief, and joy.
What I really love about the new studio, aside from the newfound spaciousness and light, is that it feels like a commercial space. A place for serious work. Not at all like an old residential basement. I am looking forward to coming down the stairs to this studio everyday.
Many thanks and praise to DE Thomason Construction Company, who handled most of this project, and did a fabulous job. And thanks also for great work done by Thompson Creek Window Company, H-TWO-O Plumbing, Tatson Electric, and APRO Enterprises, Inc.