Basement studio makeover: dirty little “before” photos!

Hello, everyone!

Boy, have I been busy these last several weeks! We’ve been knee deep in giving our basement studio spaces a BIG makeover. And suddenly the weather went from marginal spring (great to seclude yourself in the basement) to summer (oops, would rather be out doing fun things) in about 10 seconds flat, and I feel like I’m behind on literally everything. With a vacation coming in mid-June I suspect I’m going to feel like I’m behind all summer. Ah well, I’ll have to just enjoy the ride!

Today is the first of a series of posts I’m going to do about our basement makeover! Albeit a casual series, as I won’t be able to do the proper full final “reveal” until it’s all complete, which it won’t be for most of the summer yet as we fine tune. But don’t worry, I’ll soon let you see how it all looks now that the furniture part is done, since that was the biggest part of it. Even without even any decorations or art up at all yet, it’s about 5,000% better already! 🙂

Today you get the full back story and “before” photos!

Mel and I each have our studio work spaces in the basement: sewing and other crafts for me, art for Mel. But our spaces were a hot mess. My space was waaaaay stinkier and messier, I will fully admit. I have too many interests and a natural tendency to spread out to any horizontal surface within a 10-mile radius. If you live in Chicago, you should be surprised I don’t have crap sitting on your surfaces.

We kept saying “we need to organize in the basement”, but neither of us knew what we wanted and so we’d put it off. Until one day this spring, I think I must have reached the tipping point and just started going bananas measurements and plotting things out. If you follow me on Pinterest I’m sure you probably put my sewing and craft studio ideas board on “unfollow” because I was being so annoying with the excessive pins!

When we moved into our house a little over four years ago, Mel and I knew we each were going to take space in the basement for work areas (coming from a one bedroom condo, where we literally had no dedicated space). We have a petite mid-century modest house at about 1,130 square feet, but basements aren’t counted when they calculate that, and thankfully we have quite a big basement! Along with laundry, storage room, and an ugly-but-happy-to-have-it bathroom, the rest is mostly a big open finished space. Simple finished, but it has drywall, outlets, drop ceilings with fluorescent lighting, heating/cooling vents, three decent windows, and peel-and-stick vinyl tile on the concrete. Enough to make it perfectly serviceable as work spaces.

Here’s what the main area of our basement looked like when we moved in four years ago:


Kind of just a big box. (The photo was taken standing just past a wall opposite the bathroom.) In theory, that’s a good blank slate, right? For four years… not so much.

After we moved, we took one tiny stab at thinking about our spaces and then never really changed anything or explored further when we found ourselves complaining “I hate my space! I need…”. I had two long IKEA dining room tables theoretically for my cutting table, but gave myself no sewing space or working space,  so they ended up being my Everything Tables, with my sewing machine, serger, small cutting mats and everything else piled on. And I had one small dresser for storage of craft supplies. And that. is. IT.  Pretty soon there were piles of fabric and mending all over the sofa, stacks of fabric behind it, stacks of crap just everywhere. I had nowhere to put my resin crafting supplies so they lived on and under a dinette table outside the bathroom door, with one stackable storage unit under my sewing tables.

{{Edited to add: I completely forgot I did a post when we moved in about my plans for the space. Bwahahaha! The good news is that now, finally, everything I mentioned and more is accomplished in my new space!}}

And Mel’s space was one of the same dining tables plus a tiny desk crammed next to it, all along the same wall as me, even though we were essentially leaving half the basement empty. With paints stacked on top of paints, and sketch books and art resources everywhere. Plus, while we shoved in a stereo and record player between our spaces, we didn’t even have a place for the records themselves, so they were still in our storage room!

But I finally got a fire up my butt to do something about this. I was tired of difficult to work in, un-planned spaces and zero (zippo, zilch, nada) storage. So after spending several weeks daydreaming and planning and essentially living on the IKEA web site, finally mid-spring, we changed it all!

We kept most of what we were already using (and re-housed a few things elsewhere), configured everything in completely different ways, and expanded with massive amounts of storage. Plus, we finally got an entertainment space for our stereo and records, and bought a TV (which we’d wanted down there for years but had nowhere to put it).

Ready to see the “before” photos?! I didn’t tidy, folks, this is straight up ugly real working space. When you see people doing their “craft room before and after” reveals and the “before” is perfectly pleasant and organized and lovely and makes you feel bad about your own space… trust me, this isn’t going to be one of those times.

basement work areas: before


The above photo is looking towards our spaces. Mel’s art space is on the right. My sewing space is on the left. It flowed out behind the space with that hilarious towering pile of fabric and onto the desk for the vintage Kenmore I’ve yet to get repaired.

