Monday, November 15, 2021

making space for creating in a shared space


Last week, I had the opportunity to play with light and food in our kitchen. So, now, I'm daydreaming about (and planning for) my next creative space by thinking about the past places I've lived in.

Do you have a permanent or temporary space for creating in your home? If temporary, what tips do you have for getting set up quickly when the mood strikes you?

I've compiled a list of four things I've learned I need after years creating in shared, temporary spaces that may be helpful to you.

It's not too often in 849 sq ft that's shared with two other people and a cat when I have the luxury of creating without interruption. This means I'm constantly chasing the light and trying to get my space set up as quickly as possible to avoid losing the light. And sadly, I don't always catch the light or get the right light for the shots I need.


As I edited my photos, I thought about having (or making) a regular space for creating and what that might look like. So I considered the various types and amounts of space I’ve had over the past 13 years living in San Francisco and the hacks I’d learned along the way.


My first apartment in San Francisco was a 400 sq ft studio. As you’d expect in 400 sq ft, there was next to no counter space in the kitchen and limited natural light through the window on the wall opposite the door. I had a dishwasher. And the bathroom, surprisingly, was luxurious with a larger footprint than the kitchen and more spacious than many of the bathrooms I’d have in later places. Had I given it much thought back then, the tub would have been the best place and surface for flat lay photography.

I didn’t photograph much inside this studio. And I definitely didn’t create in that space using either my Canon 30D or 5D. I shot casually, haphazardly, with my iPhone. I reserved my Canon cameras for clubs across the City when I captured bands and their audiences.

I sewed clothes for my first Burning Man there but I didn’t document the process (like hand sewing all the sequins on a now favorite skirt I picked up at a thrift shop to ensure none fell off while I was on playa). The only photography I did was of my pantry challenge recipes.

One thing I learned in this space was the value of consistent soft lighting. We eat with our eyes, and a mix of fluorescent and incandescent lighting isn't optimal for making food look mouthwatering. (In clubs, when color spots were distracting, I'd simply switch to black and white to eliminate the various color casts and focus the viewer on the subject. However, this hack doesn't work when it comes to food.) Also, overhead fluorescent light results in harsh shadows. I didn’t think about it back then but most photos had shadows of my hands or phone.

What this space really needed was a continuous overhead softbox light like this (*paid link) StudioFX 2400 Watt 28” x 20” with boom arm setup for food photography. While it would make creating on the fly a little tougher, as it has to be set up first, delicious food would have actually looked appetizing.



When cubes and I got engaged, we moved in together and upgraded to an almost 1200 sq ft Edwardian apartment off Duboce at the corner of Pearl—The Den. Most of the square footage was in closets—a former super’s tool storage was a 4 foot by 12 foot office area (and overly optimistic baby’s room). My sewing and crafts area was a closet that ran the entire length of our living room and even had its own window! It was approximately 2.5 feet by 20 feet—over 98 sq ft of space that required contortion and Tetrising.

I mainly created with words and stuck a photo or two in as an afterthought. Instagram wasn’t yet a thing; the year was 2009. Instagram wouldn’t be released until October 6, 2010–four days before our wedding.

I posted to the blog more regularly then, having a two hour plus round trip train ride to work each day and not yet being a parent. I carved out a space that wasn’t exactly well lit, but could be set up and torn down in less than five minutes. It was a white box that I could set up at 90 degrees to bounce light from two windows back on my subject while I shot my collection of objects from above. (A more stable option would be a tabletop backdrop like these (*paid link) 24” x 24” marble boards.) I typically set up and took my photos before I headed out to work when cubes was still asleep.

We thought we could make The Den work with a baby. However, exposed radiators and no space for changing diapers or bathing a baby quickly convinced us 1200 sq ft wasn’t enough space.



Our next place, The Station, was palatial in comparison to The Den—a 1600 sq ft 2-bedroom Edwardian flat with eat-in kitchen, dining room, and double parlor. Unlike our previous San Francisco digs, this one had dated wiring. If you toasted some bread while the dishwasher was running, you’d blow the fuses. (And, you had to hope your neighbor was home as the fuse box was in his apartment!) But, it had abundant space for creating and natural light—so much soft natural light. We even purchased a marble-top table for our eat-in kitchen for a ready made, always set up surface for shooting on.

