Sunday, April 14, 2013

Studio & Storage: J's Space

This is a post in two parts: One is about where things were, and the other is about where things ended up. A has described her work space in the living room, but we've not yet discussed The Cave. The Cave is the under-bed location which until recently housed my workspace. There were difficulties under there, not least of which included cramped height (it's two inches shorter than me. You learn to duck), limited space, and distance from the rest of the household. If we had a night to work, I'd leave and hole up in The Cave and we'd call down the hallway. That, or I'd drag all my crap out onto our little fold-up laptop desk and work from there for a night and pack it all away at the end of the evening. Hardly efficient. Really the only reason it was good to have everything in The Cave was my weekly gaming sessions where it was a good idea to have a computer in another room. It's not like I could just use the computer in the living room. Wait. What if I could?

The Cave: Before. I'll miss the mini-fridge, but now I'm next to the real fridge.
A and I hatched the plan to switch out the office and The Cave so my workspace could be out with hers. Plus, it means I might just end up spending more time at the desk, actually working on the stuff you guys want to read about. Everyone wins! For comparison, the original office looked like this:

Nothing says "office" like a fake tree.
In the course of a day, we closed up the old office computer area (easily done because it has doors to contain all that) and got it all moved into the rest of our open-concept living room. It was the matter of about ten minutes to measure new heights for shelves, lay a strip of masking tape horizontally at shelf height, and grab the ol' studfinder and mark out where all my new shelf brackets needed to go. I advise the tape method for two reasons: 1. It lets you see your shelf heights before you commit to holes. 54 and 70 inches may sound fine, but miming reaching up onto shelves at those heights could feel weird and it's easier to change when it's tape. 2. No marks on your walls. I laid out these shelves, drilled my holes, and was ready to put in shelves. No cleanup except some vacuuming.

It went so fast I was half done before there was a camera.
I went with heavy-duty brackets and some edge-joined built-up pine shelves because they were cheaper (and more dimensionally stable) than similarly-sized pine boards. I can also paint or stain them in the future should they need to match something. For their weight, melamine and particle board make terrible shelves across any kind of span, so I'll stick with actual wood, thanks. These simple pine shelves will suffice for the vast majority of purposes, so I went with it.

Once my shelves were in, it was on to moving my Ikea table (same model as A's so we can back them up to form Voltable, Defender of the Craftiverse) and all of my containers of stuff. I've acquired a variety of drawers and things, all of which are labeled in a Dad's Garage motif of masking tape and Sharpie. When in doubt, go simple. I am fine with labels on everything because it makes it easy to get from parts to product that much faster. I'm not able to be at my table all day every day, so reminders make things simpler. Label your stuff. If you spend even thirty seconds digging through containers every day, you're costing yourself 15 minutes a month of crafting time. Do you really have so much craft time that you want to waste it?

It's better to be boring than unproductive.
The other idea I'll share is to consider mounting some screws in the top of your workspace to affix a power strip in the back middle part. Between a pencil sharpener, a Dremel, two lamps, a soldering iron, various chargers, and the occasional blow dryer and blender (water color and papier mache, respectively) it's not like two grounded outlets are gonna cut it. Crawling under the table is annoying, too. Once you factor in crawling behind my shelves and storage under there, forget about it. You'd rather go without that last bit than hook up your soldering iron. I'll forgive the three or four holes in my pristine work table for efficient power. The screws keep everything from wandering around and let you set up in the middle of a room without worrying stuff will tumble off the back with too many things plugged in.

My new setup has space for electronics components along the back, soldering stuff with my iron, clay and casting materials, basing for miniatures, four or five containers of beads, jewelry notions, and found objects, plastic sprues for miniatures, my gang box for Necromunda, and a large empty bin for whatever comes next. On the top shelf. Alone. The short shelf has craft paint in a large shoe box, pens for calligraphy, and a spinner with drafting pencils, art markers, pens, and sketching pencils. I keep the tabletop mostly clear for work purposes, so depending on the task at hand, I pull down the needed bin from up above, and set it up at my elbow. End of project, close the box and put it back on the shelf. The tabletop houses tools, cutting implements, and drafting tools with a few cups for water and a brick for hammering stuff. For the most part, things that would be a hassle to keep up on the shelf. Those plastic drawers are filled with stuff for miniatures and model making: sheet goods, transfer paper, plastic sheet, weird painting media, etc. all broken down by category.

As an aside, when it comes to your space, be heartless when you clean up. Could you use that 2" x 5-and-a-half inch scrap of foamcore for something? Sure. Will you? No. And almost certainly not before you get another off-cut from something else, and then you have two of them on your table, getting pushed aside when you do something else for weeks waiting to use them. Throw that crap out. If you don't have somewhere to store it, it gets thrown away. Kipple drives out non-kipple. Once it starts to accumulate, pretty soon your craft area is twist-ties and old paint cups and that thing you were gonna use and that prototype and those miniatures you're supposed to finish and the rest of the Cheez-Its and the things and that stuff and the nowhere to work. I know, because I lost the battle last time:

Entropy in action.
It happens slowly, until you're reduced to just a few square inches of good, workable space and you shrug and say "I'll clean it up next time. Until then, that next episode of Battlestar ain't gonna watch itself." Bam! Nothing gets done and your workspace still looks like the end of Twister. Be the change you want to see in your space.

Changing topics rapidly, keep an eye out for unique elements in your environment. I work at a place that is moving offices right now and a lot of old displays and things were getting pitched. At some point, A and I might have to do a post about the great stuff that we saved from the garbage that day, but two items figure prominently in this conversation: some metal laminate sample holders and some acrylic displays for catalogs. The laminate comes in 2" x 3" little bits with a hole in one corner. We're really smart, so we swiped them and later considered grabbing the holders, so we ended up with hundreds of little chips in a trash bag like this:

In 126 varieties.
We also grabbed the display hooks, just in case, and those came in handy when we realized the error of our ways. They are all neatly displayed as a combo of wall art and practical storage in the new office. There's lots of reasons to want neatly cataloged metal chips in our house, and now they class up an empty wall in the new office:

It's okay to be jealous. Send us a part number and we'll ship you a sample.
The other is a set of angled brackets which fit into slatwall for displaying... uh, books? Individually? It might have been a catalog display or something at some point, I dunno. I've only worked there a little while and these have been trash as long as anyone can remember. I grabbed them because I could imagine them as classy magazine holders in a shared art space or something. Until I break down and buy some slatwall out of the scratch & dent bin at the local lumberyard (which for some reason always has one piece of slatwall in it. Different finish every time, so it's not the same one), we had to find a use for these. Look on top of the computer cabinet in the next shot: laid on its back, it serves as the paper sorter for our printer. Paper, cardstock, resume and business card paper, and photo and specialty papers. Even a nook for the little photo papers you get samples of with new printers and inks and stuff. A uses one in her space now for sorting cardstock and random scrap-booking papers. I'd say go get one, but they're custom as far as I know. Call an acrylic fabricator if you really want one? I point it out because it's a repurposed artifact that now serves an important function, flipped onto its back and given a new lease on life. You have things like this in your environment. Find them and use them.

This is under our lofted guest bed. Somehow much better than before.
Your space doesn't need to cost an arm and a leg. Other than our Ikea tables (which could easily be hollow core doors and some pre-made legs), the shelves are brackets and less than $20 in boards. The bins are dollar store and Wal-Mart generics. The electronics organizer was 50% off when a store closed and the paper racks were free from my job's trash pile. Setting up your space cheaply and efficiently means you can spend more on materials for projects (still never spending full price!) and have more time to work. Isn't that the point?

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