Topsy Turvy Reinventorium

Five years ago I moved my office and letterpress shop from The Guild to the basement of St. Paul’s Parish Hall. It was a helpful move, allowing me to be closer to home—about 45 seconds, if I hurry—to help support teenaged Olivia and ailing Catherine. What I gave up in natural light and culture industry neighbours I gained both in proximity, and in a parish that’s wrapped its arms around me, and my family, in the years since.

The Parish Hall has undergone many laudable renovations in recent years, the extension and repaving of the parking lot, and creation of an accessible entrance most prominently. An unfortunate side effect of these updates has been that my basement office, dry as a bone for the early years, started to leak on every rain storm. While none of my equipment or supplies suffered damage, it was disheartening to find a small flood in the office every time it rained, and eventually the office became inhospitable. At the same time, partly due this, and partly due lifestyle changes, I began to work more from home, from coffee shops, and from the public library (ironically, given all the attention I paid over the years to ergonomics, this was the smartest ergonomics move I’ve ever made). 

After a lot of work by the Parish, especially sexton Clar, the basement leaking was finally attended to this summer: a crew from Nasty Cracks jackhammered a deep trench along the entire width of the office, along the outside wall, filled it with a sluiceway, added an impermeable barrier, and installed a sump pump. We’ve been through several big rain storms since, and there hasn’t been a drop of water in my shop, so it worked!

My shop floor with drying concrete over the sluiceway.

The hold in the corner of my shop where a sump pump would eventually be set.

The new sump pit finished and in place.

The disturbed floor with concrete poured and drying.

As an extra bonus shop-challenge, it was determined on the day the crew arrived that, instead of clearing a path through just half of the room, I’d need to clear out the entire shop, both to afford trench-blasting access, and to ensure dust didn’t coat everything. It took a Herculean effort to do this, by myself, one rainy morning, and the end effect was that five years of somewhat-organized shop contents, analog and digital, became a completely-unorganized morass of stuff filling up the adjoining hallways.

Mass of disorganized stuff in the hallways around my office.

While this was, well, a lot, in the now-dry aftermath, if gives me the opportunity to reimagine the space, both to deaccession the things I don’t need, and to convert the entire space into an analog workshop, for printing, bookbinding, paper making, sewing, and all manner of other creative pursuits.

With Lisa’s help, I’ve started this process this week; today I spent three hours disgorging the buckets of ephemera that gathered unsorted over recent years into organized piles:

A photo of my basement office, with piles of like things gathered together spread over the floor.

The yellow labels for each pile identify the like things assembled, and include Paper, Electronics, Letterpress, Personal Archive, Garbage, Stationery, and, my favourite, Huh? (a very helpful pile that prevented me from getting blocked by hard-to-categorize things that I couldn’t bring myself to just throw away; things like the Apple QuickTake camera that Kevin O’Brien and Peter Richards and I went in on together back in the day). In those piles, among many other things, are old love letters, USB hubs, Tomoe River paper, paint brushes, and a copy of the Journal-Pioneer from 1965.

The next step is to curate each pile: what to keep, what to give away. Once I’ve done that, Lisa, who excels at managing storage, will join me to find well-crafted places to put everything, places that will afford me readier access to things than I’ve had in a long time (or perhaps never).

Once all that is done, I am so looking forward to getting back to making things, and looking forward to having Lisa join me in the shop as a creative co-conspirator.


Thelma's picture
Thelma on September 19, 2023 - 21:11 Permalink

How exciting, and what a lot of work! Onward! Reinvented reinvented.

Josh Coles's picture
Josh Coles on September 20, 2023 - 10:16 Permalink

We recently had Nasty Cracks in to give us an assessment for our new 90-year-old home, which also gets water in the basement. This is the exact solution they pitched—happy to see it works! We will probably eventually have it done.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 21, 2023 - 14:04 Permalink

Mazel tov! Well timed too for the equinox and the Hebrew calendar

vbj's picture
vbj on September 21, 2023 - 19:36 Permalink

Wow, this is ambitious! But it seems you are at the rewarding part.