Monday, January 17, 2022

Crafting a Craft Room Out of a Basement Corner


In the past couple of years I've blogged more about thoughts and issues than home improvement, and part of that was intentional. I decided I was not really a home improvement or decor blogger, for a bunch of reasons. Mostly because I can't tap into fads, nor do I want to (white shiplap? So stupid, and banal. There I said it.) Mostly because as a normal, average person, I can't sustain "doing stuff" to the level that is necessary to have regular and worthwhile content for a strictly home improvement blog. I moved away from home improvement blogging because I had other things to say about my home and my life, things that didn't include paint chips and power tools.

That said, we have actually been "doing stuff" this past year, and I'm back around to the idea that maybe I could post more about that "stuff." Why? If I put out my normal, average person content, it's a voice that is different than those glossy fifty-shades of beige magazines, blogs, and TV shows. It's definitely real life, real budgets. I mean, does that picture up above get any more real life? 

My house was built in 1939 on a cinder block basement foundation. It does not have support posts. Instead it has interior cinder block walls that not only serve that support function, they carve the whole basement into six smaller rooms. We have a laundry room, a shop room, a furnace/utilities room, an area that we use as a second family room, an area we pile up crap in (let's be honest here), and a room

that used to be used as a darkroom by a previous owner. Which we also used to pile up crap in (more painful honesty).

I've blogged about that darkroom space before, here. At that time I schemed to get an additional bathroom in there, but have since realized that plan would involve jackhammering up the basement floor to add adequate sewer, plus other expensive work I am not in the mood to do, especially when our main, everyday-use bathrooms need money invested in them too. 

Instead, we decided that I, as a somewhat crafty person who also sews now and then, needed a craft/sewing room. Now if I get out a sewing project, it ends up being set up in the dining room. Inevitably I get pulled away to other responsibilities, then something comes up where I need the dining room for its intended purpose, or we have company over, and I have to clean up the project. It's a situation that is not great for getting said projects done, or managing clutter, or marital bliss, or for the creative process. 

The darkroom space was not an inspiring one; in fact, it was sort of murder-basementy-- windowless, dark, spidery, damp, dirty, rust stains on the floor, and with a sink that looked like it had been used to clean up after unspeakable crimes. At the basic level, we wanted the room to be clean, well-lit, and functional for crafting and sewing. It would be a bonus if we could rescue the sink, which was super vintage cool under all the grime. Here's another shot of it below in June, after we'd emptied our crap out of it, and before we started stripping out the random things left from the darkroom configuration. 

After emptying, we cleaned. That included a first run on cleaning the sink, to see if it was even salvageable. We were worried that darkroom chemicals had been dumped down this drain so much, that the enamel had been eaten away beyond the point of rescue. But the first attempt was promising, so we decided it was worth refitting. 

We also decided that we wouldn't be finishing this room with drywall and flooring; we didn't want to spend huge amounts of our home improvement dollars here, and we didn't want to make a small room even smaller by studding out the walls and building framed boxes around the exposed utilites. 

Instead, we spent the bulk of our time and money on lots of lighting, and lots of white paint to bounce that light around, to compensate for the lack of a window. That involved installing new lighting where none existed before, lots of wall prep, and gallons of masonry waterproofing (we used Drylok, linked here. This is not a sponsored post or a product endorsement). We used Sherwin Williams Emerald Designer Edition paint (again, not a sponsored post) in a flat warm white that would make wall imperfections (and it being a basement cinder wall, there were a ton of those) recede, and reduce glare from all the lighting. We also painted utility pipes and ducting so that they would disappear visually as much as possible. 

The sink got removed, then repositioned back where it started, but on a new sink base that Tom designed, built, painted, and slightly distressed. I removed another several layers of paint, grime, and staining from the sink enamel, using multiple products and more patience than I thought I had. 

The next project in this room rehab was the floor. I cleaned the rust stains up as much as I could, waterproofed, primed, and painted. I used floor paint in a taupe color that I hope will hide dirt, but will also be easily scrubbable. 

All of that work happened more or less during June, July and August. More recently, Tom has been working on the ceiling, so that less light escapes into the dark recesses of the unfinished floor joists. We're using a painted wood tongue-and-groove style product that's easier in some ways to jigsaw puzzle around all the odd surfaces and pipes, but also has to go up a strip at a time. We're not sure if this part has been easier than drywall, but at least it goes up finished; we won't have to tape, plaster, and paint like we would with drywall. We're not done yet with this part, but we're close. 

Remaining on our to-do list is installing a door, and cleaning up our construction debris and tools. 

For a person that dislikes all-white anything in decor, this room sure has a lot of it. But it was necessary to banish the darkness. I'm appreciating the somewhat industrial/utilitarian vibe we've created, but I'll also be bringing in furnishings, a rug, and some art that have lots of color to offset it, and I'm excited to get to that point. I want a warm, bright, interesting place to sew and craft, and I think we've built the perfect backdrop for it. I'm ready to move in! 

Things I have been doing: 

Reading this article from the Atlantic, about work/life balance. 

Making this butterscotch pudding, from Smitten Kitchen. Oh my goodness, perfect comfort food and several steps above the boxed powdered stuff. 

Planning my garden. My two current favorites for ordering plants for spring are Bluestone Perennials and Select Seeds.  

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