Corrie Allen never bought enough food to fill the sizeable pantry in her one-bedroom Petworth apartment. So she came up with another use for all of that space.
“I moved the food to one of the cupboards over the counter and converted the pantry to a craft closet,” says Allen, 38, who likes to sew and to work with beads and paper. Now it holds fabric and other supplies she previously had to stash under the couch or in her bedroom closet. “It’s made it so much easier for me,” she says. “Everything’s in one place.”
Space is often at a premium in D.C.-area rentals. So for folks like Allen who partake in hobbies that require both storage and room to work, it can be a challenge to indulge their pastime passions. But there’s no need to get rid of the glue gun or power drill — renters can find plenty of ways to pursue their preferred diversions, both in their own homes and outside of them.
The first step is to get organized. “Categorizing and prioritizing your materials is pretty important,” says Heather Bouley, director of SCRAP DC (3101 12th St. NE; 202-827-4547), a thrift store of sorts for creative types. It’s run by a nonprofit focused on creative reuse and sustainability.
“Remove the things you don’t need,” Bouley also advises. You could even remove gear that’s not required every day, which you can rent instead.
Sewing studio Bits of Thread in Adams Morgan (1794 Columbia Road NW, Ste. 6; 202-642-9622) rents sewing machines for $25 to $35 a week, depending on the type of machine. In Brookland, the banished? ARTillery Tool Library (716 Monroe St. NE) lends hand and power tools to members on a weekly basis. Membership costs $50 to $100 annually.
“I live in a small place. Any tools I had, I would have to look at them all the time,” says Niell DuVal, director of the Tool Library and technical director for banished? productions, the avant-pop theater company that runs the lending service.
Be strategic about what space you do have. Eschew messy piles of materials for a neat and tidy rental that you actually want to spend time in. When Allison Lince-Bentley, owner of Bits of Thread, lived in a 400-square-foot studio, she had a pull-down table attached to her Murphy bed. “That was my sewing table,” she says. “If you get creative, you can have space for yourself by using folding tables or things that attach to the wall.”
Tired of having to unpack her sewing machine every time she wanted to use it, Allen opted to just keep it out on a Parsons table (a streamlined, modern rectangular table) in a corner. “It’s a pretty table, and if I keep it neat, it looks nice in my living room,” she says.
Sarah Bohl struggled with finding a good spot in her rental for doing calligraphy, which started out as a hobby and morphed into a part-time business for which she takes on projects like writing out envelopes and place cards for weddings. She first set up shop in a windowless utility room in the basement, which she called her “calligraphy dungeon.” She tried to move into the basement family room but worried about her kids spilling inks or ruining pieces she’d left out to dry.
Then she put her young son and daughter in the same bedroom and turned the third bedroom in the Fairlington townhome her family rents into a calligraphy studio. “Once I broke out of the box that this is ‘supposed’ to be a bedroom, it really helped,” says Bohl, 31. “I’m so much more productive now that I have my own dedicated space — and happier too.”
If you just can’t find room in your pad, you can rent a workroom or studio space. (Ask a fellow crafter where he or she works or do a little creative Googling to find options near you.) At Bits of Thread, for example, it costs just $7 an hour to rent the workroom.
Elsewhere, renting long-term studio spaces — which often have lengthy waitlists — will run you several hundred dollars a month (or more). You can bring that cost down by sharing the space, but it’s still a significant investment.
“I don’t go out to eat a lot. If I want to go do something, I can go to my studio,” says 28-year-old painter and performance artist Jane Claire Remick, who rents a room in a Columbia Heights group house and has rented a shared space at 52 O Street Studios (52 O St. NW) for several years. For her, it’s worth it. “I’ve always been willing to make compromises,” she says.
In the end, figuring out where to paint or woodwork or crochet is a lot like the creative process itself. “You just have to improvise,” says Allen.
For Some Renters in D.C., Home Is Where the Art Is
For renters concerned with finding a spot for their easel or piano, there are some apartment complexes in the D.C. area where room for artistic pursuits is among the amenities.
Artspace’s Brookland Artspace Lofts (202-526-1509) and Mount Rainer Artist Lofts (301-927-3586) offer affordable, live-work units that can be rented by everyone from musicians and sculptors to designers and tattoo artists, some of whom make their living from their work and others for whom it’s still more of a hobby. (You don’t have to be an artist to rent there, but preference is given to artists.) They’ve proven so popular that they’re fully occupied and have long waiting lists.
Apartments are still available at Monroe Street Market in Brookland (866-339-1487), a multi-building community with more than 560 apartments and 27 artist studios for rent, along with a variety of retail tenants.
Among the amenities for residents is a free “arts lounge,” where renters can work on projects that might be too unwieldy for their apartments.
“We’ve found that a lot of local artists didn’t have a lot of space to work and never had the opportunity to entertain in their apartment, because their dining room was basically their work station,” says David Raley, general manager of Monroe Street Market. “[The arts lounge] offers a separate space where our residents can work on a project or work collectively with other residents and artists.” B.L.