M. Stephen Doherty

M. Stephen Doherty
The editor of Plein Air magazine at work

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Studio That Respects Nature

I was looking for an energy-efficient studio to feature in PleinAir™ magazine and came across Gail Siegel's solar powered, prefab studio in Lafayette, Colorado. Gail is a jeweler, not a painter, but I think her studio could easily be adapted for use by other visual artists. 
Colorado jeweler Gail Siegel is one of a growing number of artists building prefab, solar powered studios that are relatively inexpensive to build and heat, make efficient use of space, and increase property values. 
“When I made the decision to take early retirement from my full-time university job, I spent 18 months doing extensive research about the best way to secure a work space,” says Colorado artist Gail Siegel. “I considered every option from selling my small timber frame miner’s cottage and buying a larger home with space for a studio, to renting a unoccupied downtown space, to constructing a garage with room for a workspace. None of those were really desirable options. I needed more space than was available in my cottage, and because I work with acetylene torches and metal I didn’t like the idea of having a studio in my home; the downtown spaces, while reasonable compared to other areas of the country, would still cost me $6,000 - $8,500 a year to rent; and the cheapest garages I could find would cost $50,000 - $60,000 to build, not including the cost of finishing the interior.”
Siegel happened to talk to a Jeff Scott, a neighbor who is president of SolSource, a company founded in 2004 that designs solar electric and thermal hot water heating systems for commercial, government, school, and residential structures. Scott encouraged Siegel to consider a prefab building with a roof that would accommodate solar energy panels. “He pointed out that I would qualify for an energy rebate, the solar panels might generate enough power to heat the studio and my home, the cost would be more reasonable than what I had been considering, and I would be reducing my impact on the environment,” she explains. “He told me about StudioShed, Inc., a company in Boulder, Colorado started in 2009 by Michael Koenig and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski that is doing innovative things with buildings that can be used as spare bedrooms, storage spaces, offices, or studios.”
Siegel extended her research to include prefab buildings and solar heating, and she began discussions with StudioShed about building an art studio in her backyard. “Michael Koenig, one of the partners in the company, has two Studio Shed buildings in his back yard so I was able to see what I might be getting,” Siegel explains. “He walked me through the entire construction process and helped me decide how my studio could be built. Eventually, I bought a 14’ x 10’ structure with a 9’ pitched roof and had eight, 235-watt modules and microinverters installed on the 11’ x 16’ roof to create a 1.9 kilowatt energy system. After all the preliminary paperwork was completed, it took StudioShed about four weeks to fabricate, deliver, and set up the structure.” 
After making all the major decisions, Siegel had to secure permits from the city of Lafayette, Colorado to lay down an insulated concrete slab with a central drain, build the  StudioShed structure, install the solar heating system, run electricity to the StudioShed, and upgrade the sewer system. “I didn’t anticipate having to dig up the back yard to replace the sewer line, but since I plan to install running water it was necessary,” Siegel explains. “I regretted having to cut down two trees to make sure there would be enough sunlight to heat the studio and house, but I was able to use some of the lumber to build an outdoor bench as well as using a large stump for forming metals. 
“ I had the building designed with a 3’ x 3’ window facing south to heat the form-insulated cement floor, and north-facing horizontal and vertical windows for indirect lighting,” Siegel goes on to explain. “Eventually I will build in cabinets, but I already had a 2’ x 5’ jewelry bench and a 2’ x 4’ soldering station so I was able to start working in the studio as soon as it was finished. Eventually I might start painting in the studio and offering workshops because the Studio Shed opens into my garden and a flagstone walkway where people could set up to paint or make jewelry.”
The current retail prices of an 10’ x 14’ Studio Shed ranges from $6,600 to $9,100 depending on whether the trim is Collins TruWood (as in the case of Siegel’s studio) or a combination of wood and metal. Smaller and larger sizes are available, from 6’ x 8’ up to  12’ x 20’. Options such as aluminum windows, French and sliding glass doors, garage doors, and clerestory windows are extra; and the cost does not include the cement slab on which the structure would be built. However, the prices does include installation by certified workers, and a discounted flat-packed kit is available for customers who want to build a SudioShed by themselves. For more information, visit the company’s website at www.studio-shed.com
“I haven’t had my property reappraised since I finished the studio, but I suspect I’ve added about $55,000 to the value because of the energy savings and the fact that the StudioShed could be used by the next owner as a spare bedroom, an office, or a studio,” Siegel explains. “That’s a value I never would have been able to realize if I rented a space downtown, build a standard garage, or convert a bedroom into a studio. Here in Colorado where energy costs are so high in the winter and people are becoming more environmentally conscious, this kind of structure is a real asset ... and a great workspace. If nothing else, my animals have loved it from the day the insulated concrete floor was finished.”
Gail Siegel took early retirement from the University of Colorado where she worked in the university art gallery and as director of community relations while maintaining her life-long interest in art. She now works part time for the Naja Tool and Supply Company in Denver which is Colorado’s largest supplier of tools and supplies for jewelry and metal artists. All of the studio furniture and 90% of her tools come from the Naja. 
For more information on StudioShed, LLC., visit www.studio-shed.com; for information on SolSource, visit the company’s website at www.solsourceinc.com and for information on the Naja Tool and Supply visit www.najatools.com. To see some of Siegel’s work visit www.silverfoxstudio.biz