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, wirh 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, a n 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 campsuses 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 scritchand 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 ourside, 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.

The Noni Design Studio (and Noni Store) UPDATE!

January 25 (Monday): I was sitting at my desk when Wayne (the go to guy at Savage Mill when you need something, the guy who chases the grafitti-making kids away, the guy who makes sure people REALLY don’t park at the loading dock, who organizes the snow plows. . . you get the idea.  He’s awesome) pops his head into my studio and says, “You’re movin’ tomorrow!”  Now, this might normally have thrown me into a panic of packing, but my TO DO list was already very long and my little one has been with me at work because he’s been recovering from a terrible cold–this is week 2 out of school, that’s how terrible–but he’s on the mend.  So, I just went about my day and figured, I’ll pack tomorrow.  But I did think to run up the hall to the new space and get some before pictures right before I left for the day.

The red room is going to be my office.  I have always wanted a red room.  I have wanted a red bedroom (my husband said NO!).  I have wanted a red dining room (difficult in an open-format. . . we didn’t want a red dining room and living room).  I wanted a red office at home (but it was already so dark, so I refrained).  At LAST I have my red room.  I can’t wait.

The big room will be a combination of teaching and retail space.  The light is incredible as it is a South-facing studio.  I’m excited.

The-red-room-before-picture

This is the room that will become my office/shipping area.

The-big-room-before-picture-2This room will become my studio workshop/retail space.

January 26 (Tuesday): My wee one is with me again today and tired, so this makes packing next to impossible.  Wayne dropped in to say I should be ready to move at 12:30.  I’ve got orders to fill AND less than 2 hours to prepare for the move.  Wayne and some other fellows are moving me, so my worry about finding people to help is put to rest.

At 12:45 the guys show up with dollies.  I’ve managed to get some big boxes out into the hall.  Meantime, my little guy has fallen asleep on the couch, so we whisper and tiptoe around, trying to move big pieces of furniture at the same time.  Somehow, the little fellow sleeps through most of it, only waking up right before we move the couch with him on it.  Wayne just kept saying, Wow, he’s a good sleeper!

I think we were out of the little studio in about an hour.  Maybe an hour and a half.  I got pizza for everyone but don’t sit down to eat the salad I have put aside for myself until nearly 3 pm.  By then it’s the best salad I’ve ever tasted.  By the end of the day, my red room is taking shape.  I love it.

The-gorgeous-jumble-on-my-desk

TOO BAD I MISSED THE PICTURE OF MY SLEEPING BABE!

January 27 (Wednesday): I wake up excited to get to work and leave earlier than usual. The morning light is incredible, casting window shadows on the paintings over my desk.

The-morning-light-over-my-desk

I’ve got orders to fill, so working on the arranging has to be put off for a while.  I know things are going to change, but I’ve got my personal yarn organized, mostly.

My-personal-yarn-nook

More-of-my-personal-yarn

The big room is another story.  It’s just piles of sample bags, garments, boxes of bags, bags of bags.  It’s a gorgeous jumble.

The-gorgeous-jumble

I’ve got some shelving coming tomorrow, some next week.  Shepherd’s Wool Yarn is on the way from Stonehedge Fiber Mill.  I’ve ordered their entire palette to have in “The Noni Store” so that when folks come to take classes and workshops they have wonderful yarn to choose from. I will have purse frames, custom zippers in great colors,  JUL’s entire line of bag hardware, buttons, shawl sticks and other lovelies.  I am looking into having the entire palette of Flurries, Whistler, and perhaps also Disco Lights and Plie.  I’m still sorting through yarn and color cards.  I do know that I will have a special Local Fiber section devoted to the wonderful yarn being produced here in Maryland.  There are lots of GREAT small producers nearby.  I visit Dancing Leaf and Kiparoo Farms this month to see how we can work together..

In the meantime, stop in if you are over at the Mill.  I’m now in Carding Studio 108.

January 28 (Thursday): At 10 am, my dear friend Jean is coming over to help me move some shelving.  He’s got a truck and the strongest back of anyone I know.

Jean-helping-me-move-the-booth-furniture

February 2, 2010

I finished hanging the curtains that divide the space between my office and the studio/workshop space.  Take a peak at the Noni-fied tie back!

Wild-Roses-as-Curtain-Tie-Back

My first shipment of Shepherd’s Wool has arrived!  It looks amazing on the shelf.  As the month goes by, I’ll be getting more yarn in and more shelving.  Here’s how things look today, toward the end of the day.  The light is not the best as I don’t have all my lighting set up and it’s gotten gloomy outside as they are predicting snow.  My husband and son join me tonight for an in-studio picnic of chili we made last night and then down to work.  We are going to put a shelving unit together and then perhaps hang a few lights. . . I suspect this work may take more than one picnic night in the studio. . .

Shepherd's-Wool

March 11, 2010

I’ve done some tweaking since the last update.  I’ve gotten more Shepherd’s Wool in.  AND CHAIRS!  People can come in and sit down now!

Shepherd's-Wool-March

I’ve arranged most of the bags on some display shelving with some luscious Tilli Tomas Flurries tucked in here and there.

Bags-and-Flurries-on-Display

I tidied up my own working space because I’m in the midst of finishing up the Spring 2010 Collection, including The Best of Noni in Crochet!  Photoshoot next week . . .  I needed a clean, well-lit place to work.  Take a peak. . .

Peak-into-my-knitting-nook-at-the-studio

A closer look at my knitting nook and personal stash. . .

My-personal-stash-at-the-studo