I Made The Dining Room Into My Creative Studio. . . And I’m never giving it back

Yellow felted purses hang from an antique floor lamp. The garden is visible through french doors behind the lamp.

This is the story of how I turned our library-quiet, unused, uninhabited dining room into my light-filled, color-filled creative studio space.

The dining room in my house is the only room with twelve foot ceilings. It has fantastic light, even though it’s North-facing: the french doors open into the garden. In Spring and Fall, and even some Summer days when the breezes are lovely and the humidity low, I open the doors wide and the air sweeps through the house.

An antique couch with white upholstery and white sheep skins sits empty. Next to it, a small table is covered with books and carved fruit. A unique light sits on the table.
The white couch amongst my flat weave textiles.

I’ve always loved this dining room. But it has been little used in the nearly sixteen years since we have lived in this house. Like many formal dining rooms, it was an homage to a different time and a different way of living. If we all sat down together at the big table, it was at Thanksgiving and then again at Christmas, perhaps New Year’s Eve if my husband’s parents were visiting. But maybe not even then.

The kitchen, as in many households, is the center of our home universe. But it’s not the best place for all of my projects . . . all in various states of completion and, dare I say, beautiful disarray.

Several felted bags designed by Nora J. Bellows of Noni Designs are arranged together: they are all shades of pink and red. Some have bold red or pink felted flowers.
My favorite bags.

The kitchen, as in many households, is the center of our home universe. And when family or friends gather with us, it is in the kitchen . . . or it is in one of the outdoor dining rooms I have created in my garden. So the dining room sat silent and empty. My studio was in a spare bedroom that we deconstructed, re-insulated (even the ceiling), re-constructed, and redecorated. A wall of books, my favorite red Federalist era Empire couch in carved mahogony. My Empire library table desk, a barrister book case full of yarn and pretty little bags I’ve made over the years.

The pandemic has re-vised the way we use our house, however. My engineer husband has been working at home since March. At first, we set him up on a spare table in our bedroom. This is what a lot of people have done. But our bedroom is cozy and dark while my husband craves the sun. It wasn’t long before he was miserable: irritable, depressed. Pandemic life is hard enough, isolating and depressing enough . . . I insisted he move into the studio where the light is lovely and the space calm and comfortable. It agrees with him very well.

I was a creative nomad. I needed my own room.

This made me a creative nomad. I moved to the kitchen because I needed the horizontal surface and our kitchen island is nice for big projects. But soon every horizontal surface was colonized by my projects: it was a chaos of books in various states of being read, knitting projects, sour dough bread rising, a stack of nutrition texts and cook books from the library stacked next to the huge fruit bowl I keep stocked with apples, bananas, plantains, mangoes, oranges, dragon fruit, and sometimes papayas, starfruit, plums, peaches. It all depends what is in season.

I don’t like to pack up my projects all the time, so there was a lof of moving things aside with a slow sweep of one arm in order that we could sit down at the counter and have a meal together.

“Mom, you need to clean up your messes,” my fourteen year old son said soberly one day, annoyance at the edges of his voice, “You’re colonizing the kitchen,” he said a few minutes later, with irritation and some indignation. Hearing him say this made me feel very proud and pleased. How many times had I said the same thing to him? He was right, of course.

I moved my projects to the den. This created problems, too. I needed my own room.

The guest room was not ideal because I didn’t want to be a nomad again if we had guests, even if the prospect of guests is a long way off. I wanted a permanent place to rest. And a big table. And good light.

“I’m taking over the dining room,” I said to my husband one afternoon.

“I’m taking over the dining room,” I said to my husband one afternoon. I stood in the doorway of my once-studio and now his 10-, 12-, 14-hours a day workspace. His fingers continued to click on the keys for a moment, his back to me, as I stood there, leaning on the door frame.

“That’s good,” he said as he turned around. This surprised me a little, because he had argued against me turning the guest bedroom into a studio space. But Misha is exceedingly practical, an engineer through and through. He is also a casual person, more interested in connection than formality. More interested in using things now than in putting them away for some future date or some rarefied use.

“Maybe we are finally figuring out how to use all of the rooms in our house,” he said, thoughtfully.

“I’m not going to give it back,” I said to him as I walked from the studio into the kitchen one evening to start dinner, thinking about our post-covid re-arranging. He should keep that work station in the old studio, so he can work comfortably from home. And, anyway, I have to wonder just what our relationships will be with big campuses of colleagues after we no longer need to worry about the coronavirus.

“Good,” he said. “You don’t have to.” He smiled and I smiled back.

An array of Nonibags are arranged together on a wooden surface: a black and white purse with pink flowers, a small white purse, a poofy pink purse, a purse with lots of pink and red flowers, etc.
Beautiful chaos of purses and purse frames.

I’m still working out the best way to ship orders out of my new space. And I am only just starting to go through the boxes of my things that lived all spread out in the Noni Studio in the Savage Mill when I had my little store front. It is not easy to winnow down three separate rooms of creativity into one. I still don’t know where everything is. Yesterday, I found a box of fabric I didn’t remember, and, finally, I located the old hat box full of special one-off purse frames that I want to design bags for. It will be, I think, a long process of unpacking, re-organizing, re-arranging.

For now, I sit on my beatiful white couch, or at my big work table and I look often out the tall windows of the French doors. The Carolina Wrens often scritch and hop in the dry leaves that have collected in the covered nook just outside the doors. They chide and argue. And just the other day, as I was gazing out into the woodland garden I have sculpted outside, a fox walked across the brick patio, to my astonishment, because I had just been writing about the fox in the Morning Pages.

An antique couch covered with sheep skins is centered in the photograph. Behind the couch is a wall tapestry that is shades of red and blue and black.
The white couch where I sit and knit. I’m able to see into the back garden from this vantage point.

“I’m in the right place,” I thought, sitting down on the white couch again after dashing outside to see where the fox had gone.

In the Springtime, I’ll open the doors wide and the divide between the inside rooms and the outside rooms will collapse, at least until nightfall. That’s what I’ve always wanted, to walk right out of my studio and into the garden. . .

How has the pandemic changed the way you use your own house? The way you live with your creativity and your creative projects?

Have you had to get creative about creating a work and creativity space for yourself? I’d love to hear in the comments how you have adjusted to this new way we are living and working.

4 thoughts on “I Made The Dining Room Into My Creative Studio. . . And I’m never giving it back

  1. What a great space, and it’s so nice to see you designing again! I’m looking forward to seeing all the lovely new designs!😊

  2. I LOVE the conversation from your fourteen-year-old about moving your stuff!!! I write novels (21 at last count), have a (cold) study which has the business side of my writing career in it but lately, I’m doing the nomad thing too….. soo funny!!!!!!!!!! Love your work. Have made some bags but not lately but want to. Your art is such a joy xxxxxCathy

    • Dear Cathy,
      I was delighted to see your comment! Isn’t it funny the way our children start to say to us the things we have always said to them?! I love it (sometimes). I am so glad you find time to integrate my art into your own creative life. Thank you for making Nonibags! I’ll have to look up your novels! Thank you again for your comment.

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