How To Make Your Perfect Creative Space

I meet so many makers who say they just don't have a space to create at home and they are sad, frustrated, or overwhelmed by that. Carving out a space and time to create is hard, especially when your life is busy and revolves around other things like work, kids, and normal life. Today, I offer some tips to creating a place where you are happy to create and can free your mind for making at home. In the meantime, I also invite you to come to Studio How-To for a creative space fix whenever you need one. 

 My "office" at the studio.

My "office" at the studio.

So, where do you begin? Start with lots of questions about yourself and follow the list of priorities below to get yourself on the path to your perfect creative space.

Where do you like to create? Do you have a special place, large or small, that always puts you in the mood and mindset for creating? Is it a place that puts your mind at ease, is it filled with everything you need for your craft or art? Do you spread out and make a mess? Do you keep it tidy and spotless. Is it a space just for you, or do you share it with family or other makers?

Everyone has different needs and desires for their perfect creative spaces. It can be the dining room table with a few bins to hold your supplies or an entire room or basement dedicated solely to your craft. Mine continues to morph. For years I set up at my dining room table, dragging out what I needed, working for a few hours, and then putting everything away again. This was the model I grew up with - projects were short and intense bursts (as in I would stay up late obsessed with finishing), created a big mess in multiple rooms and then everything disappeared in the clean-up process. Nothing was stored out where I could see it on a daily basis. 

Then one day I had a lovely apartment with a loft that I filled with all my creative tools and supplies.  It was magical and I spent hours on end making things, mostly sewing clothes and quilts. I loved having everything set-up and ready to go. I could walk upstairs, sit down and get to work. If I was in the middle of a project, I could just leave it and no one needed to come disturb the work or be disturbed by the mess. That lasted for about a year. Then I got married and soon after had a child and put everything into cupboards, boxes, and closets, bringing things out in small bits here and there. It was always hard to plan out projects, remember what I had on hand, where I was in a project, or even to be fully inspired without the visual inspiration of seeing all my things calling to me.

When I moved to Cleveland, we set up our third floor room entirely for creating (it was a shared creative space with my husband and son). Of course things also spilled over into the landing, the bedroom, the living room, and the basement. When I decided to start Studio How-To, I got to create both a space for me and for anyone who comes to learn and create at the Studio in Cleveland Heights. A perfect space for making. And now I get to do it again as I work on setting up our new studio space in Coventry Village (we’re moving!).

 

So, as I’m painting, cleaning, and planning, I thought I would share my five priorities for setting up the perfect space at home. Keep in mind, there is no one single solution for a perfect space that fits everyone’s preferences about the nuances and work style. It truly is your space and there is no wrong way to approach this.

  1. Fill the space with the tools, supplies, and materials that you love to use. This works for both a minimalist and maximalist creator. As long as you love what you collect, it will be a happy place. Don’t buy things you don’t love and pass on the things you don’t want to keep anymore. Consider selling things from your stash or donating to Upcycle Parts Shop if you’re in the Cleveland area.

  2. Consider the size of your space. My two fantasy spaces are at opposite ends of the spectrum. One is the large, light filled space to create with tons of room to store things and move around (the studio fits this one for me). The other is the cozy room/corner perfectly organized and decorated oozing with inspiration to hole up and create in my little space, alone from intrusions (I picture a cozy cottage corner with a fireplace and frilly linens, and abundant piles of amazing supplies). 

    As my spaces have changed several times over the years, I have learned a major thing about myself. With more space, I actually get less organized. I get sloppy and just stick things somewhere to “tidy up” but then have no idea where I put them. For me, a medium space, with self-imposed limits of what I can have and where I can keep it seems best. I like to be able to see a lot of the things and hide the messy ones. Think about your approach and be honest. Don’t fight your creative personality.
  3. Lighting is key. Natural light is always best. Then bright lights, and some lights for mood and comfort. You need good lighting for focused activities like cutting, measuring, and detailed assembly work. Consider how light falls, too. A lamp hanging directly over a work table seems logical, but consider whether the surface is reflective, are there are any unexpected shadows created, or whether the lamp shines solid light. For example, my mom chose a gorgeous cut glass lamp for her dining room, which looks great, until my dad and I try to cut out fabric on the table (they are the masters of fitting the creative spaces in all over the house and we still work on projects together when we visit each other). Then we curse that lovely lamp because it casts all these annoying little shadows and makes it very hard to see the details when cutting. Pick your priorities. 

    Also consider the time of day when you’ll use the space. If you realistically only craft in the evenings or early mornings, keep that in mind when planning your lighting. Sometimes a simple portable light can work, too. I have a portable work light that I move around for quilting and knitting depending on where I’m working and what I’m doing. It helps immensely at home where lighting is inconsistent once the sun goes down. And it’s small, focused, and bright.
  4. Comfortable seating. Currently I have a chair that’s the perfect height and support for using my sewing machine, a chair for my desk, and a cozy chair for knitting, hand-stitching, thinking, and dreaming up new ideas. I have used so many terrible chairs over the years - just whatever is convenient or happens to be at the table when I sit down. The older I get, the more the chair thing matters to me. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just make sure it gives you good posture, support, and comfort. I also like to include a place for a visitor to sit and some desk space for that visitor, since he’s six years old and will always be wherever I am working. (Perhaps that’s a post for another day… how to do your own creating with kids around.)

  5. Tables. I love having a desk for my computer with lots of space for spreading out papers, notes, and more. I also have a sturdy table to cut fabric, wind yarn, and use my sewing machine. Sometimes those tables are my dining table or the floor or a stool, but that counts. At the studio I have the added bonus of several tables of various heights and sizes and the convenience of spreading out and often leaving things spread out when I get distracted (as long as I’m working on non-workshop days). Really though, spreading out that much just makes me sloppy/let's me be lazy about clean-up.

 

 My blank slate ready to transform into a dreamy new creative space.

My blank slate ready to transform into a dreamy new creative space.

Everything else is extra. I love browsing photos of creative spaces and seeing what I "should" include for a great work space, but it really isn’t necessary to follow anyone else’s vision. Include the things that make you happy when you create and give you the greatest convenience on your budget and in your space. Don’t forget to take care of your body with tables, chairs, and lighting that best support your good habits. And most importantly, don’t let any of this keep you from getting started creating. Making things and creating of any sort can happen anywhere, anytime. Don’t constrain yourself with the thought of needing the perfect space - you can take your time and continually modify as you learn what you like.

I would love to see photos of your creative spaces. Please share and tag with #studiohowtocreativespaces.