It may not look like much, and I still have things to put away, but here is the big project over the past three months—my basement studio space!
I’ve been trying to post about this since before Thanksgiving! At that point I decided I’d make it a Thanksgiving post because I was very thankful for what I’d accomplished to that point and the people who helped me, but that was only about half of it all. Yes, I have been that busy—since October that I’ve found it nearly impossible to find the time to post, even just to keep you updated with photos, but knowing I’d catch up at some point. I finally have that opportunity, and it’s not just about the basement project, it’s also about all the things I’ll be able to do, and to do more efficiently, after all this work. And it’s not just good for me—now that I don’t have puddles of water in the basement, the cats once again have 10 litterboxes in the basement! And they also have open space to play and move around, and new napping and relaxing areas. For some perspective, here is what that area looked like in May when I “lost” Basil down there.
It’s been nice to have this big really physical project to work on for a while. I enjoy that now and then, and I didn’t even mind so much giving that precedence over my creative work, in part because I knew at the end of it I’d have much more comfortable spaces to work in everywhere in the house and I can be far more productive than I was able to be before. As an example, the Scratch Your Paws doormats: I made the first one during my Open House in early October, and I had to kneel on the bricks outside my basement door because I had no space large enough to put down the mat and paint it.
By the time I made the eight that I just sold last week, I had the work table in my basement, the paints and brushes organized, and I cut a stencil and sat down to make them all in less than two hours. Of course, they were dry before Bella sat on them!
My 8 x 10 spare bedroom studio worked well for years, a little crowded but cozy and I could still easily set up to do one project after another, from framing to painting a bunch of keepsake boxes to rolling and cutting polymer clay to working on a portrait. But when I picked up the pace with handmade goods in 2017 and began designing and making even more in 2018, especially with polymer clay and votives, it suddenly became impossible. I had so many more materials to store in a way that it was reasonable to access them and put them away and still have enough work space to lay things out and make what I needed. From 2016…
But I was making handmade goods several days a week instead of every few weeks. Working in my studio I could only make one thing at a time and I needed to overlap, let one thing dry while I worked on another, and do it all in areas where my cats couldn’t really get to it, or couldn’t go exploring.
I already had my sewing in my bedroom, and I needed to expand that space too, beyond the occasional accessory bag or placemat. Even my deck was full of the overflow.
I just needed more space. The only reasonable space was the basement, but the basement was a hot mess. These two show a portion of it from August 2019 when a friend came over to help me get a start on cleaning it out before my hip surgery.
To put the problem into perspective, in spring for about the past four years I had constant puddles in the back quarter to third of the basement that didn’t dry up until summer when the soil dried out after spring thaw and rains. The water not only came in the walls, it seeped up through seams in the concrete floor. And often it wouldn’t come in while it was raining, unless it was a total downpour, but it would come in the next day, and often for a day or two following that. I could mop up the puddle, but five minutes later it would be refilled. Last summer was very wet, and the basement never dried out. This year we had little rain over the summer, but every time we did I had water running in from that back wall. When it rained hard enough it would also seep in through the side walls, especially after the groundhog excavated along the wall under the deck, and I really needed to have my gutters repaired for water falling against the foundation.
I kept most things above water level, but the dampness filled anything absorbent, rusted any metal and rotted wood that touched the floor, even metal things like my appliances and tools developed rust because of the dampness. I know that I need a French drain, but that’s not going to happen any time in the future. In the past I’d waterproofed every four to five years, but with finances and the total lack of time from jumping on extra work and extra jobs, and my hip, that wasn’t possible. This year, ironically, the pandemic that took away my vendor events gave me the time, and pandemic unemployment helped to pay for materials, and I had the space in my head to form a plan, starting with removing more than half of what was in the basement for the furnace installation, piling up old metal stuff for the scrap haulers, sorting through the rest and reorganizing it.
I set up for my week-long Open House at the beginning of October with the help of Elle, and that work to organize the basement, shed and deck got me started.
By that time temperatures were dropping at night and it was time to get the new furnace. I needed to move lots of stuff out of their way to install but had no idea where I’d put it until I looked at my tent in the back yard, set up for my Open House.
So as soon as my Open House was over I lured all the cats out of the basement, blocked the door from the kitchen and opened the basement screen door, and spent an afternoon moving things out of the basement under the tent, then lowered the roof to fit down over it and started hauling other things out for the trash and for the metal scrap heap. Mewsette and Mimi look lovely, but were NOT HAPPY about not being able to help me carry things out of the basement!
