Last August, I embarked upon a project that took as long as it takes to gestate a baby. At times, it felt like that's what was going on. But the result, while not yet entirely complete, has been nothing short of spectacular in terms of reaching the goal.
The problem began with a damp floor, a nasty carpet, a smell that wouldn't go away, and not enough room for all the inventory - okay, junk - needed for the typical artsy fartsy. The problem could be resolved by removing the carpet and seeing what lay beneath, dealing with whatever problem was going on under there, and then removing pieces of furniture that were no longer needed - or which took up too much space for such little return. And so, in August, I cleared out a spot in a basement junk room where I could roll the various carts of supplies and additional boxes of stuff. The room wasn't big enough and things got put all over the house. It'd only be for a month, I figured. No biggie.
The first issue was a concrete floor that was made with fly ash from the railroad's steam engines. Instead of rock hard concrete, it makes something that's more like pumice stone. Supposedly our fly by night contractor (who fixed up the basement in return for some money he owed me) had sealed the floor before laying carpet, but when I found efflorescence, I knew he hadn't done any such thing. That was the first hurdle, and it was solved by the helpful hardware man who was mixing the paint for me. (Benjamin Moore Adagio) I was depressed and close to tears when I described the situation to him. "I have just what you need," he chirped. And indeed he did.
The floor project took months of ruminating and probably one month of actual work. But the result was that we had used a heat gun to scrape up residual gunk from an asbestos tiled floor, scrubbed it several times with TSP (non-phosphate version), and then smoothed areas that were badly pock-marked and 'effloresced.' There were also four mysterious holes. (They didn't happen anywhere else in the basement, so who knows!) After that, the directions were to roll on sealer that is intended for exterior concrete. "Use up the whole gallon," he advised. And we did.
I'd found thick vinyl flooring the color of unfinished maple and printed to look like wood flooring. It took all my yard sale profit + $30, but it was just what I needed. A light, neutral floor that would be easy to clean.
Another month rolled by before Big Kitty arrived home with a bunch of rolls of kraft paper. His most excellent plan involved making a pattern of the floor. Then he got a big strong co-worker to help him haul the roll of vinyl out to the neighbor's driveway, where we put the pattern on it and cut it to fit. No seams! With the floor down, all that remained was to paint.
One more month flew by and I was agitating to get the futon mattress out of the living room! Finally the World's Greatest Painter took care of business.
Sandwiched in between all this were the Christmas holidays, and those were remarkable for the arrival of an incredible seven foot long shelf for Little Chicago. Bubba Wayne and his dad made it!
Eventually we took a trip to IKEA in Charlotte and I bought three shelf units that have drawers for storage. We went to Lowe's and had heavy furniture grade plywood cut for shelves in the closet, and slowly but surely I was moving back in. Before I post any pictures of the results, I need to clean up the joint and get everything tweaked. I have some messes that warrant detail work.
But, the picture above is my main work area, with my 1970s Bieffe drafting table, the fabulous seven foot shelf and Little Chicago in all its glory.
There is a magazine called Where Women Create, or something like that. Well, I have yet to stand in line at the craft store -where I read the pictures - and see anyone's basement studio.
My place reminds me a bit of Oliver Styma's machine tool and die shop in his basement. He made millions 'down th' cellar.' I'll never make millions down here, but I'll certainly be making a lot of things! I don't know if Oliver ever cued up Dean Martin to sing Ain't That a Kick in the Head, or Herb Alpert's horn purring Come Fly with Me (with steel drums, no less!). But I know he made some really inventive stuff in that basement. (And he kept chocolate in his safe!)
Anyway, I'm hoping to be ready for a 'grand opening' of sorts when the Liberal Ladies' Tea & Culture Society next meets. I've got a deadline, and there is NOTHING better than a deadline to jumpstart a creative type.
Here are a few fuzzy shots of Little Chicago, starting at the south end with the Art Institute of Chicago, a Marshall Field's Frango Factory (the candy kitchens were actually in the basement of Field's flagship store!). The third picture is the Water Tower and it is surrounded by a swanky apartment building, a pizzeria (Gino's on Rush), and a boutique. Finally, Wrigleyville, complete with the Cubby Bear bar and that souvenir shop across the street.
The scene is not complete - there is a little tweaking and some creative work to do, like fabricate a couple of folding chairs to go on top of an apartment building behind the ballpark (before they got official and built all those rooftop places!). But, it's there, and I can tell you that making art beneath that toddlin' town is a lot of fun!