I love the feeling of holding a propane torch blasting its fullest flame as it lifts the grain on my wood panels and the scent of charred wood wafting in the studio air. I’m excited by what lies in the layers of my plaster when I carve deeply into a painting in progress. I adore the physicality of scrubbing off image transfers, sanding with the roughest sand paper to create delicious textures. But all of this has always been a place holder for my biggest passion: home building and design.
I grew up watching This Old House and walking around my SW Portland neighborhood watching cow pastures, forests and fields become housing developments. My mom, aunt and I would wonder through the rough framing guessing what each room would become. We marveled at 80’s geodesic domes and oohed and awed at the “fancy” nineties mansions with open foyers and soaring ceilings. We toured Street of Dreams houses and dreamed of Tuscan inspired villas. My favorite class in high school was drafting and architecture. I dreamed of being an architect, but my mother encouraged me down the more practical path of engineering (She also paid and went with me to two semesters of Home Building 101!)- but after a few 8 am calculus classes in a basement classroom in college, it was clear that sitting still and doing math were not my forte’.
My passion for design never faltered even as my career path meandered wildly. After a fateful nanny job for an architect, I got a taste of modern architecture and I never looked back. I subscribed to Dwell and poured over its pages and dreamed of the houses I would build.
At 23, my then husband and I bought our first house (the same week we got married!) and by a series of fortunate/ unfortunate events, we spent the next 3 years spending every free moment remodeling and redesigning a dilapidated 1945 home (and living with my mom). I got my first chance to try my hand at contracting during this period and was addicted. I became pregnant with our son soon after we moved into the half remodeled home and he lived his first few months in the Johnny jump up with big ear muffs on, watching us complete various projects.
The first room we finished was my studio. Having a basement full of tools (used to remodel the house), I had my pick of tools to create my art. I started playing with applying paint with drywall knives and eventually (thanks to an inspiring class by Pat Wheeler) fell into using a medium we always had lying around the house- drywall mud. I began using chisels to carve and sand paper to create texture. My art became my way of building a house in miniature when we didn’t have the funds for the next project. I drew a concept plan, and built my pieces layer by layer, quenching my desire to design and build on an approachable scale.
After my divorce, I created an apartment in my old studio in my basement so my children and I could afford to stay in our home. This was my first solo project and I loved it, so I began to think more about what I once thought I could never do: become a contractor. I always told myself that I wasn’t handy enough and that I didn’t know enough and how would anyone ever hire me… but it turns out that 3 decades of home improvement projects, studying land use and obsessing over real estate listings and architecture magazines was a fantastic informal education. With each new client I am learning my strengths and that my hobby of psychology can really come in handy when working with clients and helping them to get what they want and to help couples reach compromises.
Now that my design business is in full swing, I’m figuring out where my art fits in. There is certainly no shortage of inspiration! As I design clients’ spaces, somehow I always envision an enormous painting on certain walls, and they look an awful lot like my own work.
Please join me for 3 events in October and see if you can see the influence architecture has had on my work.