This week is the culmination of the building of my new art studio. After almost two years, the finishing touches are done, the final inspections are happening, and I am moving in. If you like before and after photos, this post is for you.

Here is the backyard in May 2022. St. Francis watches over the birds that frequent a lovely landscaped area. Behind it, there is a rat-frequented wooden shed, plus a metal shed with a damnable 4′ clearance (who other than a child can walk in there without being hunched over? Getting a tool or paint can out of there is torture). A nice newer carport sits adjacent to the back alley, and has power (a single 120v outlet and lights).

I wanted a building that would use the existing 10×10′ concrete pad of the metal shed, with an additional 15′ pad extending from that. This would all attach to the existing carport. Below are a couple of drawings I submitted for my building permit.

Here’s a top-down image. The gray area represents the footprint of the new building.

Here’s a drawing of the “north elevation” – facing south, Take the first photo above, and superimpose the drawing below on it, and you’ve got a sense of what I was envisioning.

First – getting rid of the old structures. My son’s dark teenage energies fueled the demolition of the old shed (“here’s a sledgehammer Grey – go whack that building for awhile”).

Putting together the site plan and drawings came next. I am not a fan of this part – it involves digging up property documents from the County Assessor, researching and citing code for what I legally can build in a backyard, doing lots of measurements, and creating a big file to submit to the city for a building permit. But, like the project itself, I did an hour or two at a time, putting one foot (or one measurement) in front of the other. It wasn’t until October 2022 that I had everything in order and received my permit.

Having removed the old structures, I began digging out the foundation, by hand, because apparently I only do something if it’s hard. The yard slopes eastward, and getting a level hole proved annoying. I also in the process dug up the underground wire to the carport, which was only 4″ below ground and definitely not to code. I ended up permanently severing it and disconnecting it from the house, with plans to redo it later with the rest of the studio.

After digging out the soft, powdery dirt to the best of my ability, I rented a dirt compactor, called a ‘Jumping Jack’ because it’s gas motor powers this 200 pound spring-loaded beast to hop around like a hyperactive pogo stick.

Gravel went on the top, which was also compacted.

Next came building the forms which will hold in the concrete. Getting them level was the biggest challenge. I needed a laser level and the use of twine as guides to help keep things square.

With the forms mostly completed, it was now November and getting colder and wetter. I waterproofed the wooden forms and took a winter break.

I began again in the early spring, adding forms for new footers around the existing pad, adding rebar and wire to strengthen it.

In early July 2023, the concrete truck arrived for the pour. I recruited several friends to help me wheelbarrow concrete into the forms. This was the most stressful part of the entire build, as concrete sets fast and it’s very heavy and tiring to move around by hand. Also a neighbor came over and yelled at me because the truck backing up down the alley drove up off the dirt alley onto a 5″ patch of weedy dirt on her yard. My neighbors are generally awesome but there’s a “hey you kids get off my lawn” type in every neighborhood, right?

Trying to get the concrete level. I did not entirely succeed but it’s close enough.

Rented a bull float which makes it nice and smooth. Good job, Eric!

Along with the 10×15′ pad, we poured new footers to build walls on. The new pad is 12″ on the edges and 6″ in the middle, with rebar and wire throughout – solid. For 10 days, I watered it several times a day, covering it with tarps in between, feeding and caring for it like a sourdough starter. Keeping it wet while it cures makes it stronger. It’s been seven months and I haven’t seen any cracks yet.

After a couple of weeks, it was framing time! My friend Scott K came over for a weekend to help me frame the walls.

We got all the walls done in a weekend, and threw a few pre-fab trusses up. My other friend Scott O put together a few window headers. The fact Scott K can’t jump high enough to touch the ceiling attests to the majesty of the cathedral-style ceiling that would come later.

Grey helped hammer in hurricane ties (he’s also grown 6″ from the year before). He got at least a half dozen ties nailed in before he got bored.

Because the building takes an ‘L’ shaped turn toward the existing carport, I needed a fat beam to span a 10′ gap for the roof trusses to rest on. It would take a single solid 4×12 Douglas Fir piece of lumber, resting on two 2×6 supports on each side. The local Dunn Lumber had it as a single 16 footer, for $250 plus delivery (I did go look at it in-person to see if it would go on my roof rack, and realized this would have been a very bad choice). I measured four times and cut once (only one shot at getting this cut right!), and it took three of us to lift it in place.

Beam is installed, just like I drew it up.

Starting to take shape!

