Workspace Inspiration – My Desks and Studios Throughout Time
I love being in my studio, whether its shooting a tutorial, using the workbench, or just attending a conference call. Since moving to NYC in 2003, I’ve always had to make do with a smaller-than-ideal workspace, except for those two years I lived in Arizona. Here’s a trip through workspaces of my past, starting with college.
I shared my freshman dorm with three other students. Four desks, four beds, four dressers, four NYC college freshmen women. I ended up doing a lot of my art school homework in the dorm’s study room or at the house where I babysat. But the furniture was the same at my next place:
The first space in NYC I had to myself was a single-off-a-suite I lucked into via the student housing lottery. The dorm was on Union Square West, just a few floors of the otherwise-privately-residential building above Blue Water Grill. (I’ve heard it has since been converted back to regular apartments and is no longer a New School dorm.) Since my bed was lofted, I could take over the whole floor with projects. Continue reading for the complete history of my workspaces:
Since I no longer had a roommate (except for my suite-mates across the hall), I stayed up late on my computer, a 900Mhz G3 iBook. And since my windows faced the kitchen, sometimes it smelled like steak and french fries in my room. I spy two textbooks in the above photo that really bring back some nostalgic feelings: The New Media Reader and Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media. I used my .edu email address to sign up for “the facebook” from this room, as soon as my school was added.
The only photo I could find of my desk configuration at my Orchard Street apartment (which I shared with one roommate) is this photo of the first sweater I knit myself. I had to sit on my bed to sit at my desk in this room. My dad made this little desk for me from some dimensional lumber and a hollow core door. It came apart and came together quickly with a few screws. I was working on a lot of electronics and computer projects at the time, and had adopted a retired computer lab PC tower to go along with my iBook.
You can get a better view of my little door-desk in this photo collage of my workspace in the living room of my Crown Heights apartment, senior year of college. I upgraded my iBook to an Intel MacBook Pro. I was doing more video work and crafts, so my workspace grew to include a small TV/VCR and sewing machine station. I didn’t have to share this apartment with anybody, and my ironing board was pretty much permanently set up across the room.
In the oversized bedroom, I prototyped my electronic video sculpture college thesis project about industrial agriculture. That stuff all over the floor is spilled popcorn.
As a senior in college, I moved in with a boyfriend and briefly lived in two different shared Bushwick lofts before moving away to grad school. here’s my desk at the first.
And here’s my desk at the second, mid-packing to move to Arizona for grad school. At some point senior year, I bought a 24″ Dell monitor.
In Tempe, I first shared an apartment with somebody from my research group. I picked up this beech tabletop and metal legs from Ikea.
Later I reconfigured my room layout to include a secondary work surface just opposite the first.
My little door-desk became the crafting and electronics assembly station.
At school, I had a cubicle desk as part of my research assistantship. There was a dissonance between the central AC and the nearby refrigerator hum that drove me crazy. I tried to spend as little time here as possible. After a year, I dropped out and transferred to a different program at the same school.
In the sculpture grad program, each student got his/her own studio space. Since I was lowest on the totem pole, I got the studio with the least flexible furniture arrangement due to its required access to the electrical boxes. The walls didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling, so if someone was welding in the adjacent space, the dust would come down all over my stuff (hence the plastic bags covering up my plush sculpture in the foreground). I kept my laptop on a stand, and one day while packing it up, I managed to let it slide off. The corner hit the cement floor and blammo, I needed a new laptop. I picked up a unibody MacBook Pro, which remains my least favorite computer I’ve ever owned, 80% because of the sharp front edge that hurt my hands, and 20% because I had to buy it under duress.
Even with its limitations, this was more space than I’d ever had to myself to just create, and the dirtiness of nearby metalwork was more liberating than it was annoying. It is during this time that I cemented for myself the working style of having a computer desk and an “other desk” for making messes and documentation. Recording clean sound in this place was, however, near impossible. So when I started to make videos more often, I knew I needed a quieter spot.
I had moved from an apartment to a shared house. The back of the house had a small shed built onto it, accessible via the patio. I spruced it up into an office and video studio. It wasn’t on the house’s AC so didn’t really work in the AZ summer, even with a window unit trying to cool it down.
