This post has been a looooong time coming! I’ve wanted to share our new studio space with you for a while, but to be honest, my inner designer was always like, “It’s not *quite* there yet… I think that corner needs more plants…”
(So many plants you guys — it’s become a real compulsion).
Well enough plants or no, welcome to the Closet Case Patterns studio. I don’t think I could have possibly anticipated how much joy and peace this space was going to bring me every day, but walking in each morning still feels as good as our first day here. As most of you know, I ran our business out of my apartment for the first four years. At the beginning it was pretty much #dreams; I converted my living room into a home office and contentedly worked in my pajamas most days. Things started getting hairy once I began printing our patterns and hired my first employee; suddenly the home office was most of my apartment, and coming into work for Alexis meant seeing my messy bedroom and the dishes leftover from the dinner party the night before (although if I’m honest, those dinner parties basically screeched to a standstill once I relinquished the non-eating/sleeping functions of my apartment. Those dirty dishes were all mine). I found myself sleeping in a maze of boxes with no space for friends, let alone the ability to look in any direction without constantly being reminded of work. It was a huge decision to move into an actual workspace after keeping my overhead low for as long as I had, but the time to move had come, gone, come back, given me a dirty look, and gone again in a huff before I finally pulled the trigger on the Great Studio Hunt.
I think the commercial real estate gods were looking out for us. I wanted to stay in the neighborhood and had barely started searching when I noticed a “For rent” sign mounted to the outside wall of a somewhat decrepit looking industrial building a few blocks from our old space. Our new landlord turned out to be a very sweet Hasidic gentleman, and his old school approach to finding tenants was basically waiting for the occasional person to call the number on that sign. He showed us a few smaller spaces, but I had my heart set on something big enough to give us room to grow. After I tut-tutted everything he showed us, Harry said, “Well, I do have this other place available, but it needs a little work”. We walked all the way to the back of the building and entered a filthy, dusty, room with broken windows and weird/scary stains on the floor. Alexis looked a little terrified but I knew immediately it was The One. It’s a third-floor loft looking down on a quiet residential street, with west facing windows spanning the entire length of the 25′ wide space. Even with the plastic and duct taped windows, I could see that it had a life-changing amount of light. and that most elusive of real estate qualities, potential. I decided to take it on the spot and negotiated with Harry to have all the windows replaced before we moved in; signing that commercial lease was the most exhilarating and terrifyingly real thing I’ve ever done for this business. Thankfully the rent is incredibly affordable, well below what I thought I would have to spend – it’s a trade-off for being in a rundown building with a super sketchy elevator and dirty communal bathrooms that almost never have paper towels.
After Alex and I donned our baboushkas and went to town with a shop vac and mop, the main things that needed to get done were painting and building a wall to hide our storage area. We had the walls painted a bright, matte white (Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace, the perfect neutral, modern white) and then the concrete floors with a super durable high gloss grey. I considered polishing them to the original concrete or covering them with a high traffic epoxy finish but both options were prohibitively expensive; so far the oil-based paint is holding up well. My handyman then built a drywall partition at the back of the space, along with deep, high shelves; this is where we keep all of our pattern stock and anything else we want to hide. It’s nearly 30′ linear feet of shelving but we’re already running out of space, so I ended up renting another small room adjacent to the office to handle the overflow. I’m hoping this keeps us covered for the foreseeable future.
I spent a lot of time planning out the functions of the space in 3D (once an interior designer, always an interior designer). The main room is about 1200 square feet, so I wanted to make sure it was set up efficiently from the beginning. I decided early on to have our sewing and common area in the front because I love sewing in a big patch of sunlight. Our desks and the shipping area are in the back; most days it’s bright enough to not have to turn on the lights, but we do have suspended fluorescents leftover from the last tenant if we need them (I always thought I loathed florescent lighting but having bright, even light to work under is actually kind of the best on overcast days). Right now there are four of us in the office (Alex is our operations manager, Amy helps with the blog and admin and Celine is our patternmaker) but I’ve set things up so we could easily add more desks if we need to. It’s kind of hard to process how much has changed in the past few years; I used to do this all by myself in a 12′ by 12′ room!