Heather helped me get the T-1-11 siding installed, which is an all-in-one manufactured lumber product that serves as both sheathing and siding. Here she is priming it – the untreated wood soaked up the primer like a sponge. It was tedious work and I was glad to have help with it.

Peter came over on a Saturday and helped me get the 4×8 OSB on the roof. All the Youtube I watched on roofing warned me to get these installed within 1/16 of an inch, or suffer roofing consequences later. Haha like I can be that precise with anything. Anyway, thanks Peter – couldn’t have done this part without you!

The interior space is starting to take shape.

Underlayment on the roof. Looks just like I drew it up for my permit.

The windows went in next. I used an asphalt tape rather than Tyvek to water seal the wood around the openings. Speaking of, I did use housewrap under the siding, but I used woven wrap because that’s what they had at Home Depot on the day I needed it. Most advice I read recommended using non-woven wrap due to it’s impermeability. I have heard both sides of the argument for housewrap – either seal it completely or keep it breathable. I hope I don’t regret this, but trust that some housewrap is better than none. Although it must be said, the previous studio I built had no wrap, and I had no problems with moisture or mold. I’m sure it’s going to be fine, probably.

Grey and I installed the patio doors. We lifted it into the opening, and instead of fitting snug, it went right through the opening and almost fell on the other side. I built the opening way too big – 4″ too high and 3″ too wide. I had to put in a bunch of extra lumber to make the opening smaller so the doors would fit. So dumb – I don’t know how I got that rough opening measurement so wrong. Oh wait yes I do know – because I’m generally bad at math and get these kinds of things wrong all the time. Throughout this project, I encountered piles of vexxing problems – most of my own making – where I would just stare at something for a couple of hours, trying to puzzle out how I would fix it. I’d find myself freezing up with indecision, temporarily lose my confidence, go watch Youtube for ideas for a couple of days, and then get over myself and choose some way forward. I can say it’s always worked out. I made a lot of mistakes as I went along, but thankfully there wasn’t anything I couldn’t fix later.

Look at all that extra lumber I had to add to the door opening. Oh well. If not for this photo you’d never have known. Another good rule of thumb is that most flaws can be well hidden.

It’s now a closed building!

By this point it’s past Labor Day, getting into September. I’m anxious to button up the exterior before the season changes and the PNW rains come. I put up a metal roof, installed the trim and flashing, and painted the exterior in a flurry of activity over a few weeks. Gutters went on later.

I put the solostove to work with all the scrap lumber I had. It fueled a few weeks worth of nightly campfires.

The next two months were pretty slow. I hired an electrician to do the rough work (rough electrical being both too complicated and too dangerous for me to figure out). But electricians are busy folks, and it took him multiple visits over a several week period, and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do in the meantime. What I ended up doing was working on the pine tongue-and-groove boards that would comprise the ceiling. I chose to treat them with a single application of danish oil with natural tint, painting and rubbing it into the pine boards six pieces at a time or so.

The electrician installed a subpanel, main line running to the panel in my house. There is a circuit for the lights, one for the power outlets, and a separate 50amp circuit for a single 240 in the carport that we can use to fast-charge our EV. And the panel has room for more, though I can’t imagine I’ll need it (hot tub maybe???). I recall how my first studio had one single 20amp circuit for the entire structure – the lights, outlets, and heater. Anytime I ran a power tool with the heat on, the circuit would overload and trip. Not going to happen here.

I dug a 2′ trench for the electrical line from the outside of the building to my house. This trench holds the main wire that will connect to the main panel in the house. It’s now buried with the cover inspection complete. The exposed french drain will eventually be buried in gravel for drainage.

Nicole gave me the idea to use a pressure washer to dig out the trench around the tree, which saves the roots and saves one’s sanity from trying to dig around the roots. Great tip!

With the cover inspection passed, I went into high gear. The walls got R-19 mineral wool, and the ceilings R-39 fiberglass. This stuff is itchy and bad for you to breathe, so I covered myself with gear and wore an n-95 mask when working with it. Should stay cozy.

Bags of mineral wool behind me in the selfie below. I can fit three bags in my car at a time, and it took a dozen Home Depot trips to get enough insulation to fill the space.

Next came the drywall, which is a satisfying task. But the mudding of the gaps and seams with joint compound, and the subsequent sanding and cleanup of dust, are a kind of hell I don’t wish on anybody. If you are good at this step, you can do 3 or even 2 rounds of mudding and sanding to get a nice, smooth wall. I did six, and I wouldn’t call the walls exactly ‘smooth’. If you ever come visit, don’t look too closely. This is what I did over my Christmas break, mudding and sanding the walls over several days.

