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DIY When You’re Living Small

It should come as no surprise that we love a good DIY. My heart goes wild when Scott reviews fabric choices with me (oh!, what have I done to him?), and a Sunday stroll through Home Depot is our idea of a great time (really). But with every project we take on, we like to tell you how it went down, good or bad.

But something we rarely bring up is the challenge of bringing our ideas to life in our bitty home. We don’t consider our place terribly small (by city standards, 675 sq ft is pretty luxurious), but it’s become routine to face obstacles with our limited space. We don’t have a garage (we dream of the day!), a private, grassy yard (front or back) or rooftop access (at least, not legally).

Here’s how (and where) we deal with what we’ve got:

We work around chaos. The larger the scope of our project, the larger the pickle. During the better part of Operation Studio, our hallway became the breeding ground for – ugh! – piles, and while we were unsure at the time, we did survive.

We work outside – in all weather, year-round. Our patio gets more use than just cold beers during the summer. The 8’x10′ space is precious needed real estate for offensive paints and polys, electric sanders and miter saws. Even in January, we suck it up. (But when it’s been a really bad winter – we’re talking, like, below zero – we’ve been known to use our miter saw in the house.)

We spread out, and any surface is fair game. Um, you do remember the multi-city, road-tripping media wall, right?

And building, sanding and painting an 8′ wide shelving unit in an 8′ wide room wasn’t the easiest thing we’ve done, either:

Our so-called workbench is in our kitchen. We don’t have a garage, and we certainly can’t keep our tools and supplies on the patio. With the exception of our miter saw and paint bin (both of which reside in basement storage), all our hammers, levels, pliers and anchors live in these two cabinets. We’d show you, but dudes, it’s scary in there.

For the big stuff, we borrow a friend’s work space. We’re not afraid to ask; we have to. Our friend Pete has a warehouse studio that we’ve hauled lumber to in the past, and the majority of our media wall was sized, chopped and sanded in Ross’ Cincinnati workshop.

We utilize our building’s basement. It’s a little scary and poorly lit (and, oh, it’s been known to flood a time or two), but there are electrical outlets, plenty of room and most importantly, we won’t disturb our neighbors.

And for the heavy hauling, we drive a wagon. With tinted windows, a cargo cover and seats that fold flat, it’ll sometimes double as a (very temporary) impromptu storage space. Without her, we wouldn’t have been able to transport our media wall from one city to another, bring home all that pine for the studio shelving or have the freedom to dumpster dive at will.

We practice patience and try to keep a sense of humor. Scott’s much better at this than I am; I tend to get wrapped up in the details, the messes and the just get it done! syndrome. Lucky for me, when the going gets tough, he reminds me to laugh, to smile. (I got a good one.)

These are a few of the ways we manage to DIY in tight quarters, and like anything, there are good days and bad, and there are easy projects and some – well, not even close. But when we lose sleep and argue over the horrors of crown molding, we’ll tell you. When our dino-battling-terrarium dies in our incapable hands (twice!), we’ll tell you. When we can’t easily find a bleeping piece of wood in the entire city of Chicago, we’ll tell you.

And when we’re already questioning how and where we’re going to build before the project even starts, we’ll tell you that, too.

Small space dwellers, how and where do you DIY?

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  • Emily @ Our Waldo Bungie4.19.12 - 9:00 AM

    When we were first married, Daniel & I lived in a one-bedroom apartment and definitely utilized the deck as a workspace. Luckily, we now have a one-car garage, but it’s still pretty small, and we now spread out to the deck so I can paint while Daniel works the saws and drills and whatnot in the garage.ReplyCancel

  • Jimmy4.19.12 - 9:10 AM

    Ditto everything. Love it. I’ve lived on top of more DIY projects than I care to imagine. We’re sub-500 sq ft right now, and it just gets crazy some times. Luckily this new space has a little postage stamp backyard where I can run the saw. That’s a big help. I used to have to just try to aim the sawdust spray away from our bed as best I could (not a lick of outdoor space – up, down or out – to speak of there).

    And dear god how I love a good compact wagon. We had the Toyota Matrix for many years, and that thing has held some improbable items – full size dressers, etc. We use the Mazda 5 now (dual sliding doors!) and I love it. Same concept and very parallel park-able.ReplyCancel

  • Zandi4.19.12 - 5:03 PM

    We’re in a similarly small space, but without any outdoor space to speak of. I admit that in a pinch, I have spray painted things in the kitchen with a lot of fans going and a window open. It has no doubt taken years off my life, but has made my apartment all the cuter.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda- Hip House Girl4.19.12 - 5:28 PM

    Though our last house was pretty small, we had the luxury of a big basement and a ton of outdoor space. I’m really missing that now, living in an apartment. But like you, we have a teeny patio and that’s where I’m starting my first DIY down under. I think ANY outdoor space, no matter how small, is a DIY lifesaver.

    You guys have done some awesome things in your little place! It’s always refreshing to see someone’s hallway chock full of stuff mid-project.ReplyCancel

  • Kim S.4.19.12 - 8:25 PM

    It’s impressive what you can done in such a small space. We have plenty of space.ReplyCancel

  • Kim S.4.19.12 - 8:27 PM

    …meant to finish with…
    but don’t get nearly as much diy done.ReplyCancel

  • Brady4.19.12 - 11:34 PM

    As someone who lives in a larger place, I am totally impressed at your ingenuity and skill and talent. WOW!!!ReplyCancel

  • Jody4.20.12 - 10:58 AM

    We’re no longer small-space dwellers (moved out of SF!) but when we lived in our one-BR, we were all about foldable, stackable and storable. I bought David a foldable worktable with a built-in vise. My sewing machine is portable. The space under our couch was more or less a lumberyard. And because we didn’t have any outdoor space, we had to build put-up/tear-down time into all of our projects.

    I used to joke all of our DIY was like Burning Man: leave no trace!ReplyCancel

  • Michelle4.20.12 - 2:04 PM

    Ha ha! When I moved back to Minnesota I lived with my brother for a few years in our grandma’s old condo. In the time I was there we replaced the carpeting with wood floors, tiled the kitchen, painted walls, and completely remodeled both the bathroom and kitchen, which involved replacing cabinets and appliances. The balcony was always a wreck because that’s where the wood/tile cutting took place. After I moved out my brother covered the standard green astro turf carpeting out on the balcony with those wooden decking tiles from Ikea. It looks so nice now. A far cry from the dirt/cement/sawdust covered balcony I had to live with!ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.20.12 - 2:51 PM

      Aw, we live hearing all your small space stories!ReplyCancel

  • Tyrell4.22.12 - 5:16 PM

    NICE PIPE.ReplyCancel

  • pippin3.22.13 - 9:50 AM

    This post reminds me of the days when my husband and I lived in our 700sq foot condo in San Diego. Luckily we had two closets which one we used to store expensive road bikes, climbing, and camping gear. Since we had to share an open garage space, we locked up our less expensive bikes there, and used a metal cabinet to store more camping gear. We used storage boxes underneath our bed, because we had to share one small closet for our clothes. Now we live in a 1800sq foot house in STL, and we have more closets than I know what to do with and a garage! Living in small spaces in California (even had a 300 sq.ft studio) I learned to live a minimalist life style, which my husband and I still practice on a daily basis. It’s amazing how much stuff you really don’t need.ReplyCancel

  • Kim3.22.13 - 9:59 AM

    Pippin, we love hearing other small space stories – thank you for sharing! San Diego is one of our dream cities…ReplyCancel

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