My best idea for this space is our epically huge corkboards. I like to plan things visually so it’s very helpful to have a big area to use for inspiration, fabric swatches, mood boards and other ephemera; as an added bonus they were pretty cheap and easy to make. I used 4′ wide rolls of the kind of low-grade cork they use to soundproof floors (like this); you can find finer grades but it’s more expensive and I like the look of the larger pieces of cork. Next, I had 4′ x 8′ sheets of masonite cut in half at Home Depot, and then glued the cork to the sheets using construction adhesive like this. We ended up with 6 huge square panels; each pair of workstations got three mounted to the wall behind the desks. They are quite heavy so we used a stud finder to make sure they were properly anchored to the wall. I could have glued the cork directly to the wall but this way if we ever move, our boards can come with us. I am so, so happy I did this; not only does it let me feel like a Very Organized Designer, but the cork acts as a sound dampener; there are a lot of hard surfaces in the studio so having something to absorb noise is a godsend (which also partly explains why we have so many carpets, the other reason being I am crazy for carpets).
I also finally got to see my sewing station dreams realized. Alex and I were always super cramped in the old studio space when we had to sew at the same time, so I made one large, double sided station; each desk is over 6′ long and can handily accommodate two machines, or two people sewing alongside one another. Along the wall we mounted two large pegboards (available at any Home Depot) to corral all our supplies. In an upcoming post I’ll be talking more about how this is organized since we always get lots of questions about it on Instagram.
We still use my original DIY cutting table for cutting fabric, with our larger one in the back used mainly for packing orders and reviewing drawings; one day I’d like to disassemble the big boy and paint over the old chipped green paint with something glossy and black.
Thankfully we also have a little kitchen area; putting in cabinets and a sink here would have been really expensive and I would hate to be like our neighbors, stuck washing dishes in the dirty bathroom sinks. I painted the cabinets a navy blue, added leather pulls and changed the faucet; eventually I’ll have to get around to replacing the mystery countertop that smells suspiciously chemical when wet. Next to the kitchenette is the area we use for lunch and meetings. It features one of the few walls without a practical function, which blessedly gave me an excuse to frame all of the original watercolors Sallie has done over the years for our pattern covers. Seeing all our hard work in such a celebratory way makes my heart a happy. Her illustrations are truly works of art and dserve to be treated as such.
Being surrounded by living things is really important to my mental well being, so I’ve gone a little hog wild on plants now that we have all the natural light I could ever hope for. I am physically incapable of passing by a nursery without popping in to see if there is anything new to add to the collection (do they make “I break for houseplants” bumper stickers?) and have since added a few gems to the office, including an olive and lemon tree. Alex even brought some ailing fiddle leaf figs from home and we’re trying to nurse them back to health. Most of the big plants are on wheels so I can move them around when I use the wall shown below for photoshoots. My hope is that the trees will get absolutely enormous and I can see my dream of full office jungle fully realized. The ironing station is in the window for now (my old kitchen island with a new fabric and batting top) but may get relocated if it’s as hot as I suspect it will be this summer. I am already researching window film to block the heat and UV rays, and am hoping to find an affordable air conditioner when the Montreal summer humidity becomes unbearable. I’m not a fan of blinds, although I installed one to provide filtered light to some of our less full sun loving babies.
Overall, I am so deliriously happy with how everything turned out. I have a tendency to obsess relentlessly about my interior environment but I feel very settled and content with where things stand, and am super grateful we lucked out finding a big, raw space that didn’t require a ton of money or labour to get in working order, besides countless trips to Ikea for most of our furniture. I’ve tried to link to most of the furniture we’ve used below; while I often worry about things looking “Too Ikea” I think in a modern office context it’s fully appropriate, especially if you mix in enough personal touches to keep it from feeling too sterile.
There have been unexpected costs, of course. We need a bi-weekly cleaning service now, and an alarm system so no one makes off with our large format printer. Despite that, the increased overhead never stresses me out; I’ve felt a real sea change in my energy levels since we’ve settled in, and having a bright, cozy space like this to work in every day has encouraged the ideas to come at me fast and furious. It’s only the beginning for this little company, and that yellow door reminds me every day just how far we’ve come.
I will be back this week with a more in-depth post about how we’ve organized everything (especially our sewing tools and fabric stash) since this post is bordering on the needlessly epic. What do you think of our new studio? What does your dream workspace look like?
Sources: Desks, sewing chairs, office chairs, door pulls, dining table, dining chairs, cutting table tutorial here (the industrial cutting table was purchased secondhand), face planters similar here, bookcases, storage wardrobes, all rugs.
Thank you to my lovely neighbor Fabby for these beautiful photographs!