Because we had so much space we had lots of clutter-free walls and backgrounds to take advantage of. I could easily switch between rooms, finding the best light, and snap a photo or two that showcased my subject. I also had the ability to quickly set up and switch out backdrops—a brilliant red metallic for a Christmas holiday shoot or a soft black satin for a Hanukkah shoot. Not only did I develop and test recipes, I staged tablescapes in the formal dining and designed sets in the living room in which Gates would play. The opportunities for creativity were boundless.


Both The Den and The Station were rent controlled; my first post-2000s built studio wasn’t. And, unlike many renters in SF, we had amazing landlords. Fearing something happening to our landlord, we decided we needed a mortgage versus rent that could change and leave us scrambling to find housing with little to no notice. So, we left The Station for The Nest and downsized from almost 1600 sq ft to 847 sq ft.

The Nest at 849 sq ft is well laid out into a living room, 2 bedrooms, an eat-in kitchen, and a laundry room. In pre-COVID lockdown days, we thought it was quite spacious. But, two adults and a child 24/7 in 849 sq ft is challenging. (When we lived in The Station, Gates spent time with my Dad and cubes went into an office in SoMa. I had hours in 1600 sq ft all to myself.)


Prior to the COVID lockdown, I worked from home. When everything shut down, I had a desk and sewing area set up in our living room even though I mainly worked from our “couch”—a cozy, down-filled chaise. With cubes working from home and Gates attending school from home, 849 sq ft quickly became too tight. We set Gates up at a desk in our kitchen not wanting to broadcast her room to the world on Zoom. cubes joined me in the living room on our couch.

Only our bedrooms have doors (we tried to find a handyman to relocate a door between the laundry and the kitchen to the living room but were unable to before the pandemic started), so everyone heard everyone. Our space was never quiet (in the early morning before the others wake there’s quiet for creating, just no light). What had once felt luxurious or cozy was now just cramped.

cubes felt he had no space of his own: Gates had her room and I had the living room. He didn’t see the entire bookcase filled with his comic collection or the shelf with bins of his textbooks in another bookcase—space that before we were married held my textbooks and sewing materials. Space that was only available because I had downsized my library of photography books.

Things improved slightly once we set up an “office” for cubes in our front entry. As you could imagine with no door to close and being located in front of both the main bedroom and the living room, it’s distracting to work there. Things got a little better once Gates went back to in-person school.

Photographing recipes for the blog and for food and wine sites requires uninterrupted time and space. A stove and oven for preparing the food. A table for arranging the food (we have a cat so the trick of shooting food placed on the floor doesn’t really work). Room to move everything to capture the light.


When I’m working on a post in The Nest, I’m interrupted a lot. It’s not the people grabbing food to eat that’s a distraction or an interruption; it’s the cleaning. Depending on whether the dishwasher is running or unloaded, what little counter space we have fills with dishes. I often find myself about to snap a photo only to realize my background is now cluttered with dirty dishes, containers from food, or crumpled up paper towels.

I spend a lot time getting my space in order. If I walk away, there’s no guarantee the space will be in the same state as when I left. In fact, it’s almost a certainty I’ll need to do some set up again. I miss the space of The Station where I had a backdrop set up in our seldom used dining room that I could transport into our kitchen for my hero shots.

The past few days I took over our kitchen to create recipes that paired with a few Cultivar wines. It was so much fun whipping up dishes and trying bites with sips to find the perfect symphony of tastes. While I was constantly chasing the light, I was able to catch some amazing backlit, front on images.


Curious what foods I came up with the ingredients shown in this post? Head over to the Cultivar Wine blog to see my cheese-themed Hanukkah meal.

Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.

DISCLOSURE 1: I received the Cultivar wines and Caspar Estate olive oil for free from Cultivar for tasting and pairing.

DISCLOSURE 2: This post contains affiliate links, preceded by (*paid link). I feature products that I own or that I am considering purchasing. All opinions presented are my own.
The Road To The Good Life is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to