Partway through. Look at all the crap on the floor under and behind the table. That’s one of the areas where the water stood for periods of time and it includes paint chips, cardboard scraps, rusted pieces of metal from a cabinet, shreds of drywall and paneling from some I’d stored, and just dirt. Those boxes and things on the right still need to go out under the tent.
The initial basement cleanout with the old furnace in place.
The furnace was installed October 21, and the next day I began scraping the walls for waterproofing, sweeping, and moving things around the basement. At this point I needed some serious supurrvision. Actually, this was when they gained at least two more litterboxes and lots more places to hang out. They spent so much time down there I thought I’d never see them again!
I had a couple of big design jobs at the end of October that kept me at my computer, and I did take that extra time to photograph the epic autumn this year, so even though it slowed me down I appreciated the unexpected income from the graphic design, and it’s been years since I’ve had the time to just enjoy autumn days, and take all the photos I wanted to. I continued shuffling things around and in and out, and sweeping and mopping the floor. Thanks to Denise, who came down to help us with that.
Then I started patching the walls, and Mary came to help us that day too. Jelly Bean was very supportive. Mr. Sunshine let me know I could do a better job of it.
When I started the waterproofing in early November and patched the walls and the seam at the floor with pneumatic cement, we also had some heavy rains. I could see areas where my patches held and others where they didn’t, so each time it rained I would see where it was wet or actually running in and would jump on that spot to add another layer to existing patch. Finally, it seemed to be ready for the waterproofing compound all over the walls. Here’s what I posted on Instagram.
I’d like to present my latest painting, “Block Basement Wall With White Masonry Waterproofing Compound”, app. 6′ x 6′ (this section), NFS. Floor spatters are another work in their own right. In the second photo is Mariposa inspecting my work, admiring my work, or simply sitting and watching paint dry? Over on the left edge of the photo, you can see a section of wall that I’ve patched but haven’t waterproofed yet, as a comparison for what it looked like before I started.
It’s slow going, but just like counting votes, it needs to take the time it needs to take. The waterproofing usually lasts about five years, but I had some large areas to patch where I still had some water coming in at the base of the wall. Really, I’d rather be doing a lot of other things than this on a warm November day, but this is what it means to be a homeowner. I can’t wait until it’s all done, and I can move everything back into the basement and organize it again, and get back to work in my basement studio.
I had a little trouble finding the dry mix that I’d used when I ran out of what I’d had leftover from years before. The dry mix, at $35 for a 35-pound bucket which, when mixed in batches, would put a coat on the entire back half of the basement, had no volatile fumes and was applied on dampened walls, but the premixed latex at $159 per five-gallon bucket, had volatile fumes and the walls had to be completely dry, and would only coat half of what the dry mix would by their measurements. The big box hardware supply stores no longer carried the dry mix, but I did finally find it at a smaller local chain of hardware supply stores. In the meantime, more sorting things in the basement, hauling out trash, and sorting the things I’d stored out in the yard under my tent. Kitties inspected each day. Jelly Bean was approving.
But finally, the second coat was on the entire back half of the basement. I had purchased paint for the floor, but as much as I wanted my Autumn Sky floor I knew it needed to be scrubbed several more times, and I needed to start working down there, so it was time to move things into place. Here’s what the walls looked like when they were done.
I set up the industrial size shelves a friend had given me and start filling them with things from inside the basement and from outside in the tent, then, most exciting, start setting up my new basement studio space.
I set up my table in the center of the room and organized materials and tools that were already there onto the shelves I had in place. I had purchased a 16 x 20 heat press to take the place of the smaller one I’d been using and purchased a sturdy table for it and initially decided I’d switch that with the workbench so that I could be nearest the outlet, but it just didn’t work out and it’s back in the corner. I have a huge collection of picture frames I’ve purchased at thrift shops, been given by friends and even pulled out of trash, most of the smaller ones in boxes in my studio and bedroom and the larger ones in boxes on the deck, that I had no idea where they’d go. Then, hey, that space under my work table, and all of them were sorted into the basement under the table, and in bins on shelves under the heat press table. The heat press went onto the table. I added lots more light. And I could finally do laundry! I had had things piled on and in front of my washer for almost two months. Good thing we had a change of weather and I have lots of clothes, and don’t mind handwashing underwear—sorry if that’s TMI!
When I moved the picture frames out of my bedroom, I also decided to take two days to work out some reorganization in that room. I moved a baker’s rack from the shed to my bedroom to hold all my fabrics, putting it in place of the setup where I’d had shelves and boxes with frames stored right inside the door. The rack also has a cat bed on half the bottom shelf that’s right in front of the furnace vent…and I also organized my yarns, books and sewing materials.
