Photography by Erin Kelly

Published on May 14, 2021

woman at pottery wheelPin It

The first time my husband, Erik, and I toured our Pittsburgh home, I didn’t even see the henhouse. It was only during the second walk-through that I found the little building in the back corner of the yard. It sealed the deal: We needed this place. 

Making ceramics has always been a dream of mine (at summer camp as a kid, you could always find me playing in the craft shop). I just never had the space or time to do it until we took the leap and moved from Los Angeles to Pennsylvania, and I uncovered a spot that I could turn into my own play space, as well as a creative zone for my whole family and all of our friends. 

The previous homeowners had used the henhouse for storage, so you can imagine it was filled with stuff that was collecting dust. Step one was going in and doing a major cleaning (watch the cathartic experience here), starting with using Hart Tool’s new line of vacuums to pick up all the debris, some power washing to make the concrete floor shine, and brushing off the cobwebs on the walls. The reality is, it only seems overwhelming, but you can turn your shed that’s holding stuff you’ve had for way too long into a space you actually want to be in in a matter of one weekend. 

Let There Be Light (and Running Water)

rustic shedPin It

My brother, Steve, removed part of the cinder-block wall and put in these old French doors we found in the basement of the main house. That combined with the existing transom window brought in so much natural light. 

The only other big change was running a water line to the building. I bought this old sink at my local Anthropologie outlet. It gets all these cool vintage pieces, and someone who works there called me and said they thought I’d like it—of course I did. The wash space looks like it’s been there forever. 

rustic wood trough sinkPin It

We also added an electrical conduit for my kiln and so we could hook up extra lights, that way I can really see what I’m working on. Opting for oversize bulbs on the super-simple track made them feel special and not so industrial.

Don’t Be Precious With the Furniture

rustic pottery stuidoPin It

Our art director friend Gregory Powell made the custom shelves using old terracotta floor tiles we found in the shed. He glued them together to make cubes and then we stacked salvaged wood planks from the ceiling of our recently renovated kitchen to display all my small treasures. 

terracotta shevlesPin It

art objects on wood shelfPin It

I found a little cart in there when we were clearing out the space, saved it, and brush-painted it white (along with the dining table set). Nothing is ever safe from the big bucket of PPG’s Ever White that I have on hand (a color the brand made custom for me, named after my daughter, Ever). 

Add Some Homey Touches

white chairs with collage art on wallPin It

I hung vintage art I found in the house, along with other tear-outs from magazines that I’ve been carrying around from town to town as we’ve moved. Dried hydrangeas from my garden, tied up with twine, give it that feel-good springtime vibe. I really wanted to foster this sense of separation; of now you’re working and now you’re free and relaxing. 

Get to Work—Er, Play

pottery drying on shelvesPin It

I call my creations my wonky wobblies; in other words, nothing is perfect. I know how to center clay, but I usually get impatient and dive into a little shape before it’s balanced, creating a crooked bowl or quirky sculptural plate. And I’m totally okay with that. Everything’s a trial, everything’s practice, and nothing is precious. That’s what I like about clay. You can control it or leave it in its naturally messy state, which is just as beautiful. 

Photography by Erin Kelly 

For hands-on advice from designers and pro DIYers, plus more scrappy before-and-after transformations, subscribe to Reno. Let your in-box do all the hard work—for now.

Discussion