The below is my sewing area. This actually looks slightly worse than normal, as I’d already ordered a few organizing supplies (mainly those aqua bins) by the time I snapped these photos, so I’d just shoved them into my space when we started moving things around.


And here’s what it looks like standing at the edge of Mel’s space, looking towards the sofa. That dresser beyond it on the right was my literal only storage organizer for craft supplies… hence the endless piles on and under anything in sight.

sofa of doom

Honestly guys, I feel like I’m standing around naked in front of all of my friends here. This is so embarrassing!!

Here’s a look at Mel’s space, and the shameful way some of my books were being stored: busting out of milk crates like I was still in college or something. (Why they were next to one of Mel’s tables, who knows.) I mean milk crates for crying out loud.


The rest of the books were stored equally poorly, in two seriously overflowing bookcases. We downsized bookcases when we left our condo and never upsized again. Because clearly we preferred to look like crazy people?


Remember how I said we basically crammed ourselves into one half of the basement, with the other half empty? Wasn’t kidding. You could have held a square dance or ceili in there:


(Sorry, some of these pics are really dark as I just snapped them in a rush before the makeover began literally a few minutes later.)

That entire half of the room had a table with an old computer we no longer used (we did only for a short time after we’d moved in, so four years ago by now), the cat litter boxes, our bar fridge, and the giant mirror I used when sewing (which came out of our bathroom remodel). What a waste of space!


I think sometimes you need to use a space that doesn’t work well for you in order to come up with any kind of idea of what will work well for you. At least, that sounds like a good excuse for working in this space for four years, doesn’t it?! 😉 Oof!


I’ve been thinking of this project in four phases:

  • Phase 1: planning (spending hours on the IKEA web site and Pinterest and having umpteen discussions about what we each wanted in our own spaces, and what we wanted in the mutual space we planned)
  • Phase 2: executing (moving around furniture, building flat pack furniture until the end of time, and a few crafty hacks)
  • Phase 3: organizing (moving piles of crap around piles of crap until the piles are smaller and the crap is organized)
  • Phase 4: decorating and settling in (making it all look good and giving it our own personalities)

Planning and execution are done, some of the organization is finished, but none of the decorating, which is what will truly make our spaces complete.

And that’s more than enough for this post! This is probably the most boring post of the lot for you, but fun (and cringe-worthy) for me to look at these horrible photo of what our studio spaces used to look like. Soon, I’ll show you the current state of things hovering around in Phase 3, but I still have to take photos of that. (But if you follow me on Instagram, you got to see a few looks along the way.)

I can’t believe how different the space looks now, and we’re not even fully finished!! I’ll leave you with a peek at my IKEA spreadsheet and the delivery of boxes…



You won’t believe the transformation! 😀

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Golly, 37 Comments!

  • Oooh, I can’t wait to see how it turned out! I love remodels maybe even more than I love sewing.


    • It’s so different now, even though it’s not decorated at all or even fully organized. It’s still a breath of fresh air by comparison!


  • I can’t even understand (oh, wait, excuse me, I have to move this pile to get at my coffee) who raised you (ummm, be right back, I have to move the pile over there in order to get to my glasses so I can read the piece of paper on top of this pile here). My friends (yes, there are piles of them) know enough to ask me which pile to put put things on. I truly (piling it on here) cannot understand your love of piles.


  • It looks great to me 🙂 Mine is worse. Can’t wait to see it when it’s finished!


  • Raesha de Ruiter Zylker June 1, 2016 at 12:36pm

    THANK you for realistic and real life ‘before’ photos! I can’t wait to see it when it’s all done. My sewing is spread all over the house and garage since I only have a small space in my bedroom (my husband HATES it but OH WELL) where I actually sew – I would LOVE to have an amazing basement space like this.


    • Thanks! We’re lucky to be able to spread out in the basement like this. It’s a far cry from sharing the dining room table like we had to in our condo (and sharing one at a time)!


  • Wow! What a big job! Love before and after posts like this.


    • Yeah, definitely a tall order! Not a remodel or anything, but it’s amazing how much work can just go into making over a space even when no painting or anything “major” is involved.


  • Ohhhh my. heh

    I love your honesty. And don’t feel bad about your ‘before’. My sewing room doesn’t even have walls for goodness sake. I have a blue tarp on one “wall” and I look at insulation on the others. lol One day….