Round…four of sanding? Daily sanding, getting sweaty and covered in dust, then repeating this process – it’s making me slightly insane.

I suppose I could have kept going, but six rounds was all I could tolerate. The primer and paint went on fast, over two days.

Now it’s January, 2024. I’d hoped to be all done by this point, but the electrical taking longer than planned is a setback. I’m ready to be done, so it’s time to enter the final stretch. I installed a set of wafer LED lights – $99 for a dozen on Amazon – and wired those up in the ceiling. They are dimmable and have a ‘dark mode’ that emits a low, gentle warm light around the edges. They also get very bright, and have a temperature control, which makes it pretty bright with a nice neutral light. They are powered here by an extension cord from my house, which I cut and wired into the circuit (I do not generally recommend anyone do this).

Finally, a fun task of installing the pine boards for the ceiling. I’d been tripping over these boards on the floor for eight months since they’d been delivered. There’s just no good place to store forty 16′ 1×6 boards.

The boards go in one course at a time, fitting the groove of the top board into the groove of the board underneath, and nailing the top tongue into the truss with a brad nailer. Here’s Scott helping me get the first few courses in – what a guy to come over after work to help me for an evening.

I got a 6″ hole bit for my power drill to cut the holes, then installed the wafer lights. Springs hold them in place.

So it’s looking pretty good! Now at this point, I am really out of money. I’ve done this whole thing without loans or borrowing money, but now I’m really paycheck to paycheck to fund additional materials. I’d planned to put in a nice bamboo floor, but being both out of money and out of patience, I elected to paint the concrete. The previous concrete pad was old and needed a deep clean, and the new one had endured several months of dirty work. I did two rounds of degreaser and mopping, then an acid etch and rinse to prep the surface. I applied a concrete binder/primer, and two coats of epoxy paint.

The main heater on the right is a wall-mounted envi heater from It’s hardwired, 1000w heater that has no moving parts and is rated to heat a 350sq ft space. I’ve used 500w versions in other circumstances and they work pretty well. This one should be plenty warm, especially with all the insulation. I paired it with a Mysa smart thermostat which can be seen on the left wall.

February 2024 – I woke up on a Saturday and took this photo. This was the day I would install trim along the ceiling, touch up the paint, and start moving in. The electrical isn’t finished yet, but I’d waited long enough.

I moved in a desk and a few tools, and took the photos below. This studio is ready for everything I want to do. I ripped some extra pine board to do the trim around the patio doors.

This wall is for large-format drawings. That 4×12 beam ended up a signature feature and I think it’s beautiful.

At night with some LED string lights.

I’ll update this post when the electrical is done, and the final inspection is complete, and spring awakens the yard, which shouldn’t be too long.

But I can’t wait anymore – I’ve moved in and have started kicking off some art projects. Three years ago I locked the door for the final time on my previous studio, when we moved from Greenwood to a new home in Maple Leaf. I thought at the time I’d just build a new studio, no big deal. Now today, three years after moving and almost two years of planning and building, I feel like I have finally finished unpacking. I have an art studio again. The artist part of me, not quite dormant but not having real space to work, now again has room to breathe. I’m ready to enjoy the space. This means sitting in the mornings with coffee, inviting friends to visit, hosting folks for spiritual companionship sessions, and of course making piles of art. It feels really, really good!

So, I say I built the studio myself. But, I couldn’t have done it without the support of friends and family. Thank you to my Dad and Builders FirstSource for doing the truss design, lumber estimating, and dispatch – it’s very handy to be able to send over some drawings, and in return have the right amount of lumber delivered to your house! Thanks to Jeff for coming over and helping me get my forms level, and for letting me borrow your demo hammer. Thank you to Eric, Adam, Mike, ScottyO, my neighbor Ethan, Jonathan, and Heather for helping with the concrete pour. Thanks to Scott K for a fun weekend of framing, and to Zack for letting me borrow his framing nailer. Thank you to Heather and Grey for helping me get the siding up, and to Heather again for helping me with get the siding primed. Thanks to Peter for your help with the roof. Thanks to Mike for helping me with the metal roofing, and to Scott K again for letting me borrow your angle grinder. Thanks to Greg and John for a fun evening of pizza and nailing in a few pine boards. Many thanks to Luke at Wallingford Electrical for doing all the rough work. Thanks to the cedar tree behind the building, and the rhododendrons in front of it, for enduring some stresses – things should be calm going forward and I will fertilize you well. To Heather again, all my gratitude and love, for the help, for your patience, for grace to spend my evenings and weekends working, and for your continual encouragement.