Thursday, October 05, 2006

5 Ways to Create Your Own Workspace

By Karen Melchers

People who enjoy reading, woodworking, scrap-booking, orchid-growing, crossword puzzles, stamp collecting, fly-tying, painting, knitting, archery...anything that falls into the hobby category...should have a space where items related to the hobby live. That space should be sacrosanct. Untouchable by human hands or pets' paws. Verboten. (Nothing is so off-putting, so creativity-killing as not being able to find the things you need to get started on a project.)

Short of adding a wing onto the house, moving to a larger apartment, or waving a magic wand, what can the hobbyist/crafter do to ensure that there is a place for everything and everything in its place?

First, think about your hobby or craft and jot down the absolute necessities. For most hobbies this will involve adequate lighting, a flat surface, shelves, drawers, comfortable seating, and a way to contain or at least disguise the sprawl.
Now, look at your space and ask yourself these questions: How often does the closet in the extra bedroom get used? Is the upstairs landing currently an unused space? Is there a weird jog in a wall that could be used to help define an area? Is there space next to the washer and dryer in the basement or mud room? Is there a walk-in pantry or rarely used dining room? Is it possible to rearrange furniture in the living room or bedroom to both create a cozier space and free up square footage? How about a bonus room behind the garage or a storage space in an apartment building? Once you have an answer it's time to begin.

Here are some suggestions you might use or adapt to alter your space into workroom.
1. The Extra Closet. This idea works best for double-doored closet but the premise is the same no matter the size. First, take down the clothes rail. Measure the width and depth of the closet and see if you can fit a folding table, desk, smooth plank, door, or other flat surface inside. Use small bookcases, end tables, filing cabinets, or stackable bins to provide support for the flat surface and more storage space. Use the existing closet light or have an electrician or knowledgeable handyman install an outlet or two for a lamp, sewing machine, computer, hot glue gun, or whatever else you use. If you need more task lighting glue on a battery-operated unit. Pegboards, cork boards, or other organizers can be placed on the back wall and shelves mounted above. Place clear storage bins that can be labeled on the shelves. Even the insides of the doors can have storage units on them. If the closet is sufficiently wide and/or deep, you might be able to fit a collapsible bookcase inside for printed matter related to your hobby or to hold more baskets or bins. A comfortable chair that can be drawn up from another part of the room when you need it provides the finishing touch. The best part of this redo is that you just have to close the door to make everything look neat.
2. Upstairs Landing. In some homes, old or new, there is an open space at the top of the stairs that sometimes remains empty. This is a great spot for a workspace because it's out of sight of what could be called "the public rooms" of the house and it could easily and conveniently provide a work area for the late-at-night or early-morning hobbyist. You'll need the same basic items: flat surface(s), good light, cupboards, shelves, and comfortable chairs. More than one chair might be needed because many hobbyists do more than one thing and chairs should be ergonomically suited to the task. In this spot, though, you probably will not have a door that can be shut to hide the work-in-progress. Perhaps this is the place for a large plant or two and one of the portable screens so popular today. A drapery or pretty sheet clipped to hooks on a hospital track is one way to partition space. Another idea is to be on the lookout for old shutters people sell at yard sales, put out for trash pickup, or bring to the dump that can be salvaged, hinged together, painted or distressed and used as a divider. This has the added benefit, if it's a shutter with louvers, of providing additional storage space area.

3. An Actual Room. With a room, be it laundry room, bonus room, rec room, unused dining or other room, you are pretty much home free. Your need for light, storage, work surfaces, and comfortable seating remains the same as for other spaces, but is limited solely by budget and taste. In addition, you don't have to be as conscious of neatness when you can close and/or lock a door. On the other hand, you might be physically farther away from other family members. You'll have to decide if that's a plus or a minus.

4. Carving out Space in an Existing Room. Trying to rearrange furniture in an existing room to free up space can be a challenge when the goal is to put more things in an area you think is full enough. The idea is to think about who uses the room and why. For example, if the room is the family room where everyone sits on the couch or in a chair against a wall to watch TV in the evening, you might try to use the empty space in the middle of the room by bringing the couch out from the wall at an angle. The couch then becomes a divider behind which you can set up a work table, lamp, etc. No seating is lost. An armoire, cabinet, buffet, rolling cart or stacked baskets might provide the storage you need. Voila! You can work on your hobby, be with the family, and watch TV, too. This idea works particularly well in today's large kitchen/family room spaces.

5. Repurposing. But what if you live in an apartment where large spaces don't exist? One idea is repurpose an existing armoire, liquor cabinet, computer table, or old media center to house your supplies. You might even be able to hinge a flat work surface onto an existing shelf and support it be attaching chains from the frame to the surface. A nearby lamp and chair can do double duty: used when you need them and put back in place when you don't. Other ideas might come from magazines or by surfing through home improvement websites for inexpensive fixes.

The important thing is not to neglect the hobby that provides amusement and gives you joy because you think you have no space. The space might be there. Just look for it. Think mix and match. Do it.

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