    I’ve already seen a few pics on instagram and am totally itching to see your new lovely space.


    • Yeah, at least you can work right?!! That’s how I felt about it for the longest time since I didn’t have dedicated space before, so I was just happy to even HAVE space. But it’s nice to be able to finally organize it a bit better into something that’s a pleasure to work in!


  • Ack! You left us hanging! But cute Pia checking out the boxes is pretty nice! Looking forward to your next post.


  • That looks like my workspaces. I am so glad I’m not the worst one with a mixed media studio! (I teach sewing AND music out of it!) I am SOOOO EXCITED for the renovated reveal! I love remodeling and your house stuff has been uber cute!


  • I loved this. Can’t wait to see what you did with the space.


  • Your new space look wonderful. Full of activity and color! But that couch makes it. And the coat with the fur collar. It’s so you! Thanks for sharing your inspiring process.


    • The coat just got put on the dress form temporarily (I need to take it in) but that happened right before the room makeover began so it stayed there for awhile. 😉


  • I am so excited to see the after, I saw some of your sneak peeks on instagram and it looks good! Thanks for showing a realistic “before”. I’ve definitely been there before too 🙁 Actually we are still working on getting the sewing area up to snuff, so it’ll be nice to see how you have set up yours!


    • Yeah, I definitely didn’t want to pretty it up for people! 😉 The new space is so much nicer. Not perfect, but ticks a lot of the boxes I wanted ticked for my sewing area!


  • Oh, I so envy you your space! We have no basement and what should be my sewing room has to double as an occasional guest room and sometime playroom for when the grandkids come over a couple of times a month and full time junk room. So, even though 90 percent of the time it is nothing else but a sewing room and junk room it still has to have a daybed in it in my way. My cutting table is a gate-leg table that my husband built. It’s a little over two yards long by four feet wide when it’s open and 18 inches by 4 feet when it’s closed. A wonderfully clever and convenient invention.


    • We contemplated having the guest room double as a sewing room when we first moved in, but realized the basement made so much more sense. Your cutting table sounds great! Pretty similar size to the one we put together for me, too.


  • I love these kinds of posts! Can’t wait to see how it turned out.


  • Looks like you have a good amount of space to play with. Can’t wait to see the completed project.


    • Yeah, I’m very grateful to have a decent amount of space to work with, even if it’s a basement! Much better than the dining room table I was sharing before we bought our house, ha ha!


  • I love seeing your space! I hide all the crap I don’t use or need behind storage, so it’s sort of the opposite problem. All my sewing/crafting is moving to the basement, so it’s good to have some inspiration!


    • I’m guessing your sewing is moving to the basement to make room for a bedroom for your future tiny newcomer? 😉 The nice thing about it being in the basement is being able to spread out, even if it’s not an actual “room” that I’m painting, doing the flooring, etc. as part of the overhaul. I’m just so happy to have a basement that I don’t mind that it still featured ugly pinky beige vinyl tile! 😉


  • Looking forward to the “after” – and I’m very jealous of all of the space that you have! Now could you please come get your stuff off of my coffee table in Wicker Park – I have my own sewing stuff I need to pile up on it. 😉


    • Bwahaha! See, I told you, no one is safe within a 10 mile radius and we’re in Jefferson Park so you’re within the danger zone! 😉


  • How awesomely exciting for you guys – and all of us who get a chance to see the transformation. I love that you and Mel each have your own adjoining work spaces in the basement. I’d love to have a house with enough room for me and Tony to have the same one day, too. It must be really fantastic to each be down their, immersed in creative pursuits, and be so near to one another while in the process.

    ♥ Jessica


  • […] thought I’d continue my basement studio makeover posts (catch up with the first one here) with the planning and the “build-out” phase where we actually assembled and moved […]


  • Thank you for being open to share with us your journey to getting your craft room where you want it. I have always loved seeing behind the scenes and when people would share the making of a movie. By the items you share and the picture posts of your created items, most of us would never have known your craft room didn’t look like it came out of an ikea magazine. I love how real and relatable this is. Glad you are getting your craft area where you want it to be.


  • […] than each cube, and I use it to carefully fold all my fabric now. A far cry from the heaps of it before. Even dressmaking amounts of fabric fold up quite small, which is fantastic and makes me feel like […]


  • […] of our basement into studio spaces for ourselves. Back then, I did a few posts on it—sharing the dirty ‘lil before photos, the planning and build-out phase, and creating my dream cutting table. But I haven’t shared […]


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