I Turned a 1930’s Farmhouse Closet into an Art Studio
How to turn a dark, old closet into a cheerful bright art studio.
Several years ago, I wanted a change from the city life. So, I did the extreme and moved into a 1930’s farmhouse in a tiny Kansas town. The house was very dark inside and suffered from years of neglect. I took on the task of slowly renovating it into a bright and cheerful home. One of the projects I would tackle is to create a space for an art studio.
The second floor featured two bedrooms on each side of the house. In the middle was a smaller room that the previous owners had turned into a closet. The room had two small access doors into the attic. One on each side of the room with a large dual window in the center of the east wall. The walls were curved making it difficult to find a desk and storage options. I would have to custom build something to make it work.
There was a large rod on the west wall that was being used to hang clothes on. I would need to remove that and patch the wall. It had the original light fixture that seemed to be held together with electrical tape. There was wallpaper on all four walls and the ceiling. With most of the homes in this area, they have gone through several changes in wallpaper.
The house had gone through a recent addition in the early 90’s. This added additional square footage on the lower level. They turned the original bedroom into a bathroom. The addition itself created a larger kitchen and added a bedroom that attached to the new bathroom.
There was a small room at the top of the stairs. It had east faced windows that would be great for natural light. While deciding what I wanted to do with this room, I was working on other areas of the home. I knew I needed two bedrooms, one for my son and the other for my daughter. I would take the bedroom on the main level, leaving this room for either storage or something else.
One option was to make it into another bathroom. It was right above the bathroom on the main level, which would make it easier to extend the plumbing. I could make it an office. But I had already decided to renovate part of the kitchen for an office space. After a few months of contemplating, I finally decided to make it into a small art studio.
I started out by removing the wire hangers that were on the metal rod. Then I started tackling the wallpaper. At first, I was using a wallpaper steamer, but it kept burning my hands. The steamer left a mess of all the glue from the wallpaper. Honestly, it wasn’t really doing the best job anyway. So, I opted for trying something new. I dripped a few drops of dish soap into a spray bottle and then added some hot water. This was doing a much better job at removing it.
As I would get one layer off, another layer would reveal itself below. You could tell the general decade that it was applied by the design on the wallpaper. It was fun seeing all the popular patterns and designs throughout the years. I counted at least six different designs. Sprinkled here and there was a layer of aluminum foil. They were using it to cover holes and cracks from the house shifting.
Once most of the wallpaper was off, I rolled it up inside the carpet. I attempted to slide it down the stairs without making a mess. Thinking that would be a better idea than spending time bagging it all up. I had already started taking off the carpet on the stairs, so it did slide down a little easier. I was using the original dining room as a trash dump. The front door was attached to the dining room and was at the bottom of the stairs. It was the best location for storing demo items. I could easily pull the truck up to the front porch and fill it up.
After removing all the wallpaper, I saw that it was lath and plaster underneath. I thought about tearing it all out and installing new sheet rock. But this meant I would have to re-wire the electrical and then install sheetrock.
By this time, it was July and in the heat of the summer. The south facing windows allowed the sun to beat in, making most of my days end soaked in sweat. I was working on several other projects at the same time. I didn’t want to take additional time and budget away from other projects. So, I opted to just clean up the rest of the wallpaper and patch the wall. I could then give it a fresh coat of paint. Choosing a nice neutral off white would give me a nice blank canvas. Plus, I had thought about doing some sort of floral mural on all the walls.
Planning the Design
Creating a place to work on art projects and something that would make me smile was my main goal. After careful thought, I decided to move forward with the floral mural idea. I looked at a few reference photos and sketched out my plan on the wall. No time for delay, I sketched it directly onto the wall without using a piece of paper first. Plus, hand painting a mural on all four walls was going to take up a lot of time already.
After I had the design on the wall, I chose the colors of the butterflies first. This would give me a general idea of what colors to paint the flowers. Using some left over recycled latex paint that I had lying around, I started blocking in color. The Home Depot in Denver had a ton of small sample bottles of latex paint. I made sure to grab them when I saw them. I knew I could use them for something, this was the perfect something!
The days were spent by hours and hours up in this room just painting away. A lot of times in the middle of the night with only a floor lamp illuminating the wall. I was relaxed with music playing and in my own little world just enjoying each individual brush stroke.
All the curves and corners of the wall made it extremely difficult when drawing the design and painting. While taking breaks here and there, I worked on other areas of the house, coming back to this room periodically. Trying to do most of the painting early in the morning before it got too hot. I would also work late into the evening when it was cooler.
Final Touches to the Art Studio
After finishing up most of the color, I wanted to add a bit more pop to the illustration. I worked on adding a black line throughout all the pieces of the mural. It was time consuming to add all the details to the flowers. But I wanted to add in an outline as well. I’m glad that I did, it was so worth it!
Some of the flowers look a bit distorted and the petals are too close together. Fatigue and exhaustion could have been to blame for this! Growing up in Kansas as a child, I do remember the summers being hot. But the humidity seemed to affect me the most as an adult.
While taking breaks from painting the flowers, I painted the first coat of paint on the trim. I then painted a first coat onto the doors. Getting rid of that awful depressing brown was my main focus. A fresh coat of white trim paint brightened the room up tremendously!
I picked up a roll of neutral tile looking flooring remnant from the local hardware store. It was thick, heavy, and made for commercial spaces without the need to glue it down. It looked perfect in the space and hid the beaten-up hardwood floors underneath.
Because the walls were curved, I had to find the right size of storage options to place against the walls. Walls in older homes tend to not be straight due to shifting or sinking of the house. In this case, the center of the home was sinking and needed to be reinforced. So, all the walls and floors were off, making it difficult when doing renovations.
Stopping by the local hardware store, I picked up a large sheet of white melamine tabletop. This would work perfect for creating a custom countertop for the space. It allowed me to add a workbench up against the window. I also added curved tabletops on top of the shelving units. I sanded and painting the edges so that it would match the top. Adding tops to the storage units gave me added storage and more workspace.
I had a few bins that I needed to store and all my art paper. I wanted to keep them off the floor to make it easier to clean the space. The best option I could find for such a small space was to create a storage shelf above the windows.
All in all, I am pleased with the way it turned out. If I had to do it again, I would do it a bit different. I would add in the countertop and storage units, then figure out the design of the mural. Right now, most of the shelving is hiding the mural.
I did move out of this house to another state. Taking everything with me and only leaving the mural intact. I think it would make a great nursery or something for the new owners.
Let me know what you think in the comments or what you would have done differently.
Lissa is an entrepreneur, graphic designer, and artist who has built an extensive portfolio of previous and current work. She specializes in numerous artistic mediums, digital printables, stickers, stationary, clay earrings, clay pins, and illustration. She loves to share her life experiences and struggles with mental health with the hopes of encouraging others.