Craft and hobby rooms are new hotspots for homes

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Chloe Stanwick, 12, plays around with glue gun and makes rodent-sized toys boxes for his Spud hamster.

Meanwhile, her mother, Jennifer Flores, can be found designing a new decorative item, honing her needlework skills, or reveling in the art of wrapping.

“Crafting, being creative and making art is important to us,” says Flores. That, and spending time with family, “is really what this room is about,” adds the DIY blogger whose website is called ramblingrenovators.ca.

The craft room – once an “empty shell” in the basement of their Etobicoke home – is well-organized and decorated in a lovely “modern coastal” blue and white theme. It provides storage and workspace for all their activities, including the messy ones. The durable, easy-wipe surfaces of a Corian countertop, laminate flooring, and vintage “beaten” harvest table make cleanup a breeze.

It’s a fun and functional space that could inspire other crafters as the pandemic drags on and interest in home-based creativity continues to grow. In fact, searches on Houzz.com for art studios — a category that includes “personal space for creative hobbies that support mental wellbeing” — jumped 875% last spring, compared to the same period in 2020.

Sewing projects of all types and sizes keep business going at the Ultimate Sewing Center in South Oshawa. The full-service, convenient and practical store attracts a wide range of enthusiasts, from grandmothers teaching their grandchildren embroidery to sewing beginners.

Popular projects include making masks, cushions for outdoor furniture and quilting – “the buzz” right now, says owner Shirley Eichler, a lifelong seamstress who just redid her own basement room 500 square feet.

Kids are also getting in on the act with patterns to make stuffed animals out of colorful fabrics or grandpa’s favorite shirt, she adds.

Cabinets and drawers provide a place for supplies in the remodeled basement room.

But not all artisans are cut from the same cloth, according to Eichler. “Men also come to sew,” with interests that range from speaker and car seat covers, to custom headliners (the name for the fabric lining on a car ceiling).

Eichler, who has worked in the industry for decades, notes that many clients are people who need stress relief. “We call it thread therapy,” she adds.

With just 20 minutes needed to whip up a table runner or three hours to sew four placemats, even those new to sewing can find “instant gratification,” she points out.

Eichler notes that while the machines are “so much easier now,” his store offers free classes with the purchase of a new or used machine.

Customers flock to Shirley Eichler's Ultimate Sewing Center in Oshawa to buy fabric and haberdashery, invest in a machine or learn a new hobby.

It combines the booming new appeal of home-made with a few factors: uniqueness, better quality and durability. Sustainability is also sewn into projects such as turning jeans into backpacks and cutting up old wool sweaters to make mittens.

Most hobbyists benefit from having a designated spot for their crafts, whether it’s a nook to park an easel, a closet converted into a mini studio, or an entire room for members of the family release their inner Michelangelo.

Planning is key, says handyman Flores, who designed her family’s craft room to combine function and style. Fitted with a long cabinet and a bench seat flanked by two tower cabinets, it has multiple drawers and cupboards to keep everything organized and easy to access. Special “areas” are used to store craft, sewing, and party supplies as well as wrapping paper, household tools, and decorative items.

“As a mom, I always told everyone where everything was. Now they can find it themselves,” Flores says, adding that Chloe “can just go there” anytime to tie-dye, painting or school projects.

“Nothing beats daylight when it comes to creating,” says contemporary artist Krista Sobocan.

Flores and her husband Sean Stanwick, a longtime do-it-yourselfer with a background in architecture, did all of the painting and installation of the cabinetry, flooring, planking and shelving themselves.

She describes the room as a “fun place” to hold “craft parties” but also a quiet space to hang out on your own.

For professional artist Krista Sobocan, the creative space of her live-work loft became her salvation when she turned to painting to express her “feelings of frustration, fear and loneliness” after the first COVID lockdown.

Her mixed-media work, which often depicts surreal female figures and self-portraits, has become a “meditative practice,” she says.

Jennifer Flores watches her daughter Chloe work on a new design with one of the young artist's paintings on display.

With her easel next to the windows and art supplies close at hand, she finds her creativity flowing, allowing her to produce more.

Sobocan calls natural light “best for any artist” because it doesn’t alter colors and provides a peaceful environment. “Nothing beats daylight when it comes to creating.”

Her loft in a former wartime bullet factory in the West End has no cupboards, so she created a curtained storage space for art supplies and equipment under the stairs.

When she’s ready to paint, she sets up a jar of favorite brushes, paints, mixing palette, candles and incense on an old wooden cart by her easel.

A ghost box of bottle caps is one of the DIY projects decorating the recreation room in Jennifer Flores' home.

“When I start a new room, I have to make sure my space is perfect because the energy of the space affects the energy of the room,” says Sobocan, whose contemporary artworks have been exhibited in galleries across the city. “Having everything ready to go…is an important part of the process.”

Depending on the size of the piece and its stage of progress, she will paint standing, seated in a chair, or nestled on a floor cushion.

Sobocan advises hobby artists to plan out the materials they’ll need before starting a piece, then arrange everything nearby in the correct order “so your flow isn’t interrupted.”

Setting up an environment that inspires and feels good is “setting yourself up for success,” she says.

Brushes get an artistic twist in a pretty pitcher in Jennifer Flores' craft room.

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Carola Vyhnak is a Cobourg-based writer who covers personal finance, home and real estate. She is a collaborator of the Star. Contact her by email: [email protected]

Tips for a creative space

The pros share some ideas on designing a space to create at home.

The handyman Jennifer Flores

  • Small craft supplies can be stored in anything from mason jars and plastic bins to budget-friendly baskets and shoeboxes.
  • To keep items visible and organized, use labeled, stackable, and clear containers. Don’t overfill them.
  • Keep similar things organized in one place, for example, children’s items like markers, crayons, glue, and art supplies.
  • Make sure your storage plan provides a home for everything, including bulkier items like long tubes of wrapping paper and sewing or Cricut machines.
  • Cutlery trays for small items and a pegboard for tools help keep things tidy.
  • “Make it fun” by displaying your work or adding decorative touches.

Sewing expert Shirley Eichler:

  • First design your space or room on paper to create a flow – “like a kitchen” – between the different components.
  • Buy quality tools and supplies.
  • Have a good cutting surface for the fabric; a chest freezer works well in basements.

  • Sewing machine prices range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, so try different models first before buying.
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