August 26, 2012

Peggy's Progress
        (Not to be confused with John Bunyan's tale of agony and doom!)

Years ago I stopped subscribing to "home" magazines. I used to love pouring through Martha Stewart's Living, Sunset, Dwell, and Natural Home. One of my favorites was the now defunct publication Western Interiors and Design. Some have moved in the same boxes they were stored in from two or three houses ago. Our bookshelves are lined with stacks of them sitting right beside Michael's Mother Earth News collection (some of which date back to the 1970s) and a smattering of Hobby Farms so I can fantasize about having little donkeys someday. Hey, we've got chickens now, so maybe someday a donkey. I loved pouring over the photos of beautiful kitchens at the heart of a home. Or bathrooms with the serenity of a private spa. But my house didn't look like that and my garden didn't look like that. So they caused too much anxiety. I stopped subscribing to them and I've kept the old copies safely tucked away in their storage boxes. But I confess I do still occasionally sneak a peek at one in the line at the grocery store. Old habits die hard.

Now I find myself experiencing a similar type of anxiety. Maybe not so much anxiety but envy. Studio envy. It generally comes upon me when I go to an artist friend's home or studio. It's not about how fancy the home is, it's about what they've made or done in the space, big or small, that they call their own. It's one of the things I love about Open Studios coming up in October here in San Luis Obispo County. Open Studios is a great way to see work from artists you've never seen before and to meet artists and talk about their work and how they live their creative lives. But I also especially enjoy seeing the spaces they work in and in some cases, live in.

One open studio a few years ago, we went to the studio and home of a ceramic artist. He had some nice work but what most amazed me was how he and his wife had taken a very unassuming suburban house and turned it into a wonderfully warm and beautiful home filled with interesting and unusual items. Where did he get that ingenious pot rack over the concrete island he made? It was old parts from farm equipment that he got from an old farmer along with their huge stone kitchen sink that once sat out in the farmer's junk pile. It was simple and elegantly rustic—or is that rustically elegant?

Interviewing creative folks for Outside the Lines has given Michael and me the opportunity to visit many artists' studios and homes. Peppered through this article are photos we took when interviewing Peg Grady, Ya Ya Chou, Randy Stromsoe, Amy McKay, Larry Le Brane, Robert Oblon, and David Limrite. Each of their spaces is unique and fits their work and temperament. Artists are extremely resourceful and clever and generally good with their hands. They have a way of collecting things and putting them together in unexpected ways. Studio spaces may be super organized or messy, or they may have stuff piled all over, but they are invariably full of interesting and clever things. Other artists use their great design and color talent to beautifully display jewelry or collectibles from all over the world. Their whole house is a work of art. And it is just—well it's just so them.

And that is the point really, making spaces our own by putting in the things we love. Studios and homes are very, very personal things, they represent who we are and there are whole publications that foster that belief. There is Studios Magazine and Where Women Create, merely two examples of magazines that focus on how artists create and make their own spaces, big and small. I don't dare pick up a copy of either magazine or my anxiety level would shoot through the roof. Besides, I'm drawn more to the kinds of spaces that are less suited to publication. The kinds of places artists probably wouldn't want photographed in a glossy publication and no professional "stylist" has laid his or her hands on. What I do love is the idea of living or working surrounded by the things we cherish, objects that have special meaning to us and especially things of our own making. Now that's a home or studio in its most organic and natural sense. A place with soul.

While having money to build a studio or improve a space is tremendously helpful, most of us don't have those kinds of resources. Besides money doesn't give a place soul and no amount of money can really substitute for creativity. What really counts is what we do with our space and some of the best things can't be bought but are made. Still other things are given to us or are part of our history or our family's history. They are part of our story. The quality I truly envy about my favorite kind of places is that the studio is another expression of an artist's individuality and creativity.

Despite a bit of studio envy, my salvation now is that we live in a spectacular natural setting so no one really notices the house itself (at least that's what I tell myself). Also it's Michael's studio so how can it not be messy and full of tools, equipment, art supplies and materials? My floor is a shop floor made out of sealed medium density fiberboard, so I fully embrace the notion that it's a "low maintenance" shop floor. And while I may have had visions of a Sunset or Dwell magazine yard in my mind, I'm living the good life with my couch that sits in the front yard. Michael and son-in-law Joe made me a swinging couch out of leftover rebar for my birthday last year. We sit on it most mornings to eat breakfast and drink our coffee. And there's no better place around to watch the stars and Milky Way at night. I used to make fun of one of the old ranchers down the road who has two big Lazy Boy chairs out in his front yard. They're out there year round even in the rain and are a favorite spot for his chickens. But after I got my own front yard couch I couldn't make fun of him anymore because he clearly knows what it's all about.

And we can feel good about all the recycling and repurposing we've done around here. We've managed to keep a lot out of the landfill. The kitchen cabinets were given to us by a friend who was remodeling his kitchen. Some of the bookshelves and storage units Michael made came from white laminate work desks taken out of my office when they refurnished our training room at RRM Design. And though it's new construction, the outdoor shower is indescribably wonderful even on a cool overcast morning. I'm even looking forward to showers in the rain! This is all Michael's handiwork of course, he is a clever guy, and we're slowly getting to the point where I can put out things like my favorite pretty dishes or pottery and Japanese platters. At last, I've begun to put my stamp on the place.

So my anxiety about the space I live in is driving me to some do it yourself home improvement projects of my own. But really that's a good kind of anxiety. My project this weekend is to refinish and paint some chairs. Over the years both Michael and I have accumulated furniture from a variety of family and friends and houses we've had. In particular we seem to have an awful lot of wooden chairs. Some belonged to my ex-husband's late mother and Michael's mom. Others came from Bishop Conaty High School in LA where my sister Annie once taught. The school got rid of their old chairs and bought all new chairs and Ann brought a bunch home. I still have a couple of those. The one I'm sitting on now came from my UC Santa Cruz days when the college dining hall replaced their chairs. and there's the old high chair I found left in an apartment I rented in Santa Cruz. They have stories so I kept them. And I always hear the words of wisdom from my woodworking mentor, Debey Zito, who told us the wood came from trees that were old and we need to take care of the furniture made out of them so they can last as long as the trees.

The old chairs are going to be all different colors. I've picked out bright cheery happy colors. It's the way I tend to dress, too. Sometimes in the morning I will change something I've already put on because it's just too drab and it will make me feel drab if I wear it. Go for the bright cheery colors, I say, and besides they'll add to the brightly colored Herman Miller bucket chairs I kept from my childhood home. I'm going with a minty Scandinavian green chair , a citrusy orange chair and maybe a periwinkle or lime one. If I find a fourth chair somewhere I may do both the periwinkle and lime. Here are the color chips I've been collecting for the last few weeks. I love color chips! I work with them at work picking color schemes for housing developments and I make a beeline for the paint section in every Home Depot, Lowe's, Miners' Ace Hardware (our local favorite chain of DIY stores) I set foot in and I know exactly where they are in all the local stores. My car, my desk at work and virtually every horizontal surface in this house has paint chips of some sort or another. I've picked them up in preparation for painting the bathroom, redoing kitchen cabinets, and of course painting chairs. I've researched homemade paints and milk paints and clay paints and someday I will try all of that. But for now I'm going with high gloss colorful paints for the chairs. Now that you've just seen how ridiculously excited I get about color paint chips, you can clearly see that this is my project and my mark on our place. Tomorrow I'll start the painting and be sure to check back in a few weeks for my "after" photos to go with this "before" shot. I'm excited and it's going to be fun!

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Peggy Sonoda

Michael Reddell
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Cambria, CA 93428

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