Katie Stack remembers the exact moment when she realized she needed a bigger workspace for her handcrafted bags and accessories.
There was a craft fair coming up and Stack was working alongside her assistant, Claire Cantwell, in Stack’s Herndon, Virginia, dining room studio. Surrounded by floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with leather and other raw materials, the women worked side by side. One used the sewing machine. The other worked at the cutting table.
Stack remembers looking up from her work and seeing her husband, who was making dinner in the kitchen.
“This is ridiculous,” Stack said. She was surrounded by piece work and half finished product, with bins overflowing into the living room.
This was when Stack realized she had outgrown her home workspace.
She had already stretched her workspace as much as possible, confining her work to the dining room and renting a storage unit to hold show displays. Buteven with these measures, Stack found herself turning down customers who wanted to visit her studio space. With two people sharing a one-bedroom condo, she needed a workspace away from her home.
Leaving home: Lack of space is just one factor
For makers with home studio space, there usually isn’t just one tipping point that makes them realize more room and a life outside the home is the stuff that dreams are made of. But when the line between one’s living space and workspace becomes increasingly blurry, it’s time to think about transitioning away from the home studio.
Like Stark, pattern designer Jen Beeman, of Grainline Studio in Chicago, recently found herself facing a similar lack-of-space predicament.
Beeman kept a sewing machine, a serger and a cover-stitch machine, along with a desk and computer and a “gigantic industrial pattern-making table,” in her living room, made do without a couch or a television, and turned the living space into a working studio. She made it work for a while — until her boyfriend moved in.
“That was like, yeah, I need to get out of here,” Beeman says.
For makers considering a move away from their home studio, there are a few factors to consider. Space limitation is one. Another is the need to grow and expand your business
That’s what finally drove Beeman to look for an out-of-home workspace. She was limited by the size of her living room studio, but also was looking to expand her pattern-making business.
Beeman knew she couldn’t grow her business in her home studio, where she was only able to sell PDFs of her patterns, so she moved into a 500-square-foot studio space on the west side of Chicago. But after expanding her business to sell paper patterns, Beeman again outgrew her workspace.
She is now mostly settled into a 1,000-square-foot space in the same building. Nowadays, Beeman releases about five patterns a year and often has shipments of 5,000 booklets at one time. As her business continues to grow, Beeman says she can foresee a need for an even larger space in the near future.
For makers who want to hire employees or open a retail space, moving outside the home has some definite benefits. Just ask jeweler Rachel Pfeffer, of the Washington D.C.-based Rachel Pfeffer Designs.
Pfeffer has been constructing jewelry out of her apartment space for a while, and recently moved from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom space. Still, her home space has started to feel a bit too small.
In her one-bedroom apartment, Pfeffer’s workbench resided in the living room, next to the couch and in front of the television.
“Which I liked but no one else did,” Pfeffer says.
Now, Pfeffer primarily uses her second bedroom as a work studio, but says it’s not as organized as she would like. There’s a printer perched on a stool, a metal filing cabinet filled with packing supplies, and drawers for stones and other jewelry pieces.
There is no chair in her workspace, because Pfeffer prefers to stand while working. But, admits Pfeffer, “having a big table would be nice.” Even though she has a dedicated space for her jewelry making, Pfeffer still finds herself dragging her workbench into the living room to watch television.
Unlike Stack and Beeman, Pfeffer doesn’t feel as much pressure to move, but she has started to look for a space outside of her home and often wonders what it would be like to leave the house everyday, put on something other than pajamas, and reclaim the second bedroom for its intended purpose.
Pfeffer also has been contemplating the opportunity to expand her business. With an outside-the-home studio, Pfeffer says, she could hire help and maybe even have room for retail. Right now, when custom jewelry customers ask to visit her studio, Pfeffer instead meets them at a local bar.
“I’m the bar jeweler,” Pfeffer says. “I’ll meet you and have a beer and drop off of your necklace.”