After two months it was time for everything to come back in. I had already had one snow on the tent and that’s not good for it, and I was tired of looking at it out there—it was getting in the way of my photos—so December 12 was a long day in the rain and drizzle, carrying things into the basement, under the deck and into the shed, organizing the shed, folding up the tables and the tent and putting everything away.
I had a few days of assimilating those things into the basement, and I still have some extras that need to be sorted and fitted onto shelves, but as of last weekend, I was ready, and began with framing projects. I’ll keep the equipment and tools down there, but the mat board and other paper products need to stay upstairs.
I had fully intended to have an open house in December too. Of course, setup all ended too late for me to get anything new made for the holiday shopping season. I did consider stopping setup for a week or two to get things done. Seeing COVID numbers after Thanksgiving I knew there was no way to have an open house, and handmade gift items sell best in person. I let people know they could order and pick up curbside, and several did just that. I moved on with setup, and began to make a few new things, the doormats, and some ornaments—which, you’ll notice, have an extra theme this year. Eartipping! Margo always gets these ornaments for volunteers and she asked if I could eartip a few. I love it, and they were very popular, so I’ll be offering them.
Mariposa and Hamlet were essential supurrvisors while the elders slept.
So there you go, that’s what I’ve been up to for the past three months! Above, behind Hamlet, you can see the heat press, that black thing with the curvy top. My original one was 9 x 12, and I had to do larger things like garden flags in two sections, and I just had too much waste where the overlap was visible, or the transfer moved when I turned it around. With that and other larger things I really want to do, investing in the larger heat press opens up many, many other things that I can do. And having all this extra space, I am beside myself. The last thing I need to do is to remove the broken cabinet from my studio and install the new 48″ x 60″ shelves, then put everything away. With all the things I removed to set up the basement I actually have room to walk in there! That will be this week or weekend, and then I’m good to go.
Honestly, I’ve been driven this whole time, having my hair clipped up for days without brushing a few times, running around barefoot, dropping into bed at night after a tub soak when I had to keep myself awake, then back up and ready to get back to it in the morning, eating more mac n cheese than I should, not leaving the house for a week at a time. But that’s what it takes to get a big project like this done, pretty much with one pair of hands. I love it, though, and even though the basement isn’t showcase quality, I don’t care. I love working down there, and I love that all the cats have more space, adequate litterboxes, and great napping spots. They really need places of their own to hang out, and I need to provide for space for them in my workspace, for their safety and mine, just as I do in the kitchen.
I’ve had the fleece “cloud bed” since the late 90s when I found it at a yard sale and bought it for Moses. But it’s always been too big for any spot in this house, no matter where I tried to use it, so mostly it stayed stored in the attic or basement. One day when I was shuffling things around the basement organizing, storing, I kept looking at the cloud bed and knowing it had a place in the new basement space. Then I realized, the work table! I would love it to be cleared off all the time, but it would always have cats on it, and there is a furnace vent above it, so why not put the cloud bed there? I certainly wouldn’t be tripping over it as I did in the rest of the house, and if I stayed with the enamel tabletops or found another surface at least it kept it soft and warm for them. They were in immediate agreement and it’s been in constant use since then. So far, the maximum capacity has been five cats. And I have fun with it!
At some point I’m going to go to a place called Construction Junction and get a new door that has glass to the bottom, like the 15-lite door that I have as my back door, and a new screen door that I can replace with glass or plexi for winter. And paint the basement floor Autumn Sky blue.
A few other things that happened during this time
F’Ave Tux happened in there just before Thanksgiving. Sunday before Thanksgiving, Denise, who feeds the feral colony at the top of the hill, called in tears to say her neighbor, who we both know, had died unexpectedly and left five cats. When Denise would go away, that neighbor, two doors from her, would take a shift feeding her colony and I would take the other, and they were also friends. Also, we helped him take in one of our community cats in January who was clearly not feral, then, surprise! a few weeks later she gave birth to kittens after never appearing pregnant. Two survived, and all were spayed and neutered and vaccinated. He adored them all, including his two older housepanthers, and talked about them constantly. I began contacting possible fosters for the cats, and then Denise and I went into the house and located all five cats, who were skittish but all socialized, and planned out caring for them until family could come in. Monday family did come in so I could stay here and work, and then Denise had a family emergency and had to go out of town with her husband that day and I would be feeding her cats for, well, we didn’t know how long. Without our neighbor, I went up twice each day for three days, then the following week Denise and Dave had to go for a funeral, so two more days. I love her cats, and Maxi inside. Several other cat things came up along the way too.
I look forward to bringing you my new and exciting ideas. Thanks again for following us. Now, the cats want their dinner, a little late…
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And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!