The new studio

Tired of having to move art-work and craft projects off the dining room table and collapsing the easels in the lounge whenever we had guests, living around and between piles of paper, card, paint, ink and more recently, an Adana letterpress, we finally got around to The Big Project.

As soon as we saw our house, we knew the garage could be converted to a studio but we put off the work because (a) winter on the Fife coast is very cold and (b) we assumed it would cost a lot.  However, one advantage of running a company where one partner works most of the week from home is that with a bit of planning, the labour costs are cheap.  I browsed online for the parts we’d need and did some maths.  A couple of weeks of double- and triple-checking every calculation led me to the promise: ‘I can make us a studio for less than £200…’

We were fortunate in that the garage at the side of our house had never been used to store a car so we had no iffy fuel leaks to clean from the floor.* The hardest part about converting the garage was cleaning-up the brickwork: scrubbing out the pebbledash render on the largest wall (fashionable in these parts) and repointing the brickwork on the other three walls which, perhaps because we live so close to the sea, had seen the mortar begin to crumble.

Before that, the big issue to deal with was where to put the tools and my bike.  We looked at cheap sheds but honestly B&Q… is that really a fair price for cardboard-grade slats stapled together?  I had to design and build a shed to begin with.  Hmmm.  Sticking to our ethic of upcycling as much as possible, a good walk along the beach secured some heavy-duty processed timber that had been knocked overboard from some of the ships passing down the Forth.

The hardest part about designing the shed was producing a functional design from found materials that would not only withstand the severe weather but sufficiently unobtrusive that the Hycinths round here wouldn’t be knocking on our door.  By building the shed on the other side of our house in a lean-to style and utilising the existing garage door that was going to be replaced by a wall, I managed to build a shed for the princely sum of £5.74, the price of 6 size 8 Thunderbolts to secure the structure.  All it needs now is some paint:

Shed built, I could get on with clearing the garage, cleaning the walls and then… paint, lots of paint.  Oh… and rewiring.  If you’re not at all sure about electrics, don’t touch.  Ever.  If you can’t afford to employ an electrician, try offering to do some work for them if you’re practical.  I’m lucky in that I studied this stuff in my very first year at university but what I didn’t tell Rose before I got started is that whoever put in the old wiring had used the old pre-2004 colour-codes for wiring.  My tip is to use a detailed diagram with coloured pens as it will save a lot of time climbing up and down ladders to double-check.

Did I not mention the Scandinavian-style wooden wall I built where once there was a radio-controlled garage door?  Yup.  I’ve got to mention the fully-insulated, wood panelled wall.  Rather than build it from brick which would have been cheaper, I decided that if we were ever to sell our home, it wouldn’t harm our chances with a buyer who had no use for a studio but wanted a garage if we made things a little easier for them.  We have no plans on moving but still… it’s the thought that counts.

The big tip to waterproofing the bottom of a wooden wall exposed to the elements is to use flashing: it’s the self-adhesive metal tape that is used to seal the joins between chimneys and rooftops. Incidentally, within a week of being built, both the wooden wall and the shed were subjected to some really intense rainfall and wind.  They’re still there and still watertight.

The lighting was perhaps the only extravagance.  In a moment of bonkers, oh-my-gosh-wouldn’t-this-be-great-let’s-treat-ourselves madness that overwhelms everyone who buys their first home together, we bought a Makros light.  Every studio needs a feature that’s not the art on the walls or the chaos on the easel and across the worktops and besides, this light had been bought for a different house and couldn’t be hung in our seaside, one-storey modern home.

The last bit of labour was the floor and I must confess, we got very, very lucky in Lidl of all places.  Who knew that the cheapest supermarket chain in the UK would have really good quality paint from Germany designed for painting and sealing conrete floors of the sort that you’d only be able to buy for the price of a second-hand car in B&Q?

So, total spend was £193.47 plus my labour.  I’ve been told that I do not get the chance to say ‘I told you…’

Anyway, when we’re a bit more settled, we’ll be having open days later in the summer with dates to be announced on our Oi! Panda blog.  If you’re in Edinburgh for the festival or whatever, pop across and see The Pettycur Studio.

Finally, in homage to a favourite design blog, we’d like to say this:

* If the concrete floor had got a fuel stain on it, the cost of clean-up would have been two 2 litre bottles of Strongbow cider.  Seriously.  For a few weeks at university, I worked at Safeway stacking shelves and that’s what they used to clean the concrete floor of the delivery port whenever one of the trucks leaked diesel.  If you’ve ever had a hangover from drinking Strongbow cider, you’ll believe me when I write that the only other ingredient needed was a stiff-headed broom and some elbow grease.


2 thoughts on “The new studio

  1. Hi Andrew, Jan here ( ex bookgroupie). The studio looks great and you have done wonders with the space, not to mention a commendable effort with recycling of materials. ( I too am trying to adhere to this principle at present) Seeing your Adana took me back to a weekend job I had while still a school pupil, working for someone who ran a small printing business as a sideline. I loved the satisfaction of manual printing presses – inking that plate, ‘playing the chase’ – I am sure that was the term for tapping all the print, spacing etc to ensure it was flush in the frame. Ah, simple pleasures. Anyway, it looks as if you and rose are forging ahead and creating some beautiful things and a beautiful place too. Best to you both


    • Hi Jan, I didn’t know you used to work on an Adana but yeah, ‘playing the chase’ is where it’s at. The studio has turned into the place where we spend most of our evenings now – we’ve got large trade orders beginning to come through and needed somewhere a bit bigger than the dining room table – but I tell you, it’s just enormously satisfying having a dedicated space to making stuff and I’m not sure we’d get half as much pleasure if we’d got a tradesman in to do it. Tonight’s fun was Rose showing me how to properly stitch a book together. We’ll have to catch-up sometime: we’ll be over the glut of orders by Wednesday next week if you’re in town. Best wishes, Andrew

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