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My husband, Paul Ferney, is an artist, and despite our initial thinking of finding him a studio, due to pandemic lockdowns, that was suddenly off the table. So instead of cramming him in a corner of the bedroom, we moved the dining table into the living space of our New York apartment and set out to find some storage for all his supplies. The challenge was to make this area inspiring but also a reflection of his personality. I wanted it to feel as beautiful as his paintings. Here’s how I did it.

Think Beyond Gallery White

The room has nice light and big windows, but design-wise, it’s pretty simple. The only thing Paul and I knew was that we didn’t want stark-white gallery walls. The colors he paints with need to pop and look nice, but the walls shouldn’t feel cold. We wanted something in the muddy gray family, so we chose Valspar’s Soft Pelican. 

Organized Doesn’t Have to Mean Hidden

When you’re actively working, you make a mess, and it can happen very quickly. So thinking ahead, the main problem we knew we’d face was trying to have a controlled mess, and that comes from functional storage. I put everything Paul reaches for on a daily basis out in beautiful glass jars and different bowls, which makes them easier to access but also look intentional. Now you walk in the room and see all of these brushes and paints. They elicit a similar feeling to when you’re a kid, or even an adult, and you have a pad of blank paper and fresh pencils—it’s exciting to get to work. 

Buy Your Cabinets in Bulk

Having high-use items out in the open is great, but ensuring there was plenty of closed cabinetry was equally important. Anything he didn’t need easy access to, from cardboard boxes for shipping to canvas stretching tools and extra frames, we tucked away inside IKEA Ivar units. We lined the entire workspace with them; they’re wonderful because they’re 32 inches tall, so there are a lot of modular shelves to work with. But they’re also the perfect height to prop a canvas against for display or to dry since there’s no room for a full easel. With the larger pieces, Paul paints with the canvas leaned on the walls from a thrifted counter stool. 

The other thing about the Ivar units is that they’re stackable. You can either have them in a row or turn a couple into a bookcase. We painted ours the same shade as the wall to make them look more seamless.

Keep Storage Solutions Simple

After Paul paints, he needs a lot of open air for his work to dry, and it can take several days, so only having picture ledges or the tops of the Ivars wasn’t going to be enough. We built a plywood rack in just a weekend with standard hardware store 2-by-4s. That was a big, big win for getting organized. It’s one of those projects you mean to do for forever, and we finally just made ourselves do it. The form is really simple, but you can pack a lot of paintings into the slots. I’m a practical person first and foremost, so this room was less about a design transformation and more about knowing how he would use the space. Now he’s in there constantly, and every nook and cranny has been (very quickly) filled with both old and new works.