After school I moved back to Brooklyn NYC, into a one bedroom apartment above a bodega on Graham Ave. This is when I started working full time for MAKE Magazine. My living/dining room became my studio, which took on various iterations over the years. At first there was no couch.
I upgraded my hollow-core door desk for this small Ikea table through a trade with a former roommate in AZ. This became my new electronics (and other messes) workstation.
In preparing to have knee surgery in 2010, I acquired a gigantic couch. It’s a sectional. I put both of my work tables along the same wall so as to make space for it and my knitting machine.
When Matt Richardson and I first hosted Make: Live, we separated the sectional and added some studio lighting. We also got an iMac for the show because our laptops didn’t have powerful enough graphics capabilities for our streaming software.
I adopted a heavy metal L-shaped desk from Meg. My Ikea table fit perfectly overtop of the smaller section, which made it expandable/collapsible as needed for shooting CRAFT and MAKE videos.
Here you can see the table in expanded mode during pre-show setup for a Make: Live broadcast. You can see the iMac on the left, the Dell monitor in the background, our two MAKE-issue black MacBooks in the foreground and my personal MacBook Pro in the back right.
In 2012 I moved into a rad loft space in on the Gowanus Canal right around the time I started working at Adafruit. It had a separate room I could call my studio. The room even had a door! I worked from home more days than not during this time, and expanded my studio setup to include a big softbox light on a wheeled stand. I moved out of this place after Hurricane Sandy (the poisonous canal flooded the building, wrecking the power temporarily and the heat/steam boiler more permanently), to Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
Around the same time, we moved into a much bigger space at work, so I brought my studio stuff in and set up dedicated zone to create wearables projects and videos. I used a company hand-me-down Macbook Pro plugged into my Dell monitor and then eventually an Apple monitor, and worked on an iMac at home one day per week, to edit video.
My new L-shaped desk came from Global Industrial. I loved its high shelving and louvered bin panel. I positioned it so that my filming surface was next to the large windows, providing ample natural light for assembly footage.
Eventually more expansion allowed me to move away from the shipping department, whose incessant packing tape noises were hard to edit around. I moved to the corner of the warehouse, with just the occasional passing pallet jack.
My studio area consisted of my desk, a garment rack full of finished and future projects, shelving, and a low table (same type of beech tabletop from Ikea that I have at home).
Next door to my studio area was the broadcast desk, from which I streamed weekly live broadcasts, powered by an iMac with an extra monitor.
In switching to work for Instructables/Autodesk, I transitioned to working entirely from my one-bedroom apartment, which I shared 90% of the time with my boyfriend (but who still had a lease on a one bedroom two neighborhoods away). Our living room became the studio/office/dining room, and the bedroom absorbed the living room couch and TV. We each had a desk, and I had two work surfaces, as usual. My friend Maria filmed at my place in this video, which gives a sense of the layout:
At the end of our stay in this place, I had taken over the side of the room with windows.
Next, my boyfriend and I moved in together more officially, to a different building in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, and an apartment with a lot more space. I’m very lucky now to have my own dedicated room to serve as my studio in our current apartment.
It’s quiet, since it faces the inside of the block. It has a gigantic closet. And there’s even a little roof space out the window that’s perfect for doing smelly stuff like spray-treating 3D prints (and grilling).
I rearranged the furniture in this room several times already, including a few upgrades like my LED studio light and rolling tool chest. I’m still using the same beech tabletop with grey metal legs, but I’ve since stained it black. I still work on an iMac, and have an old MacBook Air for travel.
I set up my MakerBot Rep 2 printer in my Ikea bookshelf and taped up a clear vinyl curtain to keep the heat in.
My studio has another workstation: the jewelry bench. This specialized desk has a high work surface with detachable bench pin and a shelf and catch-tray that extend while working. These features put the detailed work close to your face and make space to work around it. I attached a vice. This workstation functions for electronics as well as jewelry making.
Most days, the Litemat 2L is cantilevered in such a way that I can swing it over the jewelry bench or the new rolling table, which replaces its bigger predecessor, the second black-stained beech Ikea tabletop.
My studio’s newest edition is a white rolling tool chest, which majorly upgraded the convenience and findability of my tools, and they keep the visual clutter at bay.
Thanks for reading about my personal history of studio/desk space!