Making Room for Hobbies
From kitchens and workshops to wine rooms and garden sheds, organization is key
Jason Raish illustration
Leafing through some home old magazines from the 1950s, I noticed hobbies used to be a big deal. One article boasted of a house design that “gives Dad a do-it-yourself room of the kind that all craftsmen dream about. It’s planned as carefully as Mom’s kitchen.” Plus, there’s space for little Billy to put together his model airplanes and little Jane to learn how to sew. Now of course Mom is just as likely as Dad to have her own workshop and either one or both can’t live without a gourmet kitchen.
When I think of a hobbyist’s room, I generally picture a stand-up workspace with a mounted magnifying lamp and rows of display shelves and tiny tool drawers. In the lamplight, a bespectacled enthusiast — a stamp collector, a numismatist, a model train lover, a decoy carver, a pickler — hunches over and fidgets with the object of his desire. The scene seems anachronistic.
Maybe the internet and the explosion of entertainment distractions are slowly killing this sort of pastime. Or maybe our hobbies have just changed.
If you love to cook, the kitchen is your hobby room. Cooking is not a cheap hobby. Serious cooks are willing to invest in the tools of the trade, with top-quality cookware, cutting boards and a veritable tool shed of knives and utensils. They’re willing to invest in a high-functioning gas stove and ventilation hood and good counter appliances.
Cooking puts a lot of time on your feet in a room that doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have carpeting; if you’re cooking for a dinner party, you may end up exhausted by the time your guests arrive. To combat this fatigue, restaurants use kitchen mats. They keep you light on your feet, prevent you from slipping on wet tiles and are easy to wash. If you really want to go pro, you can buy commercial-grade restaurant mats.
Unless you cook by intuition, you also need shelving for your cookbooks and, ideally, a bookstand (or music stand) to keep recipes at eye level as you work. To accommodate more than one cook in the kitchen, certain luxuries can come in handy: a second sink for prep, a separate work space, maybe a second garbage bin. To facilitate conversation with guests as you cook, consider a counter with seating. All counters of course must be durable enough to take the beating that comes with serving as a workspace. Finally, a single, regular-sized refrigerator might not be enough, particularly for those who like to freeze food in bulk or store wine at just the right temperature.
Of course, that assumes you’re not a dead-serious wine connoisseur who needs far more space than a refrigerator can afford. For the wine-hobbyist, only a wine cellar will do.
Given the temperature and the impossibility of basements in New Orleans, a wine cellar needs to be an isolated, climate-controlled space. The ideal space is windowless, an area of the house that would be otherwise wasted, such as the dead-space beneath a stairway. The walls should be insulated with spray foam or high-thermal-resistance batting. Because it should be a higher-humidity environment, it’s best to install vapor barriers and tile flooring. A separate air conditioning unit is necessary, and a ductless split system is usually the most practical approach. The door must be exterior grade, with weather stripping. Wine racks should be designed and placed to maximize space, and track lighting should be installed at intervals that make it easy to find that particular bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
If you’re into woodworking, you can do a lot of this work yourself. Of course, a real woodworker needs a real workshop with a dust collection system, lots of work space and lots of shelving. The work space should include a design area with a drafting table. It should have storage space for both lumber and tools. When possible, storage units should be on rollers, so you can reconfigure the room quickly as the project demands it.
This is a messy space that needs to be able to take abuse and should be clearly segregated from the dwelling portion of the house, with dedicated power and outlets at small intervals. The tools should be placed in convenient, well-sequenced locations that correspond to the flow of the work you do. And everything should be logically organized so that when you’re looking for a whatchamacallit, you can find it immediately. Trust me: I have wasted immeasurable time looking for whatchamacallits due to disorganization.
While some hobbies may be in decline, others will never go away. As long as people love gardens, there will be gardeners. And anybody who loves to have an organized garden probably also loves to walk into an organized space to choose a weapon: hoe, shears, tree saw, rake. A gardener don’t spend much time in the shed (unless it’s a greenhouse), but the shed is the gardener’s hobby room and an organized space demands all the right shelves, racks and cabinets.
Ultimately, that must be the number one rule of any hobby room: Keep it organized.