Stack, the Virginia-based bag and accessory maker, also discovered that she was able to expand her business after moving out of her dining room.
Although Stack originally wanted a closer location to her home, she ended up finding space in a new subsidized artist studio development in Washington, D.C. With a minimum 45-minute drive from her home, the commute isn’t ideal, but the pros outweigh this one big con, Stack says.
In her home, Stack was only able to hire Cantwell on a per-project basis. Now, Cantwell is a part-time employee at Stack’s leather bag and accessories company, Stitch & Rivet. Stack’s new space easily accommodated the two women and afforded Stack the ability to expand her business. She recently set up a retail component where customers can purchase newly finished merchandise and other handmade goods Stack sources from makers who have similar styles to her own.
The move even helped her regain her life outside of work, Stack says: “I wanted the option to not have to pack up and go to a market every weekend, which is what I was previously doing.”
Finding the perfect place
When looking for a space, Stack advises thinking through the health and safety needs of your space and that of the building.
For instance, you want to make sure the space itself is legal and has the proper permits for occupancy. Look for space that is well ventilated and can accommodate the needs of various media, especially if there are other artists working in the same building.
“I wouldn’t have taken this [studio] if I knew my next door neighbor was going to be a graffiti artist,” Stack explains.
She also cautions makers to look closely at their exact facility needs. If you have a 300-pound industrial sewing machine or one-ton press, look for a sturdy first floor unit instead of a space that’s located on a top floor and has rickety wood flooring.
Budgeting for an outside studio space is another big concern for makers transitioning away from home.
Beeman says she was able to easily absorb the cost of her studio thanks to being “pretty financially cautious” and making sure that her utilities were included in her rent.
But that’s not often the case. In fact, Pfeffer says the additional rental cost will be a stretch for her business when she moves.
“It will be scary to go from not paying anything extra to paying a lot extra,” she said. But having a retail component in her future space could help make the budget transition smoother.
When looking for studio space you want to ask the same questions when looking for an apartment. Inquire about what’s included in the rent and if utilities fluctuate from season to season. If you want to include retail space, ask if the building is zoned for retail and make sure there is adequate foot traffic in the neighborhood.
“Be cautious and do your research, but don’t be afraid to invest in your business,” Beeman advises.
“Be cautious and do your research, but don’t be afraid to invest in your business.”
How about a coworking space?
Some makers may be tempted to try a coworking space, but many may find that these cooperative spaces often don’t meet the unique needs of makers. They’re usually outfitted with good WiFi free coffee and a place to sit with your computer, but that’s about it. Many locations only offer day space for you and a laptop. That’s good for administrative tasks, but you could save money and do these things at your local coffee shop.
While some coworking spaces like WeWork, which has locations in more than 15 cities around the world, provide dedicated office space, the space isn’t the most accommodating. You can’t fit your industrial sewing machine, raw materials and finished product in an office designed for only a laptop.
And with the dedicated space starting around $350 a month, you may be better off finding a subsidized studio space that would fit all of your needs.
Move is ‘worth it’
Both Stack and Beeman enthusiastically agree that moving their studio outside of their home has been for the best.
Beeman says she’s been more productive in her new space, and that having a clear line between home and work has been great.
“Moving out of the house is very healthy if you can swing it,” Beeman says.
In talking with current studio renters during her research to find an outside studio, Pfeffer is finding the same thing.
“Everyone has told me the move was worth it,” she says.
Photo credit: All studio photos used with the generous permission of Jen Beeman, Grainline Studio.
Kelly Rand is the author of Handmade to Sell: Hello Craft’s Guide to Owning, Running, and Growing Your Crafty Biz, published by Potter Craft in 2012. A freelance writer focusing on the intersection between art, craft, making and the environment, Kelly has written for The Crafts Report magazine, Cloth Paper Scissors Studios, the Etsy blog and